When you fire up an RPG, you typically know what kind of game you’re getting into. If it’s a JRPG, you can typically expect some kind of turn-based battle system, a melodramatic story, and spiky-haired protagonists. For Western RPGs, it’s typically a party of buff men and scantily-clad women, a more direct-action battle system, and way too many sidequests.
Then you have your games in both genres that break from the mold. In JRPGs, the Tales series forgoes the turn-based battle system for something more like a fighting game. On the Western front, the Dragon Age series puts more emphasis on pausing the action to make tactical decisions. You don’t have to stick to a formula to create a popular game, but that should go without saying.
Where am I going with this? I have no idea.
Ready for something really, truly different to the world of RPGs?
How about pinball? No, I’m not joking.
Rollers of the Realm is a mashup of RPGs and pinball, developed by Phantom Compass and published by Atlus. It is due for release in North America on November 18th for PC, PS4, and Vita. The Vita version was played for this article. Before you ask: no, this isn’t an RPG with pinball elements. Quite the opposite, really. It’s pinball with RPG elements…
A Well-Worn Adventure
Rollers of the Realm takes place in a standard medieval fantasy world, full of castles, magic, and British accents. The game opens with the Rogue, a young girl traveling from town to town with her dog, surviving by stealing what she can. Upon arrival to a new town, she comes across a number of thugs beating up on a drunken man, and proceeds to try and help him. Unfortunately for her, the thugs work for the man ruling the town, and this man loves to eat dogs. The thugs take her dog, and she teams up with the drunken man (who turns out to be our next character, the Knight) to rescue it.
So begins Rollers of the Realm. As in any other RPG, the story’s humble start quickly begins picking up into an “epic” quest. Unfortunately, said story doesn’t do too much to break from cliche. Evil governments, a resistance group, dark magic, and the end of the world are all included! On the plus side, the game is fairly well-written, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. While it may not be the most interesting quest in the history of gaming, it is still fun to read through.
Flip Your Enemies
As mentioned earlier, pinball is the basis of this game. I don’t feel that I need to explain how pinball works. It’s the RPG and other gameplay twists that make this game what it is, though, rather than another bog-standard pinball game.
Each level in the game is a separate pinball table, covering environments from small towns to dungeons and all the standard video game environments in between. You still need to explore, talk to townsfolk, and defeat enemies, but all of this is handled through the base of pinball. Exploration is done by shooting your ball into different area, you talk to people by sending your ball near them, and you battle by hitting enemies with your ball.
Speaking of your ball, it is what represents the different members of your party. Each member is a different ball you can use, each with different abilities. Some are larger than others, some are more maneuverable, other have more strength behind them. You’re able to select with ball you want to use before shooting it onto the field, and you can change members by catching your ball with one of your main flippers. Each ball also has its own special power that you can activate after gathering enough mana from the playfield (which you typically get by hitting random objects with your ball). These skills range from summoning extra balls to reviving lost party members to SETTING YOUR BALL ON FIRE.
During exploration gameplay, you can gutter your ball with no worries. During battle, if you lose your ball, that character is dead. Also, your flippers have life bars. Enemies work to damage your flippers, and as their life bars decrease, so does the size of the flipper, making it much easier to lose your ball.
Off of the pinball table, you are also able to use earned gold to buy upgrade for your characters, and also to hire on other characters. Upgrades become surprising crucial as you progress further into the game, and upgrade stats such as maneuverability, damage output, and mana abilities.
If I have one major complaint about the game, it’s one that rises out of the fact that this is a pinball game at it’s heart: the ever-present element of luck. Pinball isn’t a purely luck-based game; there’s definitely some skill involved. However, after one too many times of losing a crucial character due to an unlucky set of bounces, rage built up in me. It’s been a long time since I wanted to physically break my controller/handheld system in half, but Rollers of the Realm brought the feeling back in full. All the practice and leveling up I did can be quickly crushed by a single bad bounce.
Rolling Through the World
The graphics in this game are pretty well done. Each table has its own unique feel to it, and the design never gets too repetitive. Although, since the design sticks to the traditional RPG world, nothing really seems to stand out amazingly either. Everything is nice and crisp, and amidst the occasionally hectic action, everything is relatively easy to follow. Each character’s ball has its own design to help you remember who you’re using, but it does become occasionally difficult to remember which ball to keep alive when you’re using a skill that give you extra disposables to use.
On the other hand, I am not a big fan of the character design at all. Its kind of hard to describe, but the design of the characters is kind of…off-putting. Perhaps it has something to do with the proportions of the characters seeming slightly off.
Bells and Whistles
I have to say, I quite enjoyed the background music in this game. It’s not something that’ll end up in my music collection to listen to outside of the game, but in the game itself, the tracks are fitting. The battle themes especially are well done.
The voice acting (voice acting in a pinball game!) is very hit-or-miss though. The first couple characters you get, the Rogue and the Knight, are done well. Their accents sound natural, and the acting itself, especially the Rogue’s, is great. The banter between these two characters specifically is excellent as well. Other characters, though…not so much. One later game character, who I can’t mention specifically without spoiling, has such a grating voice and stilted delivery that I skipped over most of the lines she had.
Roll On Over
Overall, while it is an interesting experiment, I found Rollers of the Realm to be somewhat uninteresting…and occasionally infuriating. However, I can’t call it a bad game. The mechanics and the gameplay are solid, and the concept, while unusual, is pulled off quite well here. The dull story and occasional reliance on luck are major turn-offs for me, though. It’s not a game for everyone; to get the most from this game, you already have to be a pinball fan…and I don’t know many pinball fans. Still, for only $9.99 at release, I’d say it’s worth a shot.
Despite wanting to put my Vita through a wall a few times, I’d rank Rollers of the Realm as above-average.
~ Final Score: 6/10 ~
Review copy provided by Atlus for PSP. Screenshots taken by reviewer.