A throwback retro RPG by the name of Dark Gate was recently localized for English, and offers all of the classic feel of old-school role-playing games with a bunch of smart optimizations for the mobile interface.
The story starts off that Dark Gates are opening up around your area, unleashing unspeakable monsters into the world. You’ve got to keep the monsters at bay and close the gates to restore peace to the land. There’s a long winding storyline that follows the characters on this mission, but at the end of the day, Dark Gate is like any RPG - kill monsters, level up, get new gear, rinse, repeat.
Graphics and audio
The blocky graphics and lo-fi animation will inspire a fair bit of nostalgia in anyone that had put time into old-school role-playing games like Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, or Final Fantasy. Some special abilities have cool lighting effects, but it’s not the fanciest pixel art I’ve seen on mobile. For the most part, the visuals stays true to what you would have seen on a console 15 years ago. The audio follows suit with MIDI-style soundtrack and sound effects; small touches like the selection beeps and dialog scroll indicators are all in line with the retro esthetic.
In terms of sheer style, Dark Gate has a heavy anime angle that you see in both the dialog and the character portraits. Luckily, it doesn’t take itself too seriously; there’s a lot of light-hearted self-referential humor peppered throughout the game which keeps things fun. While I haven’t beaten it yet to see how well the story pans out, it apparently branches based on who’s in your party at any given time, with different possible endings depending on character choices. That should provide a nice amount of replay value for hardened RPG fans.
Gameplay and controls
Dark Gate is smart in that the layout and controls have been extremely well-optimized for touch input. Instead of trying to drag and drop the traditional d-pad onto the screen, players can get around simply by tapping where they want to go. City navigation is from a cross-section view (rather than the traditional top-down) so it’s easy to find the inn or equipment shop without all of the running around of older games.
The combat is largely automated - again, a nice optimization for mobile. Characters in your party will automatically attack selected opponents, barring player interruption for special class skills.The classic RPG progression is maintained, with a particular emphasis on switching jobs. Characters can earn levels in multiple classes, and once mastered, anyone in the party can adopt the job. Jobs have their own special abilities and equipment restrictions, and there are over 70 jobs to unlocked all told. That said, being able to switch them on the fly provides a lot of customization in gameplay.
In-app purchases are employed to give characters access to premium gear, but it feels really out-of-place in what’s supposed to be a retro game. To boot, premium currency is lost if anything ever happens to your saved games. For a game that already charges $2.99, the classy thing to do would have been to skip IAPs altogether.
- Legit retro feel
- Excellent control and layout optimizations
- Out-of-place IAPs
Dark Gate does an excellent job of bringing old-school RPG action to Android while making just the right amount of adjustment for a touch-screen experience.
In-app purchases aren’t handled well in Dark Gate, especially considering the current $2.99 pricetag is promotional; before long, it will be bouncing up to $5.99. Luckily, players don’t have to rely on IAPs, and can enjoy the game as is.