Developer: Square Enix
Price: $6.99
Version Reviewed: 1.1.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★☆☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★½☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆

iPhone Integration Rating: ★★★½☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★½☆

Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

IMG_0420Unlike Square Enix’s recent ports of Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II, Hills and Rivers Remain is far from a flagship franchise. Unfortunately, it shows. Hills and Rivers is a solid real-time strategy game, but its good foundations are undermined by lengthy battles, limited content, and unfriendliness towards newbies. This one will be enjoyed by hardcore fans of RTS games, but few others.

The game is a set to a feudal military theme, in which you control the Julius armies as you conquer enemy lands and defend your own. Naturally, your goal is to crush all of the enemy’s forces. The battle maps are dotted with towns, which are connected by angular roads. To conquer a town, you’ll have to send enough troops towards it in order to crush those stationed there. Each turn, your headquarters—you pick which town this is—generates more troops. And that’s all there is to it. Spread out your troops, fortify your towns, and chase your enemy from the map…it all sounds so simple on the surface, doesn’t it? There aren’t even any unit types or other variations; troops are simply troops.

Hills and Rivers Remain isn’t what I’d call simple, though. When you start a map, the enemy troops are massed at their spot, and you start at your own. However, the existing towns won’t go down without a fight, either, so while they won’t attack you, you have to be careful about where you spread your troops. When you reach multi-enemy maps, it quickly becomes a desperate juggling act between offense and defense that should provide a good challenge even to hardcore RTS fans. Key nuances of gameplay—where to place your headquarters, when to use items like attack boosters, which towns to attack first—must be mastered in order to succeed. Some “towns” have special attributes: capturing a stable improves your troops’ speed, while a castle is harder to overcome.

The controls are a bit on the rough side. Though there are only two functions—moving your headquarters and directing your troops—it’s harder than I expected. Managing to send the right number of troops in the right direction is harder than it should be, especially since this is a real-time game and therefore you can’t cancel your orders. They’re functional, certainly, but just not as precise as I would like. At least relocating headquarters is easy; you just tap and hold on the intended base. The camera is also a bit on the rough side; it’s hard, and sometimes impossible, to get a view of the entire map, so figuring out where to send your troops can be an aggravating experience.

As for the graphics and sound, they’re nothing special, but it works. The colors aren’t the bright cartoony hues that seem to populate the App Store, which is a nice change, and the pixel art definitely screams “old-school games!” Sound effects are unimpressive, but at least you can turn them off when they become monotonous. Compared to Square Enix’s full capabilities, it’s clear that this was designed with a mobile platform in mind.

My biggest gripe with the game? Its brevity. There are only ten main missions, in addition to a free-play mode, and that just doesn’t feel like enough for a premium-priced game. Because the thing is, Hills and Rivers Remain is actually fun, if you like the blend of strategy and stress that defines a real-time strategy title. It’s a simple premise, but with a solid mechanic and an often-ruthless AI. But at $6.99, with somewhat finicky controls and only ten campaign missions, Hills and Rivers Remain will only be worth it to true genre fans.

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