There are so many ways to describe/quantify/categorize RPGs today and honestly it really irritates me. I don’t care if it’s an RPG, JRPG, action RPG, turn based RPG, or any other qualifier that tells me very little about whether or not I want to buy the game. So when I decided to try the recently released The Sacred Tears TRUE (9/25/14), it wasn’t because it’s listed as a “Card Battle JRPG.” It was because it looked like it might be worth my time as a person who enjoys and respects all types of RPGs.
This RPG Maker created title by AlphaNuts is a solid throwback to a number of older titles like earlier Final Fantasies and Pokemon, but it doesn’t wow you the way those games did because of a number of stylistic choices. It’s a game that you won’t regret playing, but you won’t necessarily lose much from not playing it either. This is definitely one of those titles where your preferences about specific details will ultimately decide if it’s worth your time.
The Sacred Tears TRUE uses a number of different graphic styles throughout the course of the game. The basic gameplay is top view style like all the hand held Pokemon games, but to a higher level of detail. The colors are done very well in this mode. The world has real characters down to the finest details. The weather, patches in the grass, tiled walkways, and so on. It’s done in bit style, but it doesn’t feel as grainy as you might expect.
There are only a few areas you can visit though. The whole of the game takes place in one city and the surrounding forest and caves. There are a large number of buildings to enter and places to visit within the city, but the scope of the game’s available locations is very limited.
One big problem with the game is that much of the text looks horrible. Not the dialogue box text, but the location names and in game text. It’s very pixelated and sometimes a bit hard to read, which is probably why the letters are usually so big. It makes it obvious even while looking bad. The display HUD, which only shows the chapter name, current location, and your dash is quite simple and can be moved to a number of different locations on screen as well as removed. As I already said, the text doesn’t look great, but it gets the job done.
The dialogue boxes that appear during normal gameplay are a jumble of good and bad. The basic frame work is fine. They make use of opaque gradients in a way that is unnecessary, but a nice touch. The actual dialogue text is very nice for what it is. AlphaNuts chose a nice, simple font with colour gradients. It reads nicely and that’s what’s important. But the identifying text isn’t very clear at all. It’s pretty blurry and kind of squeezed in as if it was done last minute. It doesn’t really affect much because it only tells you obvious information such as who is speaking. Honestly the game would have looked better without it. The pictures of the people speaking are done in some combination of hand drawing and pixel art. They all look very good, but some characters, such as lesser guards, don’t have them.
The battle mode graphics look considerably different from the normal exploring mode. You have a battle mode similar to Final Fantasy I. Your party and the enemy face off side to side over a nice and locale-specific drawing. Your healing item HUD rests at the top of the screen and your battle HUD rests at the bottom. The battle system is done with cards, which are simple looking and appropriate. In fact everything about the battle mode is perfect visually even while looking a bit pixelated. The battle mode directions, which can be hidden, are interactive, simple, and cute all at the same time. In all honestly the battle mode is probably the best looking part of this game overall.
Finally, there’s the cinematic graphics. These only appear at certain key moments throughout the game and are done with beautiful hand drawn, anime inspired pictures that don’t really move other than sometimes sliding across the screen. The story is told with a sequence of shots and sounds with the occasional burst of text. Sadly the text in some of the cutscenes is even harder to read than in the explore mode because the font isn’t good, and the colours sometimes blend with the background.
All in all the graphics, outside of text, are pretty good, but the many instances in such a text heavy genre where the text just looks really bad hurts the overall experience. Without the text, I could comfortably have given this game an A- or B+ for graphics, but with the text issues the score drops. Not a bad looking game, but people familiar with the genre will have seen much better even in the indie development sector.
To start off, the controls are very simple and the game is completely turn based in every aspect except walking so a keyboard is fine. There is partial gamepad support, but I didn’t even try it. You need a total of 2 buttons plus the directions to play this game.
The gameplay is split into two main parts. Explore mode and battle mode. Explore mode is almost exactly like walking around in Pokemon except there’s no surf, fly, or any other convenient warping functions. This is fine because the map is extremely small. The game takes place in one city which is split into defined sections named by direction so they are easy to navigate. You can enter many, but not all of the buildings. Certain chapters make certain locations accessible. There are also underground sewers, surrounding forest areas, and caves that can be explored.
