Off the strength of two stellar SteamWorld Dig games and the excellent SteamWorld Heist, Image & Form have proven themselves as a developer worthy of my attention. I’m willing to give them a chance on whatever they put out.
Put that line of thinking to the test when I finally got around to SteamWorld Quest. This time, the talented studio tries their hand at creating a turn-based JRPG with a card battling system. Does Image & Form continue its hot streak?
In SteamWorld Quest, a group of friends set off on an adventure that seems small at first. However, the stakes are raised as the story progresses. From a story perspective, it’s fairly boiler plate, though I like the moment-to-moment dialogue between the characters.
You’ll move around the world in a way that’s actually reminiscent of a beat-em-up. Walking in-and-around pathways, you’ll break items for loot, open treasure chests, partake in some light puzzle-solving, and engage with enemies. There’s some leeway if you want to evade enemy encounters, though it’s generally in your best interest to fight.
Where the game really shines is in its combat. Your party and the enemy forces will take turns smacking one another until all of the members of one side are defeated. Unlike a traditional JRPG, combat is not done through menus.
Instead, all of your attacks, status effects, and healing are done through cards. Each character in your party can have up to eight cards equipped in their deck. All active character decks are shuffled together and you work with six at a time. Under most circumstances, you will play three cards from your hand and resolve the actions from each in the order that you’ve played them. Afterwards, your enemies will do the same.
The card system introduces some really interesting dynamics to battle. By virtue of not having your full arsenal available to you, it forces you to use your current hand to its fullest. Yes, you can draw and replace up to two cards per hand, but you will eventually be stuck with a handful of options.
Furthermore, each card has an energy cost. Some of the weaker cards generate energy, while the most powerful cards use a lot of energy. The order in which you play your cards matters, as leading with energy-generating cards can open up opportunities to play more powerful cards within this hand or future hands.
Last but not least, the game grants players with the use of a special card if they’re able to play a three-card hand only using cards from one character. What that special card is will depend on how your deck is structured. For example, having a more offensively-based Galleo gives him a special attack, while a more defensively-based Galleo earns him a card that boosts his party’s defense.
Playing any three cards is simple enough. But every turn opens the door to a new set of variables to weigh in order to create the desired outcome. Sure, there will be extreme moments where you draw only expensive cards when you have no energy or you only get attack cards when you badly need healing. Most of the time, it’s an interesting opportunity to find the best route of cards based on what you need in that particular moment of a fight. Even against lowly grunts, it’s an opportunity to test your tactical abilities with whatever cards that RNGesus may send your way.
That said, not everything about card battling is left to chance. You have the ability to customize the decks for each character. Over the course of the campaign, dozens of new cards can be purchased for each character by spending money and other in-game resources. After that, you get some wiggle room to adjust the distribution of your active cards. Many cards come in sets, allowing you to carry multiples of a card.
Keep in mind that you’ll want to structure your deck within the context of the character itself, as well as your deck as a whole. It’s great to tweak your decks so that you’re holding a ton of strong cards. But how will you generate energy to use them? Can you take advantage of the synergy bonuses that certain cards have when used in tandem with cards from specific party members? Maybe you want to decentralize the healing function so that you don’t have a dedicated healer, opening up the opportunity for maximum damage. The choices are yours and they’re fascinating to figure out throughout your journey.
You’re likely to tweak your deck many times over as you add new cards or tailor your deck to fight certain adversaries. Boss fights in this game are notably tricky, as most have incredibly high health and possess some incredibly powerful attributes. There was one section towards the middle of the game where my team was just melting and it took me a minute to realize that this particular enemy type had resistance against physical attacks. Once I noticed that, I reconfigured my lineup to better dispatch of the opposition.
Save for an unnecessary boss rush towards the end, I struggled to put SteamWorld Quest down. What it may lack in terms of an original or riveting story it makes up for with a brilliant combat system that takes cues from tabletop games like Magic: The Gathering or Dominion. If you enjoy exploring the depths of a combat, this is a great one to dive into.
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