It's been a great year for FDG Entertainment. Its previous title, Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, broke the top five our list of the 100 Best iOS Games. When we found out FDG was doing a sequel to its well-received Across Age, we had our expectations set high. Sure, time travel has become a trope of role-playing game genre, spanning from the likes of Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy to even Fire Emblem. Speaking of such classics, Across Age 2 does its very best to remind us of the RPG genre's 16-bit glory days.
The interesting thing about Across Age 2 is it doesn't exactly feel like a sequel to the first Across Age. Instead, it feels like a recycled continuation of its predecessor. The first title took multiple expansions and updates in order to make it a solid RPG. This culminated with the release of Across Age DX, which housed all the expansions, patches and fixes released within the first two years of the original's debut. With Across Age 2, we have something that does not necessarily seem like an exact sequel, but feels like it is simply a large expansion to Across Age DX.
Initially, the graphics of Across Age 2 are quite the attention grabber. I absolutely loved playing the likes of Illusion of Gaia, Secret of Mana, Evermore and Terranigma, so when I saw Age was a top-down RPG featuring crisp, 16-bit influenced visuals, I was quite happy to see how fluid everything was and how well it played.
Everything in Across Age 2 was bright and there were excellent uses of color throughout all of my time put into Prince Ales' adventures. The dialogue scenes feature fully-drawn, anime-esque characters, which were done really well. This style of art also appears during major plot events, providing a pseudo-cutscene effect. When considering this is an iOS title, the amount of art it actually contains is rather impressive.
On the other hand, for each amazing way the graphics of Across Age 2 captivated me, I was let down by an aesthetic shortcut. Reusing enemy and character models with different color schemes should be anticipated on this format, but I did not expect to encounter them in the first hour alone. While going to the first dungeon through the first forest, I found myself fighting the same exact monsters. The same thing happened just thirty minutes after clearing the forest. By the time I was five hours in, I was thoroughly tired of some of the basic enemy models. Also, the spell and attack effects are rather bland. Sure, later on these attacks become bigger and have wider areas of effect, but I felt they simply didn't have any sort of "oomph" to them; even at the higher levels, my characters played and felt like they did at the beginning.
The music of Across Age 2 is surprisingly good. Considering FDG Entertainment hired Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito to work on Oceanhorn, Across Age 2 has an excellent standalone soundtrack done by its in-house team. Sure, a lot of these songs repeat, but they were all done relatively well. The upbeat soundtrack is reminiscent of some of my favorite SNES and Genesis titles. And speaking of the Sega Genesis, the sound effects of Across Age 2 reminded me of the system's signature MIDI production style. Unfortunately, the sound effects were very lackluster and often repeated. Ales' standard sword slash is used for too many other things for me not to notice. Despite having such a thoroughly excellent soundtrack, FDG seemed to not care about the sound effects.
Many times, the story of an RPG can compel us to overlook the shortcomings of the game itself in order to see the narrative through to the end. Across Age 2 does so here. The story picks up immediately after the ending of the first game. Prince Ales and Ceska the mage have defeated Across Age's big baddie, Count Agrean, and fixed the time-space continuum in all their Doc Brown-esque, time-travelling glory. Since they fixed everything in the past and a new present was established, none of the people in the world know how much these two heroes changed it.
In Across 2, Ales and Ceska encounter a mysterious woman who is out to kill them. But this girl claims in the future, Prince Ales and Ceska are despotic tyrants whose rule is absolute, horrific and unchallenged. Once again, Ales and Ceska must use their time travelling ability to prevent an unthinkable future.
While the first four to five hours playing Across Age 2 made its plot seem like it was filled with expected tropes, the second half certainly made up for it. During the first half of the adventure, I encountered the usual collection of RPG cliches: small town catching ablaze, mysterious warrior attacks you but refuses to talk, a prince being separated from his castle’s forces so he could fight on his own, and even a teacher of magic who says you’re still too young. These parts of Across 2’s storyline are events I have seen happen way too many times throughout the traditions of RPG storytelling. But once I hit the second half, it definitely made up for it (which I can’t give away without risking major spoilers).
Sure, the extra characters who temporarily replace Ales and Ceska along the trip play exactly the same as the people they stepped in for, but this story was more about Ales, Ceska and the girl from the future. The overall story pulled off some switcheroos I legitimately was not expecting and kept me highly engaged. Just when you think you prevented the bad future from happening, bam, you get a Final Fantasy 4-like twist proving you are far from done.
My biggest complaints with Across Age 2 reside with its controls. For some reason, you can't attack enemies while on stairs. I expect this will be patched later on, but I found myself having to frequently switch between characters just to pick off the annoying enemies that camped near staircases. Also, enemies respawn instantly. If you walk away to pan the camera from where an enemy died, you'll find a new one there a second later upon your return.
I felt the left stick controls of Across 2 were inaccurate and annoying. I had to frequently let my thumb go off the screen in order to zero-in the stick and fix my movement. This is a shame because if it weren't for such a horrible left stick, the combat in Across 2 would have been very fluid. The spell-choosing interface and auto-aim of the spells themselves could have definitely used more work. Playing as a mage should give you access to a repertoire of spells that you should be able to access on the fly, but Across 2’s interface forces you to only have one spell equipped at a time. You have a basic spell with no mana cost as a sub-weapon incase you ever run out of magic points, but you couldn’t change spells on the fly without having to navigate a cluttered spell list. Given the number of spells that Ceska learns throughout Across Age 2, I had to force myself to always keep the fireball spell equipped because the other ones were not as direct when it came to damaging enemies.
The solo/follow buddy system shouldn't have to force you to be on top of your partner in order to get them to follow you. I've seen plenty of AIs simply return to your character's position (e.g., Tails in Sonic 2) and continue the adventure. The poor navigational controls of Across Age 2 culminate during the ship sequences. Sure, getting a vehicle in an RPG is usually a highlight, but I dreaded most of these sequences when I actually had to use the ship.
Ultimately, Across Age 2 is a great role-playing game and a proper tribute to its top-down, classic influences of the 16-bit era. At first, I thought this title was along the lines of SNES classics such as Secret of Mana and Illusion of Gaia, but I now think that Across 2 feels more like a optimal version of Genesis RPG due to its sound effects and clunky controls. These two factors were the only things that kept this title from being a classic in its own right, but they are both big deals in terms of my overall experience with Across 2.
Given FDG's history of going back and fixing things, I look forward to how Across 2 will play a year from now after its inevitable patches. As of right now, Across Age 2 is good, but far from perfect. So while it's not an immaculate game, it still provides a great experience and is definitely worth a $4 price tag to play such an engaging and fun role-playing game. Those on the wall about Across Age 2 might want to give it some time and see how its issues get resolved in the long run before trying to step into this DeLorean of an RPG.