Players pick up the story as two nations collide. Eustrath is a fertile, prosperous land. The invading kingdom of Kradion, however, is quite the opposite. Their lands are mineral rich but barren, and their climate cold and inhospitable. The Kradionese people depend upon foreign trade for essential resources such as food, which they cannot grow themselves. Meanwhile, the government has funneled its efforts and limited resources into bolstering its military, and has launched an invasion of Eustrath.
To be honest, the setup gets me thinking about the on-going Cold War between North and South Korea. I may be reading too much into the tale, but if in the final act the Kradionese emperor turns out to be Kim Jong Il, I won’t be the least bit surprised.
The game begins as Luke Braferd, an Eustrathian noble and knight, and famed pilot of the legendary GEAR Huben Draknir, defends a small village from Kradion attack. The village is destroyed in the attack, its inhabitants all having fled, but one: a girl that Luke discovers unconscious. He takes the girl — Tiana — with him, and soon finds their fates entwined. Luke is soon joined by his comrades Harvein and Sarah, and the tale of their struggle begins to unfold. WoE weaves a pretty good story, though the characterizations are decidedly Asian; the female characters in particular may wear on some players’ nerves. The narrative unfolds through character dialogue both between and during combat stages. The script is riddled with grammatical errors, typical of a translation performed by a non-native English speaker, but manages to remain coherent. The otherwise strong narrative is diluted, but not entirely ruined by its faults.
Where The War of Eustrath really shines is in its strategic combat, involving GEARs. Each character in your combat party pilots a GEAR, a variation of the large bipedal war machines often referred to as ‘mecha’ in similar venues. In the world of Eustrath, there are two types of GEARs: Mechanical and Elemental. Mechanical GEARs are run-of-the-mill war machines, like modern day tanks. They are mass produced, manned by soldiers and standard equipment for combat deployment. Elemental GEARs are something altogether different. More than simple machines; they are mechanical constructs imbued with elemental spirits and emotionally bound to their pilots. An Elemental GEAR cannot be controlled by just anyone, but chooses its own pilot. Some rare GEARs attract unique elemental spirits, such as the Huben Draknir imbued with the power of Dragon; such GEARs and their pilots are famed and revered across the land.
The actual combat involves a great deal of strategic complexity, and makes for highly satisfying battles. Each GEAR has a variety of attacks at their disposal, rated for damage, range and energy consumption. Pilots may make use of Field Abilities and Combat Abilities, and terrain also plays into the odds of a successful attack.
At all times, players should be aware of their pilots’ Will. Will is a numerical gauge of each pilot’s morale and connection to their GEAR. Piloting a GEAR in combat is strenuous and takes its toll on the pilots; meanwhile, actions on the field — whether the pilot’s, their teammates’ or the enemies’ actions — can either encourage or discourage combatants on either side of the conflict. As the tide of battle sways to and fro, your squadron’s morale may surge or flag. Will is the game’s way of rewarding players for playing well, or punishing them for playing badly, and it factors into combat in a number of ways.
Your GEARs’ best attacks — those with the greatest range and damage potential — often have a requisite Will value for use. Using these attacks will not deplete your Will, but if your pilot’s Will falls below the minimum required value, the attacks will simply become inaccessible.
Field Abilities and Combat Abilities consume Will. The amount often seems negligible, but if your ability usage is not carefully managed, you can easily find yourself losing access to your strongest attacks, your Will having dropped below the required minimum for the action. The abilities may be worth the trade-off, however. Field Abilities may be used to repair your damaged GEAR, to extend your range of movement, or to increase the experience points earned in combat. Combat Abilities can increase your evasion rate, your defense or the strength of your attack, and can often mean the difference between glorious victory or humbling defeat.
In addition to Will, players must also mind their GEARs’ energy reserves. Each GEAR’s melee attack is free to use, but other attacks consume energy, limiting their use during battle. Sometimes it’s best to restrain yourself, saving the big guns for bigger opponents, or more desperate battles.
Each turn, a GEAR may move and/or attack. Some weapons can be used after moving, while others cannot. GEARs may use abilities an infinite number of times per turn, so long as they have the Will to pay for it. Field Abilities must be used before moving.
When attacking, players may select which weapon and Combat Abilities they wish to use. Players may choose to deploy multiple Combat Abilities in a single attack, should they so desire. Following the player’s attach, surviving targets are given the opportunity to launch a counter attack, and so it may pay off to activate defensive abilities even when on the offense.
Likewise, players may elect to use Combat Abilities when receiving an enemy attack. Under attack, the player may choose to counter-attack, defend or evade. Counter-attacking allows the player to inflict damage upon their opponent after receiving the enemy attack. Choosing to Evade sacrifices the player’s counter-attack, but increases the odds that the enemy will blunder and miss their attack; when evading fails, however, players will receive extra damage from the attack. Choosing to Defend also sacrifices the player’s counter-attack and increases the enemy’s likelihood of connecting, but significantly lessens the amount of damage received from the blow. Combat Abilities may be used to increase counter-attack damage, to improve the player’s evasion or defense ratings, or to weaken the enemy’s abilities.
If all of this sounds complex, fret not. By the time you’re a few stages into the game, it will all become very natural and you will be making tactical decisions like a pro. Terrain plays into GEAR defense, with GEARs enjoying defensive bonuses when occupying mountainous terrain, over open plains for roads, for example. Positioning your GEARs on defensible ground can greatly enhance your chances of survival, especially when terrain bonuses are used in conjunction with Combat Abilities.
