Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

21 April, 2015

Mobile game adventures: Fantasica
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:40 AM

About a year and a half ago, I got my first smartphone: a Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play edition. I really enjoy it, even if it did come at a hefty price tag.

Of course, one of the first things I did with it was install some games. :) By now I’ve played a number of games, but I wanted to write a bit about one game I’ve played for quite a while now: a game called Fantasica.

Let’s me share a little about it in this analysis/review.

Fantasica is one of seemingly a million trading card games available for hour smartphone. It’s developed by Silicon Studio and published by mobage via DeNA. It has very detailed and colorful art style, which is one of the first things to catch my eye. I really liked what I saw for character design, so I installed it and started playing.

The Gameplay

The main game involves collecting cards and doing quests that are short rounds of tower defense. I tried the game Rage of Bahamut before this, but found the absolute lack of any sort of gameplay to be a big turn-off. Admittedly, the tower defense wasn’t super hard or complex, but it did take some effort.

You do quests in which you try to stop all enemies entering one part of the screen from escaping to the other. The characters you collect have different attack types and special abilities which help you in gameplay. Of course, your individual characters have levels which advance as they kill monsters.

You also have an overall level, which limits some things you can do. You gain an overall level as you do “training”, where your lead character goes along a path and opens chests and destroys monsters. However, this training doesn’t actually give your character any benefit, only you.

In addition, there are special events, but I’ll talk about those later. After you graduate from the basic game, this is what you spend most of your time on.

On top of this, there’s a PvP mini-game where you can collect monsters to defend yourself, and other people can “attack” you and try to destroy your monsters in a simple tower defense scenario.

And, like any proper mobile game, there’s a social element. You get allies and you can use their lead characters to help you. One early strategy is to find powerful allies. However, this can be hard as more people will want to find allies at least as powerful as they are to help them in events. But, as you help people and get them to help you, you collect Ally Points which you use to work up account-based skills, many of which give bonuses to your characters.

Most things you do is gated by time. For example, if you want to train, you have to consume training points which refill over time. Attacking another player has a timer, which counts down 1 hour after you attack. Doing quests has a variable cooldown, depending on the quest attempted; both success and failure trigger the cooldown.

The Characters

Every character has custom art. You have nice card art, as well as amazing sprite artwork for the characters during the tower defense portions of the game. As I said, this art is what initially got me interested in the game. However, there are some rather cheesecake images. But, there are also images of women in sensible armor as well.

Characters have three attack strengths, land; air; and sea, and three attack types: melee; missile; and magic. Monsters can either walk, fly, or swim and have different defenses against each attack type. Characters also have different special abilities. The core ones are knockback which knocks an enemy back along the path, slow which slows the monsters, and poison which does damage over time in addition to the main attack.

Characters also a star rating, which you can think of as rarity, starting from one star and going up to (currently) 9 stars. Rarer characters have higher maximum levels, and are just overall more powerful than ones with less stars. A one star knockback is vastly weaker than a 9 star knockback in terms of distance thrown back. Cards have gotten more powerful over time, but I’ll talk about that later.

Gaining levels increases the character’s attack strengths. You can gain levels by gaining experience, which you collect by doing quests, participating in events, or feeding other cards to your card. A common system involves building up “feeder” cards in more common rarities and feeding them to your rarer cards. Finally, there are special “goddess” cards which give 1 or 3 levels to a character, depending on if the attack types match.

Events

The core of what keeps the game going is events. There are a ton of event types, and there’s always one or two events going on at once. Most events let you use your character cards, but in different type of gameplay.

As one example of many, there are dice events where you collect dice to roll to move around a board. Rolling a die takes 1 “dice point” which refills one point per 10 minutes, up to a maximum of 6. You roll 1 die by default, or 2 dice by using an item found fairly frequently in quests or training. There are also 5 and 10 dice items, but those are rarer, and usually awarded from purchases. You also get special cards which you can use to move extra space, give yourself a bonus in combat, or increase the probability of certain numbers coming up in the die rolls. You fight monsters, but the fights are simple affairs where you roll dice and do damage based on some function of your main character’s attack strength; there’s no tower defense here. Each time there’s a dice event, they tend to use a different theme and rename some of the items to fit that theme.

