Developer: Mobage
Price: FREE
Version: 1.2
App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
Gameplay Rating: ★★★½☆
Playtime Rating: ★★★★☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Mobage has developed a bit of a “thing” for freemium collectible card games lately. Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just that there are a lot of them floating around now and it can be difficult to figure out which ones to stick with. Of course everyone already knows how I feel about Rage of Bahamut, but while it will always be my number one I feel confident in stating that Fantasica sits right next to it as number two.

Card collecting and enhancement is still the primary focus with this new Mobage title, but the formula has also been significantly tweaked in places. After the basics are covered in the tutorial players are given clearance to do whatever they wish, be it questing, training, fighting, and so on. Questing in Fantasica is like a simplistic game of tower defense: Enemies pour in and must be dispatched before they reach the exit, which requires placing characters along the path and putting their abilities to good use. Training is more of a simple lottery-style mini-game that has the player’s chosen leader character walking down a straight path, killing enemies to earn experience and finding treasure chests with cash or new characters along the way.

Unlike many other freemium games of this type, all actions aren’t tied to specific meters that refill over time. Instead, everything other than Training is tied to countdown clocks. Completing a quest of any sort initiates a cooldown phase, ranging from one minute to an hour or more, that can either be waited out or instantly refreshed with special items. I still haven’t decided how I feel about this method, but it seems to work pretty well all things considered. I’ve yet to get to a point where I’ve run out of things to do. It’s easy for me to get hung up on all the little elements that make Fantasica feel like more of a game than a browser-based affair, but I want to make sure I give the artwork and character designs their due. In short, they’re spectacular. And with good reason; it’s all been penned by Hideo Minaba. Yes, that Hideo Minaba.

As impressed as I’ve been with Fantasica I’ve still had a few issues with it. Mostly it’s that the menu interface is a bit busy which makes navigation a pain. I’m also not a fan of the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen since it forces me to actively search for my ally list, among other things. There are also certain concepts such as how defending against attackers works that aren’t communicated clearly at all.

I have to admit, despite the perplexing UI, Fantasica is a solid free-to-play. One with actual gameplay in it, no less. It’s too soon to tell whether it will surpass Mobage’s main juggernaut, but it’s certainly poised to make an attempt.

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