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If you were to mix the monster collecting of Pokemon with the turn-based battle system of the original Final Fantasy, trim away a lot of the depth and plug in an oddly potent dose of addictiveness, you’d be left with Destiny of Spirits, the free to play downloadable title available exclusively on the PlayStation Vita.
After spending some time with Destiny of Spirits in its closed beta last year and returning to it once a day for the past couple of weeks following its official launch, I think I finally have a decent grasp on what the game has to offer.
Honestly, what’s on offer here can probably best be described as “not that much” but, if that were truly the case, what is it about the game that has myself and a large number of people on my friends list coming back to the Destiny of Spirits every 24 hours? That wasn’t a rhetorical question. I actually want to know. I’m sitting here telling you that there isn’t much to the game, that the action is repetitive and not very involved, I can’t describe it as ‘fun,’ yet here I am booting it up on a daily basis to sink another 30 minutes into the game.
In short, Destiny of Spirits tasks players with building an army of spirits (pulled from traditional tales, folklores, urban legends and the like) in order to combat the forces of darkness. Armed with your army of gargoyles, chupacabra, werewolves and the like, your task is to create a team of element-based warriors to take on wave after wave of enemies in order to free zones and, eventually, the entire world. Each spirit has an active (and sometimes an inactive) ability to help to help out in battle and can be strengthened by merging them with other spirits.
The battles themselves are a blend of turn-based and realtime. Each combatant’s time gauge fills up and, when it’s ready, it attacks on its own. You can change the target on the fly, but that’s just about the only input you have other than determining which active ability to activate when another time-based energy bar fills up. If you’re fighting a bunch of fire monsters, for instance, you’ll probably want to activate one of your water monster’s special attacks (since it’s the dominant of the two elements) rather than activate a metal monster’s ability to, say, slow down the timer for one of your enemies. If another player is working on the same map zone, you may also get to tap the screen at certain points to “get help” in the form of a mild attack.
Assuming that wasn’t all a bunch of gibberish, you’ll see now that the combat in Destiny of Spirits isn’t that interesting. Each fight is over in a couple of minutes, allowing you to move on to the next battle and, eventually, a boss fight.
The trick here is that your characters regenerate health slowly, unless you’re willing to spend real world money on gems that can be used to patch them up, among other things. This means you’ll either need to have enough monsters to put together a second team once the first takes too much damage, or simply put the game down once everyone needs to be healed.
Summoning new monsters can be done in several ways. You can spend one of the in-game currencies on it, receive one daily from partnering up with a friend or stranger, or snag some by traveling around the real world and logging in at different locations. It’s a pretty steady stream of critters to collect, but your limited army size means you’ll constantly be combining monsters to power up your favorites rather than trying to collect a diverse cast. Real world money can also be spent on more powerful summons, opening up additional army slots, etc. or you can just accomplish those goals, slow as hell, in the game proper.
The most obvious answer to “what keeps bringing me back for more” is the thrill of the chase. What monster will I summon this time? Just like opening a booster pack of Magic cards, my heart speeds up a few beats each time I hit the summon button, wondering what creature will be joining my army this time around. There’s also the fact that summons are specific to Europe, US and Asia, meaning you’re always hoping to make a momentary friendship with someone outside of your region in order to gain access to their library of spirits. And a pretty steady flow of in-game currency certainly helps persuade me to keep playing for just a little bit longer.
There’s also the fact that, while I complain about any real depth to the game, this type of simplicity in gameplay options means I feel no need to invest more than 15-20 minutes in the game each day. Destiny of Spirits is something you pick up, play quickly, then move on with your life. Is it something I’ll still be drawn back to several months from now? Probably not, especially if there isn’t some sort of late-game hook I haven’t discovered just yet. But for the time being I’m still booting up the Vita for more, even if I’m not sure why, exactly, that is.
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