Cryptract has been on a bit of an adventure leading up to its Western release on mobile. Having initially arrived in Japan all the way back in 2015, it came to the English speaking world last year – but on PS4, oddly, instead of its native platform.
That means the game hits Google Play and the App Store with a bit of history under its belt, and this pedigree shows. We’ve come to expect shoddy localisation in mobile games that cross the Pacific, but there’s none of that here.
The gameplay, too, shows evidence of its years of refinement – which isn’t to say Cryptract is free of grind, repetition, and the other difficult traits that characterize the gacha SRPG genre.
The basic set-up couldn’t be simpler. A “mystical beast” has attacked your kingdom with devastating results, and so you set out to defeat this monster and restore order and tranquility.
In practice, that campaign sees you completing a seemingly endless series of quests, some tied to the main story, others tied to side-stories designed to bring the background figures of the gameworld to the fore and add texture to the narrative.
There are tower quests, too, and beast battles, among other diversions, but they all take the same basic form: turn-based scraps with a huge variety of fantasy monsters across three stages.
Combat is a straightforward affair. Each of your units has a basic attack and a skill attack, which is more powerful but needs to recharge between uses. These can be defensive, too, or devoted to discovery. Naturally, you can set combat to play out automatically, and that’s likely to be your default option in time.
Your true role is not to fight, but to build an army and create the most strategically advantageous parties, of which you can have up to ten lined up and ready to deploy.
Each party contains a leader and up to three other units in the main group, plus a guest – drawn from another player’s army – for support. Choosing which heroes to include in a party isn’t just a matter of picking the most powerful ones – they can have one of five different attributes, including fire, water, wood, light, and dark.
Each of these is weak against one attribute and strong against another – e.g. fire trumps wood but is trