By Mathew Imfeld / August 14th, 2017
|Release Date||July 31st, 2017|
American and European audiences rarely have the chance to play doujin soft titles legitimately. This is particularly due to how doujin circles work. For anyone not familiar, doujin is essentially just Japanese indie but even more small-scale. An event called Comiket is normally where these works are distributed, typically in small quantities.
For many, doujin works are seen as direct fan works. The most famous example is the notable doujin series Touhou Project. It has spawned numerous fan works for over a decade and seems to show no signs of stopping. However, there are original works such as Rosenkreuzstilette and the game for today as well, Lionheart, developed by the circle known as Shiisanmei. Released around 2013, Fruitbat Factory has decided to translate, localize, and refurbish the UI for an official English release.
The story follows Leon Lionheart, the son of the former leader of the Lionheart mercenaries, and Orsin, who used to be a Lionheart mercenary as well. Together, they plan to travel through the Libra Corridor, where Orsin intends to train Leon as he desires to explore the Corridor. At town they meet another mercenary by the name of Mariabell. She is out of work since the Guild will not accept her. However, after a bit of small talk with Leon, she decides to tag along with the duo. A nun named Emma also joins the party, who has close ties to Orsin’s past mercenary life. Over the course of their adventure, they discover the true nature of the Corridor.
That is essentially the plot. However, the actual plot never moves forward until three-fourths into the game. For the most part, the narrative’s structure is more akin to a series of adventures. Examples include defeating a mercenary named Kagura to recruit her, the goblin attacks, and the mage Cid’s endeavors in a mine. It reminds me of certain shonin anime that focus more on adventures of the week. In fact, the game’s script does follow many cliches associated with the shonin sub-genre, though the game does try to parody these cliches with tongue in cheek humor.
Yet I don’t think it succeeds, as many of the jokes, gags, and parodies fall flat for numerous reasons. The most glaring issue is their repetitiveness. Gags based around Leon’s stupidity or saying he is a pervert wear thin after a time. Another issue is the game’s script in general. The script can be very vague, incoherent, or simply lack substance. A lot of the time, the game will use descriptions such as *stab*, not for literal stabbing of a person but more for sheer embarrassment. Or I assume that’s what it means. I’m just not sure what the game is trying to convey at points.
However, now there is the gameplay to discuss. It is extremely bare bones in general despite being a JRPG. There are three options to proceed through a dungeon: rush, normal, and cautious. All three options will move an icon to the right by a certain amount, while also influencing encounter rates and drop rates. At certain points, you will reach markers that initiate an event of some sort: green for story events as well as gather spots, red for a forced encounters, and blue for a rest stop that allows the option to eat lunches to influence stats. This is the extent of exploration. There is simply no substance, and it makes grinding items a chore.
As for actual battles, the game is exceptionally simplistic, much to its detriment. Battles are round-based where the turn order is based on speed. Before a round, one can change what characters will fight during the round and apply numerous healing items. During the round proper, front-line characters can use normal attacks or a strong attack that is more likely to inflict down. Down is the only status in the game, reducing defense and cancelling anything that requires time to charge. For most rear-line characters, they have to use AP to cast a simple elemental spell or standby to replenish 2 AP. Sheela is the only exception as she uses a bow.
Special commands, such as Mariabell’s crimson fireball, require the use of an emblem that correlates to the element of the command in question. Once used, the emblem’s MP is used up and needs time to recharge. The more MP the emblem has, the more powerful the command will be. Initially, emblems can have up to 12 MP. Once Cid is recruited, superior emblems are available for use. These emblems allow for the use of stronger commands and have up to 18 MP. They also recharge 2 MP at a time compared to the normal 1 MP at a time.
All characters also have skills that are completely passive and rely on chance to activate. Pursuit is one such example. Pursuit gives the ability to attack downed enemies twice. It will only activate for normal and strong attacks. Due to the random chance, however, it either happens or it doesn’t. Books are the main requirement to unlock skills and commands. One must have books, such as martial arts manuals or biographies, to trigger the event that correlates with the book. With the book, one simply initiates the event on the world map and the book is used.
For a long time, one will need to normal attack enemies until they have enough AP to spend, as well as the proper emblems to inflict damage. Initially, battles are exceptionally tedious due to enemies with high HP and defense. It’s common to encounter enemies with over 300 HP despite only being able to inflict around 30 damage at best during the early game. It gets worse when there are about five enemies on screen. With rather weak area spells on hand, battles simply drag on unless one plays on casual, as it halves HP. It doesn’t help that there is little way to circumvent the HP issue, besides continually using magic to inflict higher and more consistent damage.
Additionally, in order to unlock skills, one must craft the books to play the event. There is only one area in the game that gives the material, fleece, to craft the item. As such, I had to go through it about fifty times throughout the play-through. Speaking of crafting, there is a lot of grinding to craft equipment. In the game proper, one can’t buy equipment, only craft it. Characters can have up to five equipment items they can have crafted for them. There are three to four tiers each and eleven characters in the game total. If added up, there are almost 200 pieces of equipment to craft. That is a lot of grinding for a simple game.
As for overall presentation, it is acceptable for a doujin title. Characters are technically drawn fine, and the special artwork looks great. It has a great amount of detail and depicts scenes wonderfully. Otherwise, backgrounds and enemies are exceptionally simple. Enemy designs are definitely simplistic with some odd shading. Area backgrounds also seem off due to the shading. The main issue is indeed the lighting. Backgrounds could have had better shading so that they felt more natural and popped out.
The audio presentation also needs some fine-tuning. Attacks can screech rather hard, and sometimes just lack any impact. Occasionally there is a noticeable cut-off, like with light magic. There is no in-between in that regard. Voice acting is also exceptionally cheesy, and it can be awful. The game is voiced in Japanese but character voices are over the top, sometimes miss what emotions should be conveyed, or are just downright unbearable. Music is also decent, though not particularly memorable. For what the game is, most of these presentation issues are harmless. A small doujin circle can only do so much, and this is Shiisanmei’s first RPG.
Overall, Lionheart is not particularly all that wonderful. Story aside, the gameplay needs many more elements in order to be truly enjoyable. The game is also about fifty hours for the main story alone. That is simply too long for a game of this simplicity. Shiisanmei could’ve condensed the experience and improved the game in general. As it stands however, the game needs improvement, especially since it is priced at 20 dollars. It did get a sequel so maybe that can be brought over, just for those curious about potential tweaks to the original game formula. Unfortunately, I felt like I wasted a lot of my time on numerous tedious activities.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher