Developer: Bandai Namco
Publishers: Bandai Namco
I was fortunate to hear about the release of Tales of Link just a few days after it formally became available in the US. Having finally been introduced to the Tales series, I was quick to download it onto my iPhone, though I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy the game. After all, connect-style games have never held my attention. I could slap everyone and anyone that sends me friend requests to play games like Candy Crush, and my first impression of this game was that it is a cheap attempt to capitalize on that popular series. Thankfully, I was very, very wrong. While the gameplay is still a touchscreen connect-the-color game, ToL actually has several RPG elements to it that make it novel and interesting to someone such as myself. Add in a fun but almost comical storyline, a fairly strong soundtrack, and literal dozens of characters from all of the Tales games, and it’s a home run! For a free iOS game it doesn’t get much better!
I do want to say that ToL is in its early stages, so there are a lot of bugs. The game will frequently crash during battles, but the developers were smart enough to include a save feature so you can restart the game and pick up exactly where you left off. The developers are also very good at compensating for server down times with energy gels and hero stones.
Overall, the theology of Tales of Link takes a back seat to everything else. The goddess of the game, Leonne is mentioned here and there but it’s really unclear what kind of entity she is. She works mainly through her servant, Lippy, who is tasked with purifying the seeds of corruption that are tainting the land below.
There are characters from a wide variety of games who bring their own beliefs with them, but there’s nothing front and center. Any mentions of the spiritual are limited to very brief, vague dialogue exchanges between battles. Some of the monster designs highlight the imagery of death, such as a skull-faced grim reaper, but again it’s mild.
The violence within the game is also mild. You see characters slash at the enemy, the enemy reacts, then flashes for a moment to show that they took damage or vanish in an explosion of gald, the universe’s currency. Honestly, there’s more violence in most Loony Toons cartoons.
There isn’t any to speak of. The exchanges between characters are innocent and vague, there’s no swearing save for maybe the upgraded version of “darn.”
There are no open sexual scenarios or scenes. There are, however, some immodestly dressed characters. Exposed torsos, cleavage, and some attire that leaves little to the imagination is seen in the character art of some of the female leads. Males generally are clothed a little more modestly.
There is none to be mentioned.
As vague as the story itself is, there’s a genuine sense of goodwill between the main character, Sara, and Lippy. The Savior (the formal title of the main character that you name) has no idea who he is, where he came from, or what he’s to be doing. Sara and Lippy offer companionship and assistance to a perfect stranger without hesitation. Sara, who’s struggling with her own personal problems, is quick to offer her support and reassurance to the confused hero. While the theme of friendship is lightly touched upon and there is a general theme of good vs evil, ToL does show the benefit of reaching out to those in need without expectations.
The world presented in Tales of Link is currently being plagued by the “Seeds of Ruin.” These seed are spreading chaotic influence that’s turning animals into monsters, corrupting the hearts of the common people, and bringing about chaos wherever they are found. When the game begins, the protagonist (which you name, but is formally titled “The Great Savior”) appears before Sara, a girl who’s brother has become corrupted by the seeds, and Lippy, a celestial fae-beast charged with seeking out and purifying the seeds. The Savior has no idea who he is or where he came from, he simply knows his name. Rather than wandering about aimlessly, he joins up with Sara and Lippy. Lippy quickly reveals that the Great Savior has the rare ability to use ancient artifacts known as Hero Stones to summon heroes and heroines from across the universe to come to his aid.
While not as in-depth as canon, mainstream Tales games, for a mobile app the story is impressive. Of course, being a mobile app, the gimmicky aspect is very very present. For example, Lippy carries on his neck an actual smart phone. In the canon of the universe it’s a “sacred artifact” called “SMARTPHON.” (I…groaned.) Thankfully, the developers gave the SMARTPHON some in-game application as it’s essentially a device that can locate the Seeds of Ruin.
The characters introduced in ToL aren’t the deepest either, and there’s really not a lot of connection between them compared to other ToL titles where the main character has a name, a voice, and a background- but again, it’s an iOS game and for what it is, it’s impressive. Sara is struggling with her brother, Caesar, and his having embraced the darkness that’s been sewn within him due to the seeds. Lippy is your token cute mascot character but compared to other Tales mascots like Mieu, he’s pretty tolerable.
Of course, the highlight of the game is the fact that you are able to summon characters from literally every Tales game using Hero Stones. Of course, Hero Stones are the in-game “special” currency that you can obtain through completing quests (generally one per completed level in the main campaign), special promotions (located in the “events” section), or by in-game purchases. In all the games I have played, ToL’s special currency is by far the most expensive. One Hero Stone costs $0.99. It takes 5 to roll ONCE for the chance to get a new character, which would cost you $4.99, and 50 to roll 10 times for an increased chance of getting a character with a higher star count, which would cost you $34.99. It’s best to save your hero stones for the monthly releases and pass on the ones that don’t really hold your interest. For example, if you really want to get a Yuri Lowell but the current month is the cast of Tales of Symphonia, you should pass on rolling for ToS characters and wait for the game to announce a promotion that includes Yuri.
When you begin, Hero Stones are not hard to come by. The campaigns are insanely easy, even with the low-level heroes and gear that you start with, and there are daily lo-in bonuses. On top of that, the hero summon for beginners gives you a TON of good high-star heroes and gear to help you get off on the right foot.
Heroes are summoned using Hero Stones. The major characters from the Tales series are available as possible party members and there is a variety of ways to gain them. Some events will reward you with a hero, heroes can be obtained through tournaments as prizes, and of course, by summoning. Summoning is always up to random chance, so if there’s a character that you want the odds are very much against you. On top of that, every hero has multiple incarnations based on their titles from their respective games. For example, [Duke’s Son] Luke is a silver three star hero. This means that he’s uncommon, fairly strong, and starts with a lower level cap. [Albert-style Fighter] Luke is a four gold star hero. This means he’s rare, much stronger, and has the level cap of 50. [Sword of Swords] Luke is a five gold star hero. This means that he is extremely rare, very powerful, and has the level cap of 59.
On top of all of that, characters have abilities that can assist you in battle. They can add multipliers to certain classes of allies (slash/shot/magic/etc.), they can change the color of the markers on the field, etc. It takes a lot of time, gald, and LP to customize a character to where they function at their highest potential, but in the long run it’s well worth it.
You are allowed to form parties of up to 9 heroes. The top 3 are your most important as they are able to use special abilities once your LC bar (think of this as your mana) fills up to cover the cost of that ability. These abilities can change the color of certain tiles, allowing you to create more links, or they can boost the attacks of certain color tiles or class types. The leader in your party will offer his or her own skill to the overall party, so it’s very important to arrange your party accordingly. When you enter battle, you can choose one of your friends. This gives you a second leader ability and whatever ability the leader has on the field. Obviously, it’s a good idea to go into a difficult stage with a friend who’s leader ability and field abilities help your particular party arrangement the best. It sounds complicated but it really doesn’t take long to learn.
Eventually, you will be able to earn (through special events) mystic artes. These are special abilities that deal out massive damage in combat. The mystic artes are specific to certain characters, but they can be attached to any character regardless of their title. You can remove them from one and attach it to another. For example, I earned Luke’s mystic arte. I had it on my [Albert-style Fighter] Luke but when I managed to grab a [Sword of Swords] Luke, I was able to move the mystic arte to him. This upped the power of the mystic arte because SoS Luke was much stronger and set at a higher level. Characters with mystic artes are marked by having their icons appear to be on fire (which is awesome) both in the menu prior to battle and on their chibi avitars during the battle. If you manage to have the entire grid match one single color and select the mystic arte character as the last character to attack, the mystic arte is released. Most of the time, this can KO even a boss in a hit.
Gears are the weapons and armor that you gain by completing missions (as seen on the home screen), completing quests, or through special events. The gears, like in any RPG, add to a character’s stats when equipped. Like in most Tales games, these gears can be upgraded by fusing them with like gears or materials. This adds to the level of the gear and ups the gear’s stats and added effects.
Like heroes, gears come in a variety of rarity levels: Super rare, rare, rare +, etc. The more rare a gear is, the higher of a level they can be fused to. If you get duplicate gears you can combine them up to five times to limit break them. Limit breaks allow the gears to exceed their default stats when they meet their level cap and grant the characters that they’re attached to additional buffs and modifiers.
Some gears come with elements which cause elemental damage to enemies in battle. Some enemies are weak to certain elements and have an immunity to others, so rotating gears to fit the situation is highly advisable. Other gears have special effects (like fire resist) that can give you the advantage in certain events and quests. The best way to learn about gears is to simply play around with fusing them, attaching them, and seeing how the character performs in battle.
Battles themselves are pretty straight forward. In ToL you will have three rows of three characters, each with a colored tile under them (blue circle, red square, green triangle, and pink heart). To attack, you touch the character and they will strike. You can achieve more damage if you are able to link up multiples of the same color. The more of the same color you link, the more characters will attack in that round. The circle, square, and triangle will all deal out damage according to the characters released (their attack value is displayed on their sprite) where as the heart squares will heal your party’s hp. The more hearts you link up, the more you are able to heal.
Each character has a class (which is represented by the small weapon on their avatar), an attack value (the white numbers on the left), and an element. Those with active elements will have the element shown just under their attack value. While the actual connect-the-dots aspect of combat is pretty simple, there are other elements to it that add difficulty and fair challenge. The first levels in the main campaign are extremely easy but as you get further along or participate in the monthly events, the battles become more challenging and require more strategy.
In battle, you have four characters on the bottom of the screen; three are your leading triad of heroes and one is the leader of your friend’s team. When their icons flash, you can activate their special ability in battle. Using these can greatly shift the tide of battle in a moment’s notice. Using these in combination with mystic artes will give you an advantage, especially in the extremely difficult boss battles offered during monthly events.
The amount of detail put into the app is impressive. There’s literally thousands of ways that you can build your team, your characters, and perform in battle. Casual players can enjoy the simple connect the dot mechanics and reap the daily rewards offered by the game if it’s turned on once every day. More competitive players can really get into the tournaments and compete for rank, special releases, and event-only releases. While the price is steep for in-game purchases, those with enough patience to learn the game and how to manage their time, stamina, and daily items can get very far without spending a cent.
Presentation-wise, it’s impressive for an iOS game. The game lacks the skits and beautiful animated sequences that have become a staple of the Tales series, but the artwork is beautiful. The backgrounds are beautifully painted and the character art is always awesome. The music isn’t exactly something I would rock out to on the iPod but it’s not bad. The voice acting, while entirely in Japanese, is very well done and suits the characters well.
Overall, Tales of Link is a lot of fun. Any RPG fan will find something to enjoy and Tales fans will have a blast trying to collect their favorite characters and arranging teams with them. The online events have awesome payouts and the competitions really keep you glued to your device. Word to the wise: keep your charger on hand. You’ll need it.
The Bottom Line
For an iOS game, Tales of Link is impressive. Though the story isn't on par with the console titles and there are gimmicky aspects to the mobile game, it's all in good fun trying to collect all your favorites from the Tales games and see them on the same battlefield. The music is great, the voice acting is well done, and with monthly events, tournaments, and promotions there's always more to do. It's free to download and if you play it casually, you'll likely not drop a cent into the game. I don't see myself removing it from my phone any time soon.