Some gamers know Hironobu Sakaguchi's name. Others do not. Just about everyone is familiar with his work, however. He's the creator of the Final Fantasy series of games, the director of Final Fantasy 1 through 5, one of the designers of Chrono Trigger, the producer or executive producer of Final Fantasy 6 through 12, and unfortunately, the director of the feature film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. In 2003, he resigned from the company built on his efforts to strike out on his own, just before the merger that created Square Enix. His new company, Mistwalker, debuted with a bang, releasing two great RPGs on the Xbox 360, Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. These titles were backed by Microsoft money, and it was hoped they would give the 360 what it needed to compete in the Japanese market. Unfortunately, they didn't go over quite the way Microsoft had hoped.

Photo 2014-09-09, 23 21 59Having already teamed with Nintendo on a DS title, Mistwalker moved their fortunes to that system, working with a few different publishers to somewhat middling financial results. Sakaguchi then made his return to consoles with The Last Story, created in partnership with Nintendo for the Wii. The title appeared to have been prophetic thanks to its somewhat weak sales results, and for a while the only things we heard out of Mistwalker were the unusual Party Wave [Free], a bizarre little trifle focused on Sakaguchi's real love, surfing, which was followed soon after by a relatively unexciting strategy game called Blade Guardian [$0.99].

But you can't keep a good man down, especially one with such an iconic mustache. It appears we have not heard the last story or the final fantasy from Hironobu Sakaguchi, because he's back with a new fantasy-themed social RPG called Terra Battle [Free], and though he might have set out to make a money-making game riffing off of Puzzle & Dragons [Free], he just couldn't help himself from making a fine game out of it.

Terra Battle is a free-to-play social RPG, and like most social RPGs from Japan, its basic structure is heavily informed by Puzzle & Dragons. You'll form a party from characters and monsters you collect to take on each chapter of the story. Within each chapter are a number of stages, and each stage has a set number of battles. You need to clear all of the battles in a stage without losing all of your party members to finish it. Finish all of the stages in a chapter and you'll be rewarded with some energy and access to the next chapter. You'll occasionally earn new characters from battles, but your main source of new blood comes from the tavern, where you can put up some easily-earned coins or hard-earned energy to get a random character or monster. Typically, coins earn you generic characters, while energy earns you powerful named characters. You can bring up to six members into battle with you at one time.

Photo 2014-09-09, 23 22 09As you might expect, the story has a bit more work put into it than we usually see in this type of game. The game takes place in a world on the brink of destruction, populated by three races that don't see eye-to-eye. Each of the groups seeks their Maker, said to be resting deep within the planet. Your group sets out to explore this mystery and hopefully find some hope for your doomed world. The story is told in small text pieces before each stage, and although it's very minimal, it's quite effective. I'm not sure if we'll ever get a resolution to the story, with the game being what it is, but the effort is still appreciated. I also enjoyed the well-written profiles accompanying each character's art.

Anyway, you put together your little team of characters, and all is looking very familiar at this point. Multiple currencies, a premium currency that can be spent for rare pulls, a stamina meter that can be replenished with said multiple currency, and I'll bet I can use that stuff to continue if I lose a battle, too. Oh, look, I was right. We've seen this setup a million times before, and apart from the absolutely brilliant music playing in the background, it doesn't seem like something that would have come from the hand of the guy that launched JRPGs into the worldwide consciousness. At this point, you come to the battles, and finally, we can see the master's touch. He's working with limited resources, but he's still working.

At first glance, it seems almost tragically primitive. You have an eight by six grid with your characters portraits laid out on some of the spaces, and the portraits of the enemies laid out on others. Numbers on each enemy card indicate how many turns you have before they attack, and on each turn, you can move around one of your units for a certain amount of time before settling them into a space. Like Puzzle & Dragons, you can use this unit to push your other members around, effectively moving them without even touching them, but once your timer is up, the character your finger is on drops into the square and your turn is done. Well, obviously, we want to move our character over next to an enemy, right? That's not enough, though, because to attack the enemy, you need to flank them. This immediately gets your mind rolling on how to surround an opponent when you can only move one piece at once, teaching you the pushing technique that is so vital to games like these.

Photo 2014-10-08, 18 23 57Initially, you greatly overpower the enemy, so clearing them out is a pretty simple matter. The heat turns up soon enough, however, and enemies will not only start behaving more intelligently, they'll also throw out a variety of special attacks. These attacks will often cover certain patterns around the enemy, and many of them will knock your units out of their positions. Then there are the bosses, who are not only loaded with deadly attacks, but can also just knock your characters out of the way just by moving around. It's not long before you actually have to learn how to play this game properly. There's not an ounce of luck involved in the battles, so passing or failing depends on two things: the strength of your team, and your strategy.