Most events give out two types of rewards. The first is for participation. In the dice event, you get rewards for defeating bosses (mostly items for use in the event), you get bonuses for completing a “lap”, and a final level of bonuses for completing a certain number of total laps. Most bonuses seem random, but the bonuses for completing a total number of laps is the same for everyone, and often include characters available especially through the event.

The second type of reward is for ranking. You’re competing against other players for a total number of BT points. In the dice game, you get BT points for landing on certain squares, for defeating bosses and for completing laps. The more you do, the more points you get. Rewards are given based on rank, with higher ranks getting rarer rewards, particularly powerful high star rating characters and monsters.

Economy

You can earn money, called “luna”, which is primarily useful for you to feed your common cards to rarer cards; it takes more money to feed cards to a rare card, and even more as that card gains levels. You gain luna from random chests while training, and from selling cards. But, in general, you will have more money than you will ever need. You can hold a maximum of 10 million luna, and I have about 40 million sitting in my “inbox”.

The real economy is in potions and time elixirs. Potions let you refill gauges, and time elixirs let you reset cooldowns. You get these as rewards, but most of the time these are bound to your account, as indicated by a (P) at the end of the name. Some, however, can be traded, and these are the currency of the game. People call these “pure”, so you might see someone to offer you “5 pure” for a card, meaning they’ll give you 5 tradable potions or time elixirs. As these can often be used to let do more an event, they are highly valued. It’s mostly cards that are traded for other cards, or for pures.

Business model

Okay, so, how do they make money? There are two main ways. The first is the shop which sells tradable potions and time elixirs. If you’re smart and patient, it’s easy to amass enough of the non-tradable variety. You can also trade stuff to others in order to get tradable versions if you want to trade them.

The first is selling card packs with random units. Most events have special “event units” which will give you more BT points. Of course, the higher rarity gives you more of a bonus, but they are rarer cards. Some card packs mix in other types of cards, so you’re not guaranteed to get an event unit. Card pack costs range from a dollar to occasionally $100 for a single pull, usually guaranteed to be near the upper range in power. Usually more powerful cards will be sold in packs first, then eventually you’ll be able to compete or do well in an event to get a card of that rarity.

Personally, I only spent about $5 on the game, mostly to see what it would get me. I bought a few card packs, but never really got much out of them. I certainly wouldn’t spend $100 on a card. But, to be honest, I think I’ve gotten a lot of entertainment out of the game. I think you can play quite happily without spending big money, although you’ll probably never rank in the top 10 of an event without doing so.

What has changed

I’ve played Fantasica for just over a year now. When I first started, I read a lot of hint posts talking about how to get started. One thing I noticed was that some of the information was already out of date, despite being only a few months old it talked about 3 or 4 star cards being useful as feeders, and people paying pures for these cards that were leveled up. But, I saw few people interested in 3 star cards. Back when I started, the maximum rarity was a 6 star card, and they introduced the first seven star rarity card.

Since then, they’ve introduced 8 and 9 star cards. One thing that has changed is that these top end cards are no longer tradable, however. It used to be you could save up and buy a rare card from someone but now you have to buy the random packs. You can kind of tell that they didn’t plan to add these rarity of cards, because they’ve had to change a lot of other elements in the game to accommodate this. For example, you could use “ambrosia” to increase the maximum level of a card up to 20 addtional levels. 6 star cards required 10 ambrosia to get maximum level, and 7 star cards required 20 ambrosia. With 8 and 9 star cards, they introduced new items that are required to exceed the levels.

Also, this power creep has made the PvP game laughable. Your monsters that could stop an attacker with 6 star characters does nothing to someone with 9 star characters.

My end draws near

To be honest, I’ve probably spent too much time on this game. But, when I set my own hours while working from home it was easy to play the game a bit. Logging on once an hour to burn through my 6 dice points was fine. But, now that I have an office job, I can’t dedicate that time. That means that I simply won’t do as well in the event rankings as other people will. Since I don’t spend money on packs, I won’t get the rarer cards, and without dedicating serious time to the events I won’t win the cards.

