Games as Study: Terra Battle

You can tell these are all on their first jobs, because pretty much everyone becomes robots when they get new jobs.

You can tell these are all on their first jobs, because pretty much everyone becomes robots when they get new jobs.

日本語の勉強のためゲーム:テラバトルの批評

I was pretty dismissive about mobile games in the past. But perhaps I should reconsider my stance.

Game Overview

Japanese Name: テラバトル
English Name: Terra Battle
Platform: Mobile (iPhone, iPad, Andriod, Tablets), free with microtransactions
Worldwide Languages: Japanese, English, Spanish*, French*, German*
Release Date: October 9, 2014
Recommended For: Intermediate-Advanced
Best Suited: Intermediate

*Limited to menus; not presently useful for the purposes of learning the language, beyond a few words

Basic Review

I’ve been relatively happy with Mistwalker since their debut in 2004. The main team, consisting of ex-Square employees includes Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu, both instrumental in the initial success of Final Fantasy. Sakaguchi directed the first five Final Fantasy games, and stayed as producer with the later Final Fantasys. Nobuo Uematsu worked solo on the soundtracks to every Final Fantasy game until FFXI. Both very capable figures in the world of video games, although both not without their faults. While I’ve enjoyed their games, each one has bugged me in one way or another. Regardless, I’m always curious and willing to see what the next game will hold.

Terra Battle is a strategy RPG for mobile devices. The gameplay starts simple and grows more complex over time. The basic combat takes place on an 6×8 grid. Your team consists of 2-6 party members, fighting a number of enemies at a time with the goal to, you guessed it, kill all of them. In order to do that, you must take two of your party members and position them on either side of an enemy in a “pincer formation”, after which they’ll perform an attack and have a chance to use their abilities. Every party member occupying the same horizontal or vertical line with the attacker will also strengthen the attackers and activate their abilities.

However, the caveat is that you can’t simply drop your party members however you want in-between turns. Instead, you choose one member to move, and within a short period of time, you can reposition that character. By “running over” another character, that run-over character moves to the adjacent tile that the controlled character was previously on. By doing this a number of times, you can reposition all of your characters in one turn, if you so wish. The controls are very responsive, and unlike some games which feel like their platform was an afterthought, Terra Battle feels like a game made for the phone.

So drag the top guy down over the girl on the bottom left and then bring him up though the middle so that guy is in between the two guys and then down to the right and BAM! Everyone's dead.

So drag the top girl down over the girl on the bottom left and then bring him up though the middle so that guy is in between the two guys and then down to the right and BAM! Everyone’s dead.

Your party is made of six characters (ranked D-SS). Their rank determines how strong their stats are and how slow they level up, but isn’t necessarily an indicator of their overall utility. An SS ranked character is very strong, but takes ages to level up. For the main story, characters ranked B and A are often more immediately useful. Basic D-B enemies—which can be recruited from normal combat—are there for the initial part of the game (before you have better party members) and for collections sake. Bosses can also be recruited, but like the enemies, don’t have the utility of named characters.

Like any RPG, they come in your standard variety of attackers and mages and healers. Named characters also have three jobs, the second and third of which need to be unlocked with items in the game. Sometimes, their job changes their basic nature, as a fire mage becomes a bow-user or a status-effect mage becomes a spear-user. In general, however, their second and third jobs are superior to their first. Abilities can be shared across jobs for additional customization.

Wish I had this guy when fighting Leviathan. :(

Wish I had this guy when fighting Leviathan. 😦

Rare for mobile games is the inclusion of a storyline unique to the game. The main plot centers around a group on a quest to find God (The Maker in the English version). Before long, this takes them down into the planet itself. Each battle begins with a bit of story, giving context to the fights. Some of these bits of early storyline are useless, but once players get to the heart of the game, the scenes are rarely wasted opportunities (Chapter 20, amirite?). By the end of the game, I was impressed by the direction the game took and the world-building that took place. Nothing in the initial quarter of the game gave me the impression that the game would be as well-thought out as it was.

The game currently has 30 chapters, ranging from 4-10 battles each. Initial battles acquaint the player with the battle system and actually give the impression that the game is simple. As the game continues however, the battles become more difficult, requiring modifications of the team and strategy in each battle to succeed. By Chapter 5, losing is not a crazy proposition. By Chapter 15, winning a battle by a slim margin isn’t out of the ordinary. Depending on your luck and the characters you draw, the game could be significantly easier or harder.