Your only means of movement is walking or dashing, which has a limited but constantly recharging bar. I don’t know why AlphaNuts decided to limit your dash in this game, because there is no moment where your movement speed affects the game’s outcome. It merely stops you from being able to get places faster when you have to recharge and affects your health if you enter a battle not fully charged. Also an odd consequence for using a quicker means of travel.
One thing I really liked about the game is that almost all actions are automatic. When you find items you automatically pick them up. When you walk into people they automatically start talking. You only need to push the action button to move conversations and occurrences forward once they’ve started. Even entering doors happens just by walking into them.
You can enter the menu at any time outside of battle. From the menu you can see the map, which is actually really bad in this game. It sometimes, but not always, tells you which city block you need to go to, and nothing specific about where to go once there. It really comes down to exploring all avenues until you find whatever it is you’re looking for. Sometimes it can be quite difficult to locate.
You can save at almost any time from the menu and you have up to 15 save slots. As with many RPGs, you will want to do the multiple saves thing because you can get yourself stuck in an area due to a battle. There are a few moments when you can’t save just before a boss battle, which I found to be a bit unfair and unnecessary considering the rest of the game. You can also view your items and stats.
I really like the way personal stats were handled in this game, but many will feel like it’s too easy. The main character has only four stats (HP, Attack, Defense, Evade) and the second party member has only two (Magic and Judge). The characters level up independently of each other and eventually at different speeds. Each level gives the character 1 point to spend. At any time during the game you can redistribute all development points any way you want. There’s a good chance you won’t change that much, but you always have the option to.
I couldn’t really figure out what Judge did for the secondary character, but I levelled it up almost evenly with Magic anyway. Technique stats are a whole different story though. There are several techniques you can learn, but you can only level them up by finding special items. Then once the technique is maxed you have to find a different special item to evolve it in order to learn a new technique. But that process drops your maxed technique back down to one. It’s not a great system, and the evolve items aren’t easy to find.
The battle mode is by far my favourite part of the game. This is one of those games where you can see the enemies on the screen and have to make contact with them to enter battle mode. You can avoid them, but sometimes they will chase you or move sporadically into your path. That’s when the real fun begins.
The battle mode is reminiscent of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (2004), but with a lot less complication and control. It’s a card based battle system, but you only have four types of cards (Magic, Attack, Defend, Special Attack, Evade). Each card, which appears at random or something that works at basically random for the player, has a number. You pick three cards in whatever order you prefer and then they go up against your opponents three cards. The higher numbers win in each match up. The cards that win decide what happens. When you pick your cards you watch the outcome and then pick three more until one side has no health left. Three more cards will appear each turn to replace the ones you played. The main character is the only party member with a health stat.
You can use healing items at any time during battle but you can only carry up to 10 potions and I’m not sure how many auto potions. Potions are found in battle and will often replenish during a battle at random. Auto potions must be found, synthesized, or purchased.
As much as I like the battle system, I must say that it is quite inconsistent. The first problem is the magic. You have magic cards which call the secondary party member to do things, but you have no control over her. She has several spells, but no way of telling her which one to use. She can use attack, healing, and buffing magic, but she picks her spells at random and they often aren’t the best spell for the current situation. Being able to choose her spells would make her a much more effective party member. The battles will not wait for you. If you take too long it will progress on its own for better or for worse.
You will spend the bulk of the game exploring the same areas looking for specific items or people. Often, talking to characters is necessary to learn useful information about where you actually need to go in a given area. The system works very well, but can get very tedious and boring. This comes from the fact that battle is not the main point of the game. There are even chapters where no actual battles have to take place unless you want to grind on your own. It’s much more about the characters and their development as people.
My biggest complaint about the gameplay is how money works. You need money for a number of things such as certain items, access to special quests, and even a special weapon. The problem is that money is not gained through battles. It’s gained as part of the story and for finishing quests. But the amount you make is nowhere near balanced to the prices of items. One auto potion costs 10,000 money. More than one quest only nets you 2,000 money. There are other ways to make money, but all of them require risks and unnecessary amounts of extra time. Money should definitely have been made obtainable through battles even if in just small amounts.
Ultimately the gameplay is average compared to similar games. It does certain things perfectly, but then other things are just really inconvenient and unjustifiably limiting to your overall experience. It’s not a bad game, but certain key oversights really hinder the gameplay experience.