Each of your GEARs is geared towards different roles within the party, based upon their strengths and weaknesses, elemental attributes, and unique abilities and traits. Luke is the game most well-rounded combatant and effective in nearly all capacities. He can self-repair, has good movement on land and inflicts high damage. Harvein is the party’s brute; his GEAR is slow moving, but offers the best defense and inflicts heavy damage. He makes an excellent shield for weaker GEARs. Sarah is the party’s scout, capable of moving the greatest distance, but a weak attacker and begins the game with zero armor. Players must take care when deploying Sarah to the front line. As the game progresses, other GEARs will begin to fill out your roster, bringing healing capabilities for example.
Each GEAR is also elementally attuned, strong against particular elements and weak to others. Terrain can also provide additional elemental bonuses, graduating position to even greater importance.
Finally, victory in combat often rewards you with items. Between battles, the spoils of victory may be assigned to your GEARs to boost their abilities. Consumable items can be used to boost your GEARs’ attributes, increasing Hit Points, Energy, Strength, etc. Other items can be equipped to provide specific bonuses and abilities or your GEARs; each GEAR may equip a single item.
With so much to work with, WoE provides you with a vast array of tactical possibilities. Depending upon the landscape, situation and opposition at hand, you will want to deploy the best GEARs for the job, utilizing abilities and attacks sparingly but strategically to keep your Will on the rise and ultimately to ensure victory.
Artwork: The War of Eustrath features incredible anime-style artwork and lots of it. Character portraits are masterfully drawn, and are used to show a number of emotions and expressions during dialogue sequences. Throughout the game, important scenes are also fully and beautifully illustrated. These illustrated set pieces are screen-capture worthy; you’ll want to save them. In fact, I really wish the game kept a gallery of unlocked artwork acquired as you play; this may be a feature to nag the developers about, in hopes that we may see it in an update.
Strategic Complexity: The strategic options available in The War of Eustrath are unparalleled in the app store. Battles can be intense, and immensely satisfying. You will probably never find yourself wracking your brains for answers, but you will find yourself thinking during combat, pondering your options in an attempt to make the best move. WoE is like a good game of chess with gigantic robots. After playing through Stage 1 of the game, I was feeling pretty lukewarm towards it; once I realized the depth of the game’s strategic options, however — a realization that hit me probably around Stage 2 or 3 — I found myself unable to put the game down.
Gets to the point: Begin a new game of WoE and you will find yourself plunged into battle. The game cuts straight to the chase, teaching you to play by letting you play. Along the way, it displays help screens as necessary. Only after completing the first stage does the story begin to roll, and this is as it should be. Nothing drives me battier than a game that bombards you with three hours of exposition even before you get a taste of play, before you even know whether you give a damn. WoE gets to the point, and in doing so gets it right.
Branching Story: At points during the game, you will be given a choice of how to proceed. The game includes multiple endings, one of which is billed as a “special ending”. Some players may wish to go through the game multiple times to experience all that the story has to offer.
Graphics: While the artwork is simply stunning, the in-game graphics are infinitely less impressive. Combat maps are muddy and indistinct, nothing HD about them. Likewise, units on the map in no way resemble their combat scene counterparts, more resembling misshapen blobs of color than gigantic battle mechs. During combat scenes, the GEARs are much more interesting in appearance than on the maps, but sadly pale in comparison to the elegant portraiture of the pilots. Overall, the in-game graphics are merely functional and borderline ugly. It saddens me that the same care was not taken with the graphics as was obviously devoted to the sumptuous artwork. As an end result, the game is exceptionally visually imbalanced, and barely deserves the HD designation it adopts for the iPad.
Cannot Skip Story Sequences: Whether in combat or out, dialogue sequences cannot be skipped. This is most tedious when replaying a stage for the second time, either because you were defeated on your first attempt, or because you’re replaying the game to experience different story branches.
No In-game Manual: Aside from a few help screens displayed when you first begin playing, WoE offers little in way of help or tutorials. There is no reference material available from the menu, which is somewhat disheartening. Beyond those initial help screens, you’re pretty much left to figure things out on your own.
No Extras: The War of Eustrath screams for extras, but has none. I want galleries for unlocked artworks. I want unlockable character and GEAR profiles for both heroes and enemies. I want a Skirmish mode with random or configurable battles for casual combat sessions. I want reference sections including gameplay tutorials and supplemental story resources for the world of Eustrath.
The Script: Nearly every line of dialogue has grammatical errors. It’s never enough to be a deal-breaker, but the game is begging for polish. iQubi needs to get this script into the hands of a native English speaker, ASAP.
Music: The music is a mixed bag, some good, some bad. I’d like the game to have better music overall, but my real issue is that the game attempts to vary the music dynamically as combat flows between movement and assault, and it doesn’t really work. The transitions are sometimes jarring, and the same short portions of tunes get repeated far to often as the music cuts, changes and then resumes again from the beginning.
The War of Eustrath is by no means perfect, but somehow manages to outshine its flaws. The game is a highly enjoyable SRPG with an engrossing story and a wonderful combat system. I wish the graphics were even half as pretty as the artwork, I wish the script were more polished and I wish the developer had gone the extra mile to deliver on extras. But all of these faults could be remedied in updates, so let’s keep hope alive. The important stuff — the foundational stuff — is all here and solid as a rock. The story is worth experiencing despite its flaws, and the combat just doesn’t have any flaws. The War of Eustrath HD is deep and involving, unparalleled on the iPad. It makes a brilliant addition to the app store’s currently skimpy selection of iPad games. Even in a more crowded market, the game would still stand out as one of the deepest RPG experiences in the app store.
iQubi promises an iPhone adaptation of the game before the end of summer. In the meantime, if you’re into strategy role-playing games and own an iPad, you simply must have The War of Eustrath HD.