The Treaties of Ghent

As far as war-torn fantasy realms go, the Dominion has a pretty smart approach to peacemaking: it sends the renowned barbarian Ghent to strong-arm neighboring leaders into its alliance. Together with Hassock, his trusty pack horse of a sidekick, Ghent is just finishing up his latest diplomatic tour and looks forward to a good rest. Fat chance of that! Little does he know that a treasonous plot is afoot and it’s just undone all his handiwork, unjustly framing him as an Emissary of War (Out Now, $0.99 full purchase via IAP).

It’s not every day we’re treated to a well scripted and fully voice acted tale at a rock bottom price! The deadpan Ghent and his more vibrant-but-clumsy-footed assistant make for the most memorable duo this side of Ash, and thanks to their interaction Emissary serves up the most entertaining story among the iOS RPGs I’ve played so far this year. Emissary‘s lean, in media res style is exactly what I love to see in RPGs, as it keeps the player guessing while he or she gradually figures out what’s happening.

Such a shame, then, that we don’t get a chance to learn more about the characters and their world. Cedar Hill does a superb job launching some curveballs within Emissary‘s scant two hour play time, but there’s no escaping how cliffhanger syndrome dulls the impact of its story. As fair warning, players should go into this one expecting a mere introduction to what could become a wider high fantasy franchise.

If an immediately compelling story is Emissary‘s greatest asset, its foremost liability is that it’s slow to start as a game. While it’s billed as an Action RPG, the heavy lifting is done by the game engine’s AI; the player pretty much assigns an enemy for Ghent to attack and he dutifully wails on it until it succumbs. This is certainly a change of pace from the button mashing style genre fans have come to loathe of the smartphone Action RPG ports, but I would argue it does little to solve the central problem this genre’s suffering from on iOS: the need for intelligent action and skill on the player’s part.

Fortunately, Hassock’s role props up Emissary‘s combat system quite a bit. While making sure Ghent stays on the ball as enemies are slayed, the player can also busy him-or-herself determining Hassock’s support activities — namely, which potions he lobs around the battlefield to heal the team or damage enemies. Hassock’s bag of tricks grows as upgrades are purchased through an ever-present shop system, and queuing them up properly makes all the difference in tight situations.  Between Ghent’s periodic, virtual button-invoked Rage ability and Hassock’s potion throwing, there’s just enough here to keep things interesting as the player progresses. The game’s short length works to its advantage in this department, as there’s little opportunity for the assortment of abilities on offer to wear out their welcome.

I’ve always been partial to tap-and-go since I first saw it used in Monster RPG 2, and Emissary proves that it’s just as useful for getting around in 3D environments. Emissary lets the player drag its dungeons around and command Ghent to check out far-flung areas with a single tap; a function to make him pick up the pace would be lovely though, as he likes to take his time moseying around. In a feature length RPG I would have complained about lack of area maps to help the player navigate, but Emissary ends before its dungeons become too unwieldy. Players should note that its auto-save system works only for purposes of retrying after a Game Over. If the player wants to turn the game off for some reason, Ghent and Hassock will be punted right back to the beginning of the current dungeon when it’s time to pick it up again — much better to keep Emissary running in the background and let the game’s multitask ability suffice as an auto-save for now.

Emissary‘s production values make it nothing short of an aesthetic tour de force at this price level! From excellent voice acting, to well animated models – if a little on the low poly side – to atmospheric music, it’s got just about every bell and whistle one could dream of for a buck. Voicework doesn’t end with the game’s main script, either; one of Emissary‘s nicest touches are random chats that Ghent and Hassock carry on while the player’s commanding them to explore.

iFanzine Verdict: At a higher price range Emissary of War‘s lightweight battle system would underwhelm, but the entire package is a must-have for RPG fans at this surprising tier. It should prove particularly enjoyable to those who could go for a more streamlined RPG experience and are on the lookout for an interesting story over gameplay depth.

[xrr rating=4/5]