It’s hard enough to follow someone using accurate medieval vocabulary in real life without using it to break up a gemstone matching game.
GyromancerPublisher: Square Enix
Platform: Xbox Live (reviewed), PC
ESRB Rating: Teen
Developer: Square Enix, PopCap Games
Release Date: 2009-11-15
Combining the stats and repetitive combat of the JRPG with Bejeweled’s game design proved to be a stroke of brilliance for Infinite Interactive when they created Puzzle Quest. Combat in the average JRPG usually starts to stagnate because you just mash attack over and over. There’s no randomness or strategy to it unless you’re fighting something particularly hard. By having all moves be dependent on lining up rows of gemstones, it adds enough randomness while still relying on stats to keep things fresh but controllable. A skilled player will not win every fight, but on a long enough time line, they will win enough. Gyromancer is Pop Cap games and Square Enix’s stab at the genre, and overall, it’s an improvement on its competition.
The game is basically a cross between Pokemon, Bejeweled Twist, and just a hint of Final Fantasy Tactics. You have three monsters at any given time that all get boosts from a certain gemstone. These can be leveled up, but because of the level caps, you will always have to hunt for more as you progress. Unlike Puzzle Quest, moving gemstones is a solitary affair. There is no opponent working on the same board. You want to use the stones that fill your creature’s attack bar while avoiding the ones that fill the enemies. Once your meter fills, a gemstone on the board is primed, and then, you have to line it up to attack. Chaining multiple gemstones at once increases damage. When an enemy attacks, they also prime a stone, but you’ll have a set number of moves to break the attack. You do all this by rotating 4 gemstones clockwise like in Bejeweled Twist. Eventually, to make things interesting, the game starts imposing rules on gameplay like penalizing every move that doesn’t make a gem combo by boosting the enemy’s attack meter.
Breaking up these fights is a dull board game system. A little piece representing your character appears, and you move around sequentially through mazes while monster markers do the same. Weaker ones come from spawn points, stronger ones will never move while blocking your path, and there are all sorts of secrets hidden across every map. Beating a stage is usually a quick affair of a few coordinated fights or the pressing a few switches. Once that happens, barriers off the map will lift and open up the rest of the board for you to explore. This is where the game's true appeal lies: exploring the rest of a map and finding hidden creatures for you to summon. This isn’t really optional, you’ll need to collect tougher critters to face the bosses. These are often hidden behind puzzle sections where you have to unlock a massive gem chain, so not all of this comes down to grinding. The maps do get creative later on, such as one where you chase a boss across a map while he beats on one of your ally.
The game’s story is told through talking heads that, although pretty, don’t really have much to say. You’re ultimate male fantasy Rivel, a master Immortal wizard that everyone has heard of, and you have been sent to hunt down some folks who have fled into a monster-filled forest. Accompanying you is a female Ranger in tight clothing, a talking deer, and a creepy blonde child. I wouldn’t have tuned the plot out so much but the entire thing is told through bad Renaissance Fair chatter. Although it’s impressive to see someone accurately use the word legal term “demesne” in a complete sentence, I’m not sure a game that is pure text is the best place for it. It’s hard enough to follow someone using accurate medieval vocabulary in real life without using it to break-up a gemstone matching game.
The game’s randomization ends up causing most of its problems. Every fight, no matter how small, ends up taking five to ten minutes of sifting through gemstones. Since so much of the game involves backtracking and exploring maps, it can start to get tedious without some kind of way to circumvent these encounters. An undo button would also be a blessing in the later levels when every move counts. This could also be fixed if the game would let you buy items instead of only finding them on the map. Healing your monsters, status cures, and a few quirky items are all in limited supply. I don’t doubt that there are serious balance issues to consider in the game, but the difficulty curve resembles a brick wall once they impose gameplay rules like “No Idle Twist,” so it doesn’t seem to suffer from being too easy. This is all just nitpicking though, the system works fine in the sense that you’re mainly there to play with gems.
Overall, Gyromancer is an excellent blend of Pop Cap’s casual play in a SquareSoft JRPG. The lack of an opponent AI means each round is a calm puzzle of picking the right move. The more combos that you get, the more quickly you can get in an attack before the opposing monster’s energy fills up. Picking the right 3 summons for a board so that you always have an advantage is key and leveling all monsters up to their max has the same appeal as any RPG. The weak story is forgivable because it’s skippable and most of the game is spent exploring beaten stages anyways. If you didn’t like Puzzle Quest this might be the title that converts you. If you did, then you’ll be happy with picking this one up.