As you would expect from a JRPG, the sound is quite good overall. The music was composed by two known musical talents (Hiroyuki Ojima and Shimotsuki Haruka) and it doesn’t disappoint. The soundtrack, which isn’t super big, but is quite good, gives you the traditional style made famous by games like Final Fantasy. You have your exploring music, your battle music, and a number of other tracks for specific scenes and emotional moments. The sound quality of the music is strong, but doesn’t overwhelm the effects. I’m not going to say that the tracks will stick with like something out of Kingdom Hearts, but you will enjoy it while playing. Considering the limited locales, the exploring music does get a bit tedious though.
The only sound effects in the game are during the battle mode and they sound great. You can really hear the entire battle in motion. Sword swipes, dodges, and magic all have smooth and distinct sounds. Because of the turn based card system, you hear sound effects when picking cards, but they do not impede the actual battle sounds, which are very powerful and perfectly chosen. I think the battle sound effects tying in with the visuals are one of the most impressive parts of The Sacred Tears TRUE.
The story is one of the most, if not the most important element of this game and many others like it. Text is used heavily throughout, both during cutscenes and while you play. Everyone has something to say, and like with all RPGs, it’s not always important. The game was originally made in Japanese and there are a few translation errors, but nothing that will hurt your understanding of the story. There are a great many characters, both unimportant and instrumental to the plot, but sadly it’s all too small in scope for me.
There are a number of overlapping stories and character arcs within the game, but it all centres on your main party which consists of just two kids. You play as the main character, Seil. He’s kind of all over the place as far as personality. On one hand he’s an irresponsible, dishonest bum who wants to be a famous thief. But on the other hand he’s a caring, emotional person who has trouble expressing his true feelings. It makes for funny conversation, but not sensible character development. Your only other party member is Seana, a young mage. She’s your typical anime nice girl friend. While the game has a number of other characters and moments of tragedy, politics, and comedy, the story focuses on these two characters and their struggles with money and pride. The scope of the game is just too small even though it takes place in a world that’s clearly much bigger.
It’s not that The Sacred Tears TRUE is badly written. It’s just that the focal point wasn’t chosen very well. It’s kind of like if you played Skyrim, but focused on one of the guards in Whiterun. There would be a number of interesting things that may occur in the town as people pass through and various events take place. But ultimately you are missing out on what appears to be a much bigger and more exciting world.
The story moves at a very slow pace as well. A big part of this comes from the fact that it’s split up into defined episodes. This is nice as far as progress and organization, but it makes for very boring storytelling because many of the episodes are about nothing important. It’s kind of like watching filler episodes in an anime. There’s even an episode where you just have to go collect medicine for a sick kid. Again it’s not that it’s badly written, but it’s extremely boring and inconsequential to the bigger issues of the world, which you do ultimately get pulled into in a rather roundabout way. Whereas if you had been able to play as some of the other often much more interesting characters it may have been a much more exciting experience plot wise. Ultimately I wasn’t really impressed with the story, but I was very interested in the world the game takes place in.
As with all RPGs, the main replay value comes from choosing to develop your character in different ways. But ultimately this game lacks that because of the fact that you can redistribute stat points at any time during the game with no consequence. There are some choices in the game and certain bonus/side quests that you may or may not be able to do in one playthrough, but I don’t really see this as the type of game that has any hard replay value. It more comes down to whether or not you’d like to experience it again, which I personally wouldn’t.
But there is a good amount of first play value. There are 24 main story chapters and then another 24 optional side quest chapters. Each chapter can take quite a while because of the lack of clues and lazy map system. When you know what you’re doing they can take about 30 minutes on average which comes out to about 24 hours of gameplay so it’s definitely fairly priced at $9.99. I wouldn’t buy it thinking you’ll get a ton of playthroughs out of it, but you’ll get a solid single run.
The Sacred Tears TRUE is more like an anime than a game. It shows the world through the eyes of kids with dreams instead of chosen heroes. In some ways it’s much more relatable than many other RPGs, but it’s also lacking in certain places. The battle system, which is fun yet a little inconsistent, is a nice change from many of the other RPGs that have been released recently. The graphics are quite strong in some places and noticeably weak in others, which is a pretty good way to describe the entire game. Great sound, but nothing else done nearly as well from start to finish. It’s a game that’s worth playing for the price if you like the genre, but I wouldn’t recommend it to people just looking for that next game to play with no specific interest in the style of gameplay.
- Interesting Battle System
- Great Sound
- Good length for the price.
- Boring Story
- Horrible Money System
- Inconsistent Battle Outcomes