App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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It's really easy to hate on free-to-play games sometimes. You see a bunch of gating mechanics stacked up that seem aimed at making you spend a lot of time (or money, as developers would ideally like), and just decide the game is automatically bad. Every once in a while though, these things can line up just so and make for a game that is irresistibly compelling rather than off-putting. This is precisely what is happening with Knights Chronicle, Netmarble's latest gacha-based anime rpg. Not since Monster Strike has a game so loaded with f2p systems grabbed me so utterly and completely to the point that–as I sit here and write this review–I am taking micro-breaks to punch out round after round.
Gotta fight em' all
Knights Chronicle is a free-to-play rpg that adheres pretty closely to a formula that has been working for mobile for a while now. You assemble a team of heroes that you randomly summon from another dimension (think Fire Emblem Heroes), who you then send on quests to kill baddies in turn-based combat to collect loot to make them stronger. There's a main story to progress through with this party, but there's also a ton of different modes to slot your heroes into, including time-limited events, PvP combat, challenge rooms, and more.
I wouldn't say the narrative aspects of Knights Chronicle are particularly strong, though the game's single-player campaign contains quite a lot of cutscenes. The focus here definitely seems more on building the ultimate fighting team, which is great, because this is where Knights Chronicle excels. Combat in this game is fast and light, but it also has a depth and weight to it that feels really satisfying. This is largely due to the diverse cast of powerful fighters that Knights Chronicle offers. Each hero feels capable in their own way, to the point that a single fighter used well can turn the tide of battle, even if you're technically under-leveled.
In addition to its surprisingly competent combat, Knights Chronicle does a great job of selling its action. The game has an colorful anime style that looks and moves really well. Heroes leap through the air and deliver devastating attacks with a level of detail and flourish that feels reminiscent of watching summon animations in Final Fantasy games. It's not not an altogether perfect look, as some of Knights Chronicle's character design can be uncomfortably racy, but for the most part, it works well.
It's also worth noting that all of Knights Chronicle's high production value comes in a really convenient package. The game loads quickly, syncs between devices seamlessly and instantly, and can be played quite easily in either portrait or landscape mode. This might sound like small stuff, but it makes a huge difference for a game that wants you to fire it up all the time.
As much time as I've just spent praising Knights Chronicle, I cannot overstate enough how riddled this game is with free-to-play mechanics. There may not be ads here, but there's the gacha mechanics for summoning heroes, multiple premium currencies, an energy system, and a million little, mundane things to do as a player that you're constantly tempted to pay your way out of.
If you don't like one or any of these kinds of systems in your games at all, Knights Chronicle isn't going to suddenly change your mind. Further, if you're not familiar with these kinds of systems, Knights Chronicle weaves them into a thick tapestry of weird checklists and quests that isn't easy to figure out unless you consult some sort of guide. With a little patience and persistence though, Knights Chronicle can actually open up into a game that feels richer, more rewarding, and, yes, even more generous than many other games of its kind.
The bottom line
Knights Chronicle is a game that feels like someone set out to make a free-to-play rpg that actually feels like a game instead of just a pit to throw money and time into. It sounds weird saying that considering the game is still loaded with systems that encourage you to spend money, but the truth is, playing Knights Chronicle, regardless of whether you pay or not, and regardless of whether you're actively making progress or not, is fun.