So, at this point, I’m quitting the game. I figured I’d at least write up a few of my thoughts about the game. I certainly don’t regret playing it, but I really don’t see any future for me in the game anymore.

My analysis

What I liked
I really enjoyed the collectable aspect of it. I liked getting different cards. I’m the type of person who will happily try to collect a full set of something, as long as the process doesn’t bore me. Seeing new art was also nice.

I liked the variety of gameplay as well. There was a lot to do in the game, starting with the core game, PvP, and then events. I appreciated the design that took the basic elements of the game and used them in different ways.

What I didn’t like
The relentlessly competitive nature of the game is my least favorite part. A lack of time and a lack of willingness to pour money into the game mean I will never be competitive in events, and I just won’t get to see new cards that are useful to me without competing with others who likely have more time and are willing to spend more money. Some competition might be good, perhaps limited to certain types of events like the guild wars.

The power creep was also disappointing. Cards I really enjoyed at low levels became worthless for anything besides feeding to rarer cards. Of course, power creep lets them keep selling more packs to people, particularly for higher prices, so I can understand why its there.

What I would do to improve the game
It’s tough to think of any one thing that would improve the game. The competitive nature is likely core to keeping money coming in, and catering to freeloaders like myself is probably not the way to succeed. Perhaps introduce another business model, where you could subscribe for $5 and get things like free card packs every month. Something to let people support the game without feeling like throwing money away on $1 card packs and not being willing to pony up $100 for a random card.

I think emphasizing the collectable nature more would help the game. I know there are some people who liked to “album” cards by trading them temporarily, but supporting that might be a good way to improve the game.

As I said, a fun game, but it definitely has a shelf life. After about a year, I’ve had my fill. But, what do you think? Do I have an amazing amount of patience for a free to play game without paying? Or does there seem to be something there that might be missing from other free-to-play mobile games?







3 Comments »

  1. Personally, I’m OK with time gates, mainly because I don’t ever anticipate wanting to spend that long playing a game on my phone. In fact, time gating is actually pretty good _for me_ because it’s a hard stop, and not really a cliffhanger.

    What gets me, though, is all of these games equate “social” with “other random players can attack you asynchronously”, or the review sections are all filled with the “sign up using my code/clans code and get extra [in-game currency or something]” because the games are designed around forcing you into “grouping” with other players against other players.

    Why can’t I just build a city in peace? And without 45 minutes of bobble-headed tutorials telling every. single. icon. to. click.

    Comment by Chris — 21 April, 2015 @ 8:31 AM

  2. Some interesting discussion over on my Google+ post.

    Derrick Whittet (Wintersdark) wrote:
    Ultimately, there’s not really a difference between a Vita and a modern smartphone, and this is why I’m irritated by the whole thing.

    I don’t want to carry two fundamentally identical devices around with me, that’s just ridiculous.

    You will see the two devices converge as soon as you see hard-core gamers willing to either embrace free-to-play games, or the mobile audience willing to pay $20+ up front per game.

    There have been plenty of studios that tried to do the whole “triple-A on mobile” thing, including the company I’m currently working for. The problem is that the mentality for making a mobile game and for making a triple-A game are very different. And, the market on mobile just isn’t willing to pay premium prices for premium games up front.

    It’s about perception. A lot of people have smartphones, but playing a hard-core game would be too much like “wasting time” for most smartphone players. Not that games like Hay Day are necessarily more virtuous than Killzone, but it’s a question of what people see as “acceptable”. So, paying $60 for something to “pass the time while waiting for the bus” isn’t seen as worth it.

    But, if you’re going to buy a Vita, or 3DS, or whatever, you probably don’t care about being seen as “wasting time”. Not saying it makes sense, but that’s probably the mindset that keeps the two audiences so far apart.

    Comment by Psychochild — 23 April, 2015 @ 8:30 PM

  3. I wonder if there’s a historical/influential connection between current LARP discussions and culture of consent (both nordic as well as in other larp communities) and the designs and implementations of early MUDS, MUSHES, and the like? I’d hypothesize that perhaps there was a lot of overlap in terms of people playing/participating in both? Curious…

    Comment by Denature — 3 October, 2017 @ 9:52 AM

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