Flanking your opponents delivers a basic attack, and there's a chance it will also trigger one of your special moves. These things are great, but not sufficient in the long run. You need to pay attention to more than just the two flanking units, positioning your other units in such a way that your whole party is connected in a crazy web of destruction. If you can do that, you'll start stacking up damage as your characters trigger combo after combo until someone or something knocks them out of it. You also need to consider the weapons your units are using compared to the enemies. There's a whole rock-paper-scissors triangle going on with spears, swords, and bows, and while an attack is an attack, if you want to maximize damage and minimize casualties, you need to keep the strong units out front and the disadvantaged ones in supporting positions. It's an easy thing to do when all of the enemies are of one type, but you're rarely afforded such luxury. Prioritizing is key.

The battles are the heart of Terra Battle. They're clearly the most well thought out part of the game, and they're what will keep you coming back. I play a ton of games in this sub-genre, and the level of strategy here compared to literally everything else I've played is astounding. It's also tethered inexorably to a free-to-play experience, unfortunately. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's great that anyone can try this out for free, because I think it would be a hard sell otherwise with its spartan look, but you will eventually hit what feels like a soft paywall. It's hours into the game, but it's there. The game is fairly generous with giving you energy, and I've received more than enough to put together a full team of named characters, but misfortune or a slightly tweaked balance could turn this game from beautiful to ugly in a heartbeat. The stamina meter chafes badly, too. The cost of playing each stage increases as you go along, and it picks up far faster than your meter increases. It's not long before you're at a point where you can only play a couple of stages before taking a break. By that point, stages are running pretty long, but it's still a bummer if you're looking to cozy in for the evening on this the way you would another Sakaguchi epic.

I think that expectations are an important factor in how well you're going to enjoy Terra Battle. Compared to the average Sakaguchi game, it's a bit meager and the free-to-play stuff is certainly not to the game's benefit. On the other hand, stacking it up against other social RPGs shows it to be something well beyond that category's typical effort. On one side, stamina meters, premium currencies, and paywalls. On the other side, an excellent story, an extremely engaging combat system, and some of the best music I've heard in a mobile-original game, courtesy of Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu. Terra Battle is a game that gives me conflicted feelings, like if you hired David Bowie to write and perform a jingle for laundry soap and he just completely knocked it out of the park, but at the end of it all, it's still a soap jingle.

Okay, before I come up with any other terrible metaphors, I'm going to bring this review to a close. I think Terra Battle is an excellent game, and at least as far as its battle system goes, it might be the most well-designed social RPG ever made. It's better than a handful of the full-priced games Sakaguchi has stamped his name on, to be sure. I strongly recommend trying it, but do so knowing that as good as it is, it's all ultimately in service to the same basic principles every free social RPG runs on. All of those things keep the game from being all it can be, and in the case of this game, it's a real shame, because I think what this game could have been is something truly exceptional, instead of merely great.

TouchArcade Rating

  • defunct32

    Not available in Singapore, looking in the mirror right now reflecting my sad panda face.

  • JRaynor

    Its not available in a lot of places i dont know what mistwalker was thinking with that kind of release what the are getting is that some folks looking forward to the game now an going to forget about it sadly

    On the review i didn't read since i dont need any convince to try out it, but good to see it got a great score since this is they of how you do a f2p

    But as always the forum here is already comming with the typical and annoying comment that "there is paywalls" etc when most user playing since the soft launch are already going in chapter 14 (myselft included) or above speding nothing

    Hell the even gave the premiun currency in a good rate, anyone saying this is a sort of p2w or something like that is out of their mind sadly

    The only bad thing i notice is those screenshot on the review, on the iphone 5-5S looks like there is a lot of empty space on the top and lower part of the screen

  • Sheo

    Giveaway of 4,5 stars

  • Enker

    I've been playing for a little while solidly now and the game is great - though the gameplay lacks a sense of weight somehow, possibly because everything flows and moves so effortlessly around the battlefield. The first boss battle was a real game changer, I was getting bored with the tutorial and suddenly a whole new dynamic opened up. I think this is going to be a game I'm playing for a long time!

