Egglia: Legend of the Redcap ($9.99) is an example of a game that betrays expectations to its own detriment. Because the development team consists of some key people who worked on Square’s Mana series, the game’s look and marketing might give you the impression it’s a similar game. It’s not. The game carries a relatively high price tag and no IAP, factors which usually point to a more traditional gaming experience, but Egglia also requires you to maintain an online connection and deal with a lot of timers and social RPG elements. On a fundamental level, you might look at the game’s previews and screenshots and think you’re getting something along the lines of a standard JRPG. But it’s not that, either. Sadly, I think if you come into the game holding too strongly to any of these reasonable expectations, you’re a lot less likely to enjoy the game for what it is. I suppose that’s at least one major thing Egglia has in common with the average Mana game.
I’m going to start by skipping to the end. I like Egglia a lot. I think it’s a really enjoyable game, and well-worth the price paid in both money and time. It feels like the developers were trying to evoke a similar feeling to the wonderful oddball Legend of Mana, and while I think they fell well short of that game in most respects, I cannot help but applaud such a noble attempt. There are a lot of things I wish they had done differently both in terms of the game design itself and how they’ve opted to deliver it, but I like a lot more about Egglia than I dislike. There are a handful of caveats on this recommendation, however. The online requirement is only the most obvious of them, but certainly the first you should be aware of prior to purchasing the game.
We’re about a half-decade down the road from the initial explosion of social RPGs in Japan. It’s not surprising to see a number of Japanese developers in every gaming market taking some lessons from them and incorporating certain elements into pre-existing designs. Egglia takes a lot of inspiration from that sub-genre, and indeed is probably best classified as a premium social RPG if we’re looking at things honestly. Not only does the game need to check in online fairly often, but it also makes use of things like timers, friend lists, a mission-based structure, and collectible monsters to raise and evolve. Now, this being a premium game, the balance is tilted quite a bit further in the player’s favor than in the average free-to-play game. That helps massage some of the annoying baggage, but not all of it.
Before we venture any further, though, let me explain what Egglia is. You play as a goblin kid who falls from the sky one day. Normally, goblins are dangerous, murderous little guys. Apparently, if a goblin’s horns are damaged their aggression goes down considerably, and guess who’s missing his horns? Anyway, you land smack in the middle of a largely empty town, right in front of an elf girl named Robin and her fairy companion Marigold. It turns out they’re trying to restore the world, which was divided up and sealed in special eggs after a great war. Only a goblin has the power to open these eggs, which is where you come in. Each egg will open up a new area for you to explore, full of new items, materials, friends, and monsters. You’ll generally earn new eggs by completing quests, so you don’t have to worry about being at the mercy of a random number generator to move the story forward.
So hey, so far it sounds a lot like Legend of Mana, right? This egg business seems to work a lot like that game’s Land Make system where you collected artifacts to open up new map locations, after all. But Egglia isn’t an action-RPG, and its new areas work quite a bit differently from those in Legend of Mana. Each area consists of a handful of sub-areas, each of which is made up of one or more stages. You don’t freely explore these areas. Instead, you choose a stage from a menu and hop right in. Once in there, the game becomes sort of like a board game. You roll a die to see how many spaces you can move. If you end up beside an object or an enemy, you can interact with it by tapping on it. In the case of objects, it usually results in you collecting some sort of item. With enemies, you’ll obviously give them a good whack with your sword. How much damage you do depends on how high of a number you rolled, so if you only rolled a one, you might want to knock down a tree instead.
Your ultimate goal in each area is to reach a specially designated cell on the board. You’ll also have some sub-goals in each stage. If you manage to accomplish those, you can earn some extra items. The first time you enter an area, you’ll likely view some cut-scenes as you go along, but after that you’ll mostly be in and out as quickly as you can clear the board. And you will have to return to many of these levels. The sub-goals and general leveling curve are such that you need to replay most of the areas, sometimes a few times. Your townspeople are always hungry for materials you likely won’t have enough of, and your level is going to come up short here and there if you don’t go back to previous areas and grind up a little.
