I thought I knew all I needed to know about Mangatar’s virtual card-battler Dengen Chronicles. It started on Windows Phone and PC. but Mangatar’s bringing the game to iOS and Android, as well as overhauling the entire battle system. I’ve given a preview build of the iOS version a shot, and after a couple days I thought I knew it all. I’d played more than enough matches to understand its six-hex grid, the combat order, increasing my card levels. The game was fun, though it felt rather…predictable. Then, in one match where I happened to be getting my butt handed to me by an opponent whose every card trumped mine, this happened:
Yeah, that’s right: with a single card I wiped the board clean at the last second, threw the perfect Hail Mary, made the half-court 3-pointer. Some time later, I tweeted:
@dengentcg Just had a jaw-dropping 4-hit combo. My jaw dropped. And then I mouthed “I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW I COULD DO THAT.” B/c at meeting.
— Josh Boykin (@JoshBatman) July 10, 2014
Dengen Chronicles can be unpredictable.
Players start by joining one of four anime-based factions (Ninja, Fantasy, Robot, or School), using their assembled decks of cards to attack other players with characters and special Dengen cards in their decks. Each character card has its own hit points and attack rating which increase as they gain kokoro them (character experience) and equip new weapons and armor. Dengen cards act like wildcards, providing an unexpected interjection of attack power or defensive blocking to turn the tides of the battle. Players attack each other in two different game modes: tactical battles, a turn-based combat mode between two players, and ambush battles, where one player fights against a computer-controlled deck of another players characters. Both modes have advantages and disadvantages, though the tactical battles make Dengen Chronicles more exciting than other virtual card games.
In Ambush battles players use 5 heroes randomly chosen from their deck and match them, one at a time, against the opponent’s heroes. Each 1-on-1 confrontation counts as a round, and the first to win three rounds takes home the prize. This mode is nice because it takes much less time to resolve than the turn-based Tactical battles; the match requires no input from the other player. Each round resolves itself automatically by first decreasing one character’s health by an almost randomly-generated percentage based on traits of the characters in play, then subtracting the attacker’s strength from the defender’s remaining health. Even after gaining a decent understanding of the game and the six potential elemental traits on each character, I couldn’t quite divine how to work my way through Ambush battles and consistently walk away victorious. I’m really hoping that they refine this battle mode, or provide more instruction on how combat works here as they develop.
Mangatar seems to know that its bread-and-butter is the tactical battle; they even provide a step-by-step tutorial to the tactical combat mode. Play takes place on a six-hex circle, with each of the hexes containing one of the game’s six elements: magma, wave, storm, avalanche, flare, or darkness. There are five rounds in each tactical battle, and each round players alternate placing one character card on the board, with the option of placing a Dengen card as well. Cards receive bonuses when placed on slots corresponding to the elemental symbols placed on their card, and at the end of each round the characters and Dengen attack cards deal damage to foes; the team with the most combined health on the board at the end of the five rounds wins. The battle system takes some getting used to: each round the hex that starts combat shifts, and turn order rotates clockwise around the hexes while the attacks move to the first opponent counter-clockwise. If it sounds complicated, that’s because the first few matches it is, but it’s a battle system that lends just enough complication and depth to be appealing for a lunch-break asymmetrical card game.
Of course, mastering the combat doesn’t matter if you don’t have cards to stand up to opponents, and DC is not a game where any deck can make a comeback. A well-placed Dengen card can change the tide of battle, but consistent wins come from solidly-constructed decks of powerful cards. Cards gain power with gear, but only can carry a certain amount. They equip more gear by gaining kokoro, either utilizing one-time use kokoro cards gained in booster packs, or by going on “missions” (players spend a certain amount of in-game energy, and gain coins and kokoro after a set amount of time). Each card also has its own “energy,” and after being used a certain number of times you’ll have to “recharge” by spending some coins and making it sit out from missions and forging new items. As far as social mobile games go, Dengen Chronicles is pretty reasonable with its time-out system: characters on missions or forging new equipment are still eligible for play in battle, meaning that players aren’t handicapped when they try to better their characters. But those missions don’t generate much kokoro at a time: level one cards can go on half-hour missions to generate a measly three kokoro when they require 200 to level up. So, if you’re looking to power up your team, expect to come back to your phone pretty regularly to power them up and make them combat ready.
Dengen Chronicles is definitely designed to make players spend money, but strong decks seem possible without spending cash. Booster packs, containing 5 random cards to enhance your deck, vary in cost based on rarity, and are all purchased with coins, the primary in-game currency. Crystals, the rare currency likely purchased with real money, are used somewhat sparingly: certain powerful pieces of equipment must be forged by spending crystals, and otherwise they’re used to speed up mission and forging times, or to buy specific powerful cards without relying on boosters packs. It’s definitely possible to create tournament-worthy decks using coins alone, but the enhanced capability that comes from buying specific powerful Dengen cards definitely provides an edge in the long-run. Since prices for crystals and coins aren’t posted yet though, it’s hard to know whether they’ll feel like a deal or theft.
Dengen Chronicles‘ biggest current drawbacks come from poor documentation and lack of real player interaction. Many of the game’s tutorials seem to be in a rough state of translation, and it took me multiple playthroughs (and losses) in tactical battles to understand how the gameplay really worked (I don’t even play ambush battles because they feel so random). But what frustrates me about Dengen Chronicles the most is my inability to consistently interact with opponents: there’s no chat, no friends list, no rivals list…nothing. For a game that encourages rivalry by forcing players to choose a faction before they even learn how to play the game, it killed me to have to sit in virtual silence after making the move that generated the tweet mentioned at the beginning of this review. Still, most mobile games work on getting the game itself glitch-free and polished before adding social capabilities.
I hope it’s safe to assume that chat, friends, rivals, and clans are in the works, but right now the dev team is focusing on refining the iOS version and bringing the game to Android. There are still a few rough cosmetic glitches, the most troubling being that sometimes character pictures don’t load on cards. In battle this means that you can’t see anything about your card until you’ve played it, making it hard to predict outcomes. Still, the Mangatar team resolved many other glitches during my time with the game, and I expect they’ll fix this soon as well.
I felt slightly ashamed of my last mobile addiction, Pantheon: The Legends. A virtual Skinner box, I loved making my characters stronger but didn’t actually do much in terms of gameplay aside from pressing a button every set amount of time. Dengen Chronicles, on the other hand, presents a careful mix of free-to-play tactics and basic collectible card game gameplay that feels simple and addictive, but with a touch of strategy to tie in more serious gamers. I feel a little better about my addiction to this game.
Dengen Chronicles version 2.0 for iOS and Android are forthcoming; check GotGame for more information as the final version releases!