Short and Sweet

As we discovered in our hands-on preview a few weeks back, the star of Pixel and Texel’s debut Action RPG is an ill-fated scientist whose arm has been afflicted by a talking symbiotic blob. It turns out he’ll find not one, but three of these sarcastic jellies inseparably attached to him by the end of his journey! Will he survive their fourth-wall-breaking wisecracks, let alone the fiendish Viking hordes that populate this mysterious island he’s found himself on?

Yes, in a freakish incident of App Store serendipity, iOS Action RPG fans now have two lighthearted genre offerings to choose from, released one day apart. While the audience overlap is undeniable, there’s a marked difference in style between Fara (Out Now, $0.99 Sale) and yesterday’s Mage Gauntlet. In this reviewer’s opinion they’re both impressive games that contribute much to the genre thanks to the open-mindedness of their respective creators. Likewise, both are strong alternatives to the KRPG model. If you’re reading this as a cash-strapped genre fan trying to figure out which one to grab first, you’ll no doubt want to take into consideration the factors that set these brand new titles apart.

Whereas Mage Gauntlet’s combat feels swift and aggressive, Fara’s is more laid back and calculated. The scientist is no hardened warrior, so he’s best suited to dashing around or waiting in safety while enemies loose their attacks, then pouncing when their guard is down. Enemies are dispatched far more quickly in Fara than in any other iOS Action RPG, hands down; most can be taken out with one or two regular sword strokes or a single dash attack, bosses being an exception of course. Good thing, too, because the scientist has only one weapon to work with. Contrast this with the tons of weapons, armor, and spells players can sift through in yesterday’s release. If you’re holding out for a polished Action/Adventure title but feel squeamish at the merest mention of character micromanagement, Fara should be right up your alley. The only things the player has to keep track of are healing herbs and helpful potions in the scientist’s inventory of consumables, which the player can replenish at shops.

Like Mage Gauntlet before it, Fara excels in environment design — albeit in a different way. Fara’s seamlessly presented overworld certainly feels expansive enough to leave the player with a sense of high adventure, but its dungeons are tightly constructed, designed to go hand in hand with the scientist’s grappling hook and float shield. Compared to Mage Gauntlet’s straightforward level progression, Fara has more of a Zelda or Metroid feel to it, with new areas opening up to the scientist as he acquires the right tools. The grappling hook takes him over chasms or deep water as long as there’s a sturdy rock or an enemy on the other side; the float shield gets him over lava and poison pools. Dungeons contain neat gesture-controlled minigames that break up the usual proceedings. The scientist will find himself capturing and manning a ballista in the middle of an enemy fort, repairing battering rams so he can clear rocks that bar his progress, and more. Even the final boss battle starts off with a rockin’, tilt-controlled minigame!

Given Fara’s focus on problem solving and adventuring, my chief concern going in was whether the scientist would gather enough abilities to keep the player engaged over the long haul — could one sword, a grappling hook, and a float ability really last a whole ten-plus hours? Evidently Pixel and Texel shared the same concern, because the scientist’s adventure wraps up quickly. Fara will last five hours maximum for players who take on all the side quests available in the game’s central town, and a playthrough with a sharp focus only on the main campaign will last two to three, factoring in defeats. When the game ends, the player may continue exploring to mop up missed side quests and fill up his or her Game Center record.

This will make the jaw of more than one genre fan drop, as we’ve gotten used to 15-hour campaigns at the $2.99 price tier. What matters most, however, is that Fara’s length is perfectly suited to the number of toys the player gets to work with; there’s never a moment where the game feels like it’s stretching on without serving up something fresh. Fara’s below-average length can also be partially attributed to a player convenience: every time the scientist dies, he’s reset very close to where he fell, so the player spends far more time forging into new territory than re-treading screens that have already been conquered. Moreover, a shorter adventure should prove tantalizing to those who don’t find themselves sticking with longer Action RPGs all the way in the first place.

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