Kemco is continuing their series of experiments with a familiar face this time around. Before 2017, the publisher generally only cranked out a near-monthly procession of JRPGs. They weren’t identical to one another, but they were certainly similar in a lot of ways. This year, they’ve slowed down their release schedule on mobile a little and partnered up with some new developers to try to freshen things up. What Hadjane Says Goes! ($4.99) comes from Hit-Point, one of their old standby development studios, but it’s not like any of their previous games. Instead of being a turn-based adventure across a medieval fantasy world, it’s an action-RPG set in the depths of the underworld itself.
The star of the show is Hadjane, the queen of the underworld and ruler of all the demons, goblins, and other ne’er-do-wells found there. Or at least, she was. Unfortunately, her lazy and cruel nature has sown the seeds of a rebellion. Almost all of her minions have left her, with only a maid and her faithful assistant rat remaining by her side. At the prodding of the aforementioned maid, Hadjane decides to show her mutinous former underlings who the boss really is. It’s a cute set-up for the game, and Hadjane’s typical self-centered queen personality can be a lot of fun to follow. The plot eventually goes somewhere, but you probably won’t be surprised by any of it. Still, it’s a decent enough side dish, and it’s localized well enough to entertain.
The main course comes in the form of brief action stages that see Hadjane take to the field with her signature scythe to wreak some havoc. She’s pretty powerful, but even with all of her might behind her, she’ll get overwhelmed on her own. Fortunately, she can summon minions to help her out. When you down an enemy, they have a good chance of leaving a soul piece behind. Tap the summon button and you’ll draw out a minion who will stick with you until you do a screen transition or the creature dies. You can have multiple minions out at once. The basic strategy involves using them as bait to draw the attention of enemy monsters away, then slicing the beasties in the back and using their souls to replace any of your fallen troops. Hadjane also has a super attack she can use every so often, but it’s best saved for the boss of each stage unless you know you’ll have it charged and ready to go again in time.
The set-up doesn’t necessarily rule out complex combat mechanics, but I’m afraid you won’t find anything of the sort here. Hadjane has only the most basic of attacks, and the combat is simple enough that the game even includes an auto-battle mechanic. It’s better to keep it off in tight fights as movement is still an important concern in some cases, but more often than not it’s your stats that will win or lose the day for you. Hadjane and her minions level up by collecting and spending various types of karma. You’ll gather most of it from playing (and replaying) levels, but you can also win it in a simple bonus game that you’re allowed to play now and then. You can also upgrade Hadjane’s weapons and craft new ones using materials you’ll collect from enemies. Finally, there are also special keys that rarely drop that will open up some extra stages in each world.
It’s in this cruft that we are reminded what Hit-Point has been up to of late that caused them to stop making six or seven JRPGs per year. They’ve had a lot of success with free-to-play games like Neko Atsume, and now that they’ve tasted blood they can’t seem to stop snacking on villagers. As these things go, What Hadjane Says Goes! isn’t that bad, but it certainly feels more like a free-to-play game than a paid one. There are daily login bonuses, items that give you a timed boost on materials collected, and a premium currency used for continuing, buying keys, or simply picking up decorations for Hadjane’s room. The aforementioned mini-game uses tickets that you’ll get daily or as part of your rewards for completing achievements, and sure enough, you can buy those tickets with premium currency.
Even if you take full advantage of the generous amount of premium currency the game gives you at the start, you’re going to still run into moments where you essentially have to go back and grind a bit. And that’s assuming you’re pressing every possible benefit available to you for free. If you don’t use the boosts, rarely play the mini-game, or use your resources in the wrong way, you’re going to be doing a lot of grinding to move forward. Thankfully, there’s no trace of a stamina system here, so you can do that grinding if you’re so inclined. I can’t help but wonder if the game’s balance would have been different if it were made a half-decade ago.
It probably could have been, too. This is the same old engine that Hit-Point has been trotting out for quite a while now. It’s not terribly different from how EXE-Create adapted their JRPG engine to accommodate Across Age. It looks okay in stills, if a little bit retro in its charms, but in motion it can often become chaotic. It’s hard to make out your team against the enemies, so you’ll have to rely on cues like the color of their life bars to sort out who’s who. The music is a little more electric guitar-heavy than Hit-Point’s usual, though nowhere near the level of butt-rock seen in some of Kemco’s other published releases.
All that said, I kind of like What Hadjane Says Goes! overall. It’s funny and while the action is mindless, there’s a certain joy to it. The biggest problems the game has is in its difficulty balancing, somewhat skeezy leveling mechanics, and the lack of any depth in the combat. It’s a silly button-masher that requires plenty of grinding and the gathering of seventeen different spices to make a new weapon, but its goofy story and characters keep it from being totally mediocre. Just barely, mind you. If you miss the old days of KRPG-style button-bashers and don’t mind a little resistance from what is clearly a painted-over free-to-play experience, you might enjoy having Hadjane’s boot on your throat for a bit.