  • Jak Constantine

    This and castaway paradise are my apps of the week

  • pinta_vodki

    Sadly, not available in Russian App Store either... =(

  • curtneedsaride

    I'd like to explore this game a bit, but I'm worried. I mean, it's not like after I hit the paywall I'm going to be spending $5-10 every day I sit down to play it. So, I'm struggling with whether or not to even get started into it. I've played the tutorial and it's fun. But I just won't pay to refill energy in a game. The sooner developers stop using that tactic, the better. How many of you guys pay to refill those energy timers on a consistent basis?? Do all those Farmville people really pay to get their crops early? Oh well. I would have gladly given them $10 for a full premium experience.

    • JRaynor

      then dont pay and use the free 10 energy that you get when you start, also the give free energy the first week real easy, after that it changes between gold and energy

      Cleaning a chapter give the whole stamina bar full and even give you one energy as well

      What more can you ask for? is a free game and the devs need to get money somehow

      Yes yes the typical thing i would pay them "X" amount of $ for a full premium experience is getting old imo since then you seen most of the premiun games on the forums people are either wating or whatever they look for now

      • curtisrshideler

        I'd pay X for a premium game is getting old?! All games would be better off premium for gamers. I think it's getting old seeing good games get crippled by the F2P model. But I'm glad for you who are used to it. I'm going to give this a shot for a while. I'd just love to see someone do a game just like this that I could feel good about paying upfront for. I'm going to be vocal about this on every game that I like.

      • Mnstrzero00

        I don't know party wave was a good premium game but it didn't break any records. Free to play can be dive well and I think this game does it. And anyway if you're annoyed that you can't keep playing that means the game is doing something right.

      • Ausar

        Looks like you don't understand what I'm trying to said, I would like as well seen more games been premium with a proper price tag

        But is also getting old seen in every f2p thread the same thing of "I would pay X amount of $" if they give us a premium version and then the funny thing is when a new game appears on the forum with a premium price tag everyone is either waiting for impressions, or saying that price is a little high for that type is game or that is to short or whatever

        In short what I'm saying is that the I would pay X is pure BS because is this game was 10-15$ no one would buy it using the excuse that the gameplay is to simple for example

        In any case this doesn't need any premium version since the game is fine the way it is, there isn't any paywall or anything, just like Real racing 3 was at launch f2p done right (now is mostly crap)

      • XianZhuXuande

        Ausar, truth right there. I hate the F2P model, but the fact is that premium is not doing as well as it should in the App Store, though I hope games like Banner Saga slowly change that.

        Someone doesn't get to whine about F2P and then whine about a $10 price tag on a good game.

        This game, though, is off to a good start. I haven't spent any money yet (will if the balance feels good in the long term just to support a good F2P model) but I'm having a lot of fun thus far.

      • JRaynor

        exactly my point, kudos to you

        I would like nothing more to see this good games in premiun but this doesn't sell right now being premiun and most on the folks that are always with the "i would have buy it if they charges us 20$ instead of being f2p crap" are just ridiculous because like you said when a good premiun game comes they never buy it until is on sale

        And anyone bashing this with paywalls or something like that is awfully wrong i have been playing since the soft launch with a team full of B and one S class you get from the history and never hit a paywall

        Heck even with the last updates you get even more free energy (the premiun currency)

        PS: I'm Ausar

      • visualplayer

        I pay premium prices for games gladly.

      • curtneedsaride

        Unless you do the Arena Metal Levels. Did a couple of those, and my "stamina" was gone. But I just closed the app and forgot about it. That's where they lose me. I've hit that timer/stamina wall a few times already. But if I was able to play as long as I would like to in any way that I would like to, I'd be MUCH more likely to actually pay real money to get a new character or two.

  • hdtest

    Hd test

  • Amenbrother

    Liking it so far!

  • RainSoul

    its amazing!

  • dmpunks

    Aww. Not available in the Philippine app store either. It's following the Puzzle & Dragons model here too.

    • JasperA66

      Not in Australian App Store.

    • Pivi

      Neither in the hungarian store. I'm sad.

    • KiwiRed

      Not the NZ store either. Perhaps they should have announced where it actually *is* available?

    • Tito Piccolo

      Just download a cracked one hahaha

  • Ben Seeberger

    It's a fine game, but I can't play it because my connection is crap. The online connection eventually forced me to delete this gem, because I could only play through a proxy, and the game doesn't seem to like those either. Seems to require a pretty heavy online component for such a simple game.

    Not available in China, but seriously every other game in the App Store is. Mind you, I'm playing with a US account, which makes the restriction even more silly.