Alongside the storyline, the game has a distinct atmosphere to it. Nobuo Uematsu’s music alongside the dark imagery help create a unique and nuanced world. Each named character has a backstory you can read on their profile and additional dialogue with the recruitment of other party members. On top of this, the artwork is exceptional, with an interesting variety of characters. My largest complaint with the artwork is just that the character’s second and third jobs often look too similar, but that can be overlooked.

Like other mobile games, Terra Battle employs a “stamina” system, wherein battles cost a number of stamina to play. Each point of stamina takes 5 real life minutes to recharge. Stamina increases with the completion of each chapter. While the stamina can be limiting, I found that the number of battles it provided before a break is often just right. Two or three battles a session. Come back in another hour or two, and you have a few more battles you can play. If your goal is to be constantly playing than this will likely be mark against the game. For me however, it worked alongside my time management skills to be beneficial, as well as keeping the game fresh.

On that note, it’s important to address the free-to-play model the game employs. By purchasing “energy”, players can restore their stamina completely, revive all party members after a wipe, as well as roll for a chance at a new character (B-SS Rank character). Of these uses, rolling for new characters is generally the most useful, as even a B-ranked character is much more useful than the D-B ranked wild enemies that can be recruited. However, even with the random chance at a named character, this isn’t a “pay-to-win” game. No amount of energy will make a bad player into a good player. For all these reasons, I never felt the need to buy energy throughout my entire time with the game.

Finally, there is a “Download Starter” program, which works almost like a reverse Kickstarter. That is, depending on how many downloads the game gets, new content will be added. Recently, co-op play was added, giving a fresh new experience. And though it’s not my cup of tea, PVP is set to be added as well. With the recent milestone, additional story content is coming. Perhaps the best thing I’m learning about mobile games is that they are, like MMOs, often evolving and updating.

Overall, the game keeps itself fresh with interesting world-building and artwork, a sometimes surprising plot, and a combat system that can keep players on their toes. The big downside is that players cannot play limitlessly without the purchase of real life energy and that, for some players, their luck rolling good characters might be nonexistent. I was lucky myself to have a strong mage and a healer to get myself off the ground, and I’m sure that affected my enjoyment with the game (I guess that’s why people re-roll their starting characters).

Game itself: 8/10

Language Review

Terra Battle is in the class of RPGs that seems aimed for adults. The language is often difficult and uses kanji whenever possible (for example, 殲滅 instead of せん滅, or 雑駁 instead of 雑ぱく).

For instance, the first mission of Chapter 1 begins with:

ガルスの刻と呼ばれた

超古代文明

その滅びから、幾千年…。

遺された者たちは、

衰退の薄明の中を彷徨い続ける。

大気は薄まり、

大地は重力から解き放たれていく。

…before going on for another page or two.

Mind you, I learned a lot of strange words from the game, and no doubt my Japanese improved, but it was distinctly RPG vocabulary. If you’re not into that, the benefits will be weaker.

Adding insult to injury, the game is heavy with writing and has no voice overs to speak of (pun intended). This all adds to the fact that the game is for the literate. If you can’t read Japanese, it will be tough to understand what’s going on. To aid those whose Japanese is weaker, some words are bolded and highlighted for emphasis, but this only goes so far. Thankfully, the dialogue is not needed to progress in the game.

That said, there are some distinct areas where the game is very successful. For instance, the game has an option in the menu to re-read any bit of the story without having to replay the battle. This means on any given evening, players could look back at an old section of the story and study up.

Where the game shines is in its inclusion of English as an option. That means, players could play the game in Japanese, change the language to English, and look at the dialogue again. Or, in the reverse order, if that’s the way.

Looking at the above passage in English:

The primordial civilization of Gallus…

Millennia have passed since its fall.

Those who remain now wander in ebbing twilight.

The atmosphere dwindles and even gravity loses its grasp upon solid ground.

The Japanese becomes easier to understand knowing the English translation. Sometimes, on comparing the two, I was pleasantly surprised at a different meaning coming about.

Being only able to play for a few times a day means the study could be limited, but if you do at least one new battle a day, there’s an opportunity for a few new words consistently.

In the end, advanced learners, have at it! Beginners, take caution.

Language learning: 6/10

Summary

-Advanced dialogue for advanced learners
-No voice overs
-Text stylistically highlighted to show importance of certain words
-Can switch from English to Japanese at a moment’s notice
-Can re-watch any story scene from the menu

Overall: 7

If you’re planning to use this game to study, this is a harder sell. The lack of voice overs and the advanced, literary word choice means that beginners should probably turn away. Advanced learners, on the other hand, might find a gem here. All learning aside, if you just want to play this in English, and you want a free, quality game for your smart phone, this is worth picking up.

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