On the most basic level, that’s all there is to it. Go out and do short little turn-based maps with straightforward turn-based combat, collect materials and new residents, then head back to your town to see what opens up. There’s a lot more to Egglia than that, however. First of all, you can give yourself an edge in dungeons by bringing Spirits and residents along with you. Spirits are essentially this game’s gatcha-style monsters, but they’re not as random as all that. Instead, you call them by putting certain foods out. You can make those foods from raw materials that you’ll find in the dungeons. Spirits augment your stats and give you special abilities you can use while exploring maps, offering some combat options beyond simply bopping the enemy on the head until one of you dies. Using Spirit abilities requires mana, of which one point is replenished on each turn. You can’t spam these abilities, in other words, but you can make frequent use of them.
Bringing along residents also boosts your stats. Your friends will find some extra materials while you’re out and about, to boot. How big of an effect they have depends on how strong your relationship is with them and what level they’re at. They also have their own energy meters which deplete every time you take them out. If they run out of energy, you’ll have no choice but to bench them until it regenerates. This works based on a real timer, naturally. In the beginning when you don’t have a lot of people to choose from, this can be pretty irritating. You can clear dungeons without them but it feels like you’re doing something wrong if you aren’t making use of those friend slots. After a short while you’ll have so many people to choose from that this ceases to be a major issue, however.
Both Spirits and residents will gain experience when you take them out, but there are other ways to make them more powerful. In the case of Spirits, you can feed them potatoes to give them an instant experience boost. Eventually you’re able to evolve them, provided you have the right materials. Where do you get these materials and potatoes? Well, you have to grow them. Seeds and buds found on your travels can be planted in your town. After some real time has passed, you’ll have some fresh crops ready to buff up your team with. In the case of residents, you can build your relationship and make them stronger by completing their requests or giving them presents. You can only do the latter once per day, however, which is one of the ways the game tries to get you to develop a habit of playing it.
Aside from those things, you’ll also need to upgrade buildings in your town to open up new items and features. Maybe you’ll even want to decorate your character’s house, even though that’s purely for cosmetics only. All of that requires raw materials and cash, friends, and the only way to reliably get both is to get out there and pound the virtual pavement. Since you’ll probably need to farm up some extra levels now and then anyway, it feels like you’re getting two jobs done at once. While you’re putting in all of that time replaying stages, you’ll probably find yourself becoming keenly aware of the game’s strengths and weaknesses. I know I did. One weakness: the random nature of the die rolling combined with its importance means you can fail some objectives through no fault of your own. Be wary of maps with turn limits.
I’m not sure if there is a way to check enemy strength levels without engaging them in battle, but if there is, I missed it. That’s a bad thing because you can find yourself easily failing a map all because you poked the wrong bear, so to speak. You basically have to memorize tougher maps so you know what to attack and what to leave alone. From a design standpoint, I’m not a big fan of that kind of set-up. Still, it’s not all bad. One thing that takes time to make itself known is just how much strategy is involved in the seemingly-simple dungeons. In essence, your die roll should determine your plans for your turn. If you roll a six, it would be a shame to not use it on an enemy, as that will result in the highest damage dealt. If you roll a one, you might want to just suck it up and collect an item. You also need to think about where you want to move. Some enemies can move on their own. They can be herded if you use the layout of the board to your advantage, helping you minimize the damage you take.
It all ends up feeding into a nice little loop. The dungeon sections ride the line between strategic and light quite nicely, and you almost always return from a trip with something you can use to improve your town. Improving your town, in turn, usually makes you stronger for the dungeons. The only major showstoppers here are the occasional difficulty spikes and the stamina of your townspeople. Everything else makes me want to keep playing Egglia, while those two things make me want to put it down. Fortunately, those situations are rare enough that the game is generally quite pleasant. Certainly, the spiffy production values help things along, too. The game looks and sounds like the premium title it is, and the localization is fantastic. I’m not the biggest fan of the artist’s character designs, to be frank, but that’s a subjective thing.
Ultimately, if you approach Egglia on its own terms, you’ll find a fun, fresh take on the social RPG genre, one whose premium price tag means you can expect things to be a little fairer than we usually see with this sort of model. Certain design choices may chafe, but the overall experience is well worth the price of admission. Just keep in mind that you will need internet access at all times while playing the game. That could be a legitimate deal-breaker for some of you. Otherwise, I’d recommend gritting your teeth through the timers and the occasional difficulty spike, because the juice is assuredly worth the squeeze.