    • Ben Seeberger

      I reinstalled and tried again, with a more stable proxy connection.

      One of my favorites! Not much of a social RPG yet (functions are not yet available). I couldn't kill the second boss, so I used up some energy to hire a rare (the kind that you can get different jobs for who have a load of optional skills) and wow, the tactical nature of this game is amazing. I'm not sure, unlike Shaun, that I would want to spend a whole evening with this game, given the amount of time each battle takes (and brainpower), so the current energy (at least on the second level) is suiting me fine so far.

      I'm super impressed with Mistwalker. Here's hoping they stop being idiots about region blocking. Or maybe they will release more regions when they get the arena up and running. Who knows.

      • Von Strubel

        As there is version in the german appstore and a (incomplete) german language version in the game it seems they offer the game depending on wether it's translated or not. Doesn't make sense for NZ and Australia of course.

  • Ryskim

    Not interested. Portrait forced game. Also, I hate card games. No thanks.

    • XianZhuXuande

      It is neither.

    • pinOi32

      It's not a card game. You should watch a video of its gameplay.

    • Dailon Huskey

      I hate card games too don't put this in that category and by the way I hate puzzle games too but love this one! Don't judge this book by it's cover if oyu love RPG games you will like it.

  • Kour

    Hate that it's not on the NZ App Store.

  • Silent Rocco

    Oh boy, such a BRILLIANT battle system. This system in a paid game without IAP and I would have my next fav iOS game. I hate iAP a lot more today. Boy, good ideas getting wasted here, sadly.

  • Splendrick

    Also not available in the Swiss iOS or Android store, just like Puzzle and Dragons. Seriously, what is the thinking behind this? Do they want people to pirate a free-to-play game?

  • runesnatcher

    The dev has a twitter account is giving away codes that allow enough energy to recruit a free rare hero.

    Enter this dhth66nWXVCbjdTC in Options, Enter Gift Code. You can copy/paste it.

    You get your first real chance at a rare hero after you complete the first five missions. There will be a letter in your inbox in game with five energy from the developer as well. That plus the code above get you two pulls. You can get S and SS class guys from the tavern. If you don't like the guys that you roll, you can uninstall the game, reinstall it and try again. Took me six installs, but I snagged an SS!

    Poked around in the game, looks like there will be a co-op and player versus player coming. Puzzle and dragons better step it up pretty quick - their imitators are getting better and better.

  • Sosonic

    Like this game! bit hard for me tho

  • Dailon Huskey

    I am really loving this game!

  • nadav bar kama

    its out in Spain. and although im not a big fan of the genre, this title is excellent, it has a certain quality and flow that just sucks you into the game experience ... highly recommended.

    p.s the F2P vs Premium issue is boring.

  • Yannis

    Still not available in the Greek App Store. Did they say anything about availability or are we to just wait for it?

  • Andrew Clear

    Seems the only bad things sad about the game, was that he had to find a way to try to make people actually pay for the game....

    It is a great game. I play it here and there, and I should probably buy some stamina one day just to support it. I do hope he gets a chance to make another excellent game like Lost Odyssey.

  • Jay

    Social F2P 🙁

    I learned my lesson from Etherlords.

  • An Tran

    I thought The Last Story sold pretty well considering new IP JRPGs had a smaller audience.

  • Dailon Huskey

    I am so addicted to this amazing game! I have no other puzzle type game on my phone as I hate them so much (my opinion which I know is not w the mainstream) but this delivers something else it's like Final Fantasy battles on a grid and I can't stop playing. At times it can be very challenging and thats part of what keeps me coming back for more. How this is free is beyond me at some point I will give this dev some of my money for making this killer game!

  • Dailon Huskey

    This is one of the best games I have ever played... what an awesome piece of work. Only free game and only puzzle game I really enjoy, can't wait for the future content. Best free game ever and I hate free games 🙂 usually they are scams this one is not, the end.

  • PausAkid

    This is my game of the year. Not perfect (I can always think of things to improve 😉 but really well balanced & fun work of art.

  • Death Lord777

    At first I was suspicious of the game since it was freemium. But the game has become one of my favorite games on my iPad.

  • Cory Radebaugh

    Beware!!! This game, while fun, will steal your money if you pay for energy. Game crashed after spending over $300.00 and they wouldn't refund nor give me my account back NO MATTER what information I provided! They are scam artists who care NOTHING for their customers. You've been warned!

    I will never purchase another product by this conman of a company (Mistwalker) again.

Terra Battle Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 4.5