Pocket RPG: Bite-Size Dungeon Action
Pocket RPG’s title may have you expecting a completely cerebral affair, but in practice it’s really more of an action game with RPG elements. It plays like a twin-stick action game and has dungeons put together like a roguelite. The RPG aspects of the game are quite slight, but they are present even if by today’s standards they’re mostly standard fare for a twin-stick action game. In a sense, you could say that Pocket RPG was ahead of its time.
You begin by selecting from one of three job classes. The Blade Master wields a weapon in each hand and is a master of melee combat. The Dark Ranger uses projectiles as a means of attack, with a play style very similar to a twin-stick shooter in practice. The last character, the Battle Mage, is like a mix of the two, able to attack at a range or close up, but not as well at either as the two specialist classes. You then enter a series of semi-random top-down stages spread across several quests where you’ll smash enemies and objects in pursuit of loot and experience.
What makes Pocket RPG a little different from most hack-and-slash RPGs is that after completing each quest, you lose all of that loot and experience. Wait, what? Yes, you start each new world set back to level one, minus all of that cool gear you collected. No awesome flaming sword of hacking, and all your grinding was for naught. Or was it? While your level is reset and you lose your loot, between each quest you’re able to acquire new permanent skills and pay to unlock items that will now have a possibility to appear in quests from that point forward. So while the traditional measures of RPG progress are constantly being zeroed out, you’re still becoming stronger the more you play. It sounds odd, but it ends up working really well.
Given the kind of experience the game is going for, breaking the game up into a series of mini-adventures works quite well. At the same time, putting in some sort of overarching character progression gives the player a sense of ownership. Indeed, the presence of a save spot for each character type seems to back up the idea that you’re meant to make each of them your own, taking them out on adventures and making them a little stronger each time. The downside of this is that while your character does become stronger as you play, the loot itself starts to feel like it’s all a bit throw-away. On the other hand, while any given cool item will soon be taken from you, it’s comforting to know that the next awesome piece of gear probably isn’t far off.
Resetting the experience each time is an interesting idea, though. As you play through the game, even though you start fresh on each world, you’ll level up faster and faster thanks to the permanent upgrades you’ve picked up. Each level up is not only satisfying in the aesthetic sense, it also serves the practical use of topping off your life meter. Thus, even characters devoid of any kind of innate healing ability can usually survive by the grace of rapid level-ups. From a purely psychological point of view, having the level ups come fast and furious is a clever bit of design. Pocket RPG puts you in a perpetual loop of getting a lot of useful level-ups.
Living up to the first part of its title, Pocket RPG is a great bite-sized adventure experience. While the game isn’t terribly long, the randomized dungeons are quite replayable. The variety among the characters is great, with each one different enough that it’s worth playing through the game three times just to experience all of them. Each quest lasts a punchy twenty to thirty minutes, which feels just about right for a game that aspires to be played during lunch breaks and other little bits of downtime. If you’re looking for a game that isn’t too taxing to play and offers some sense of satisfying progression, Pocket RPG is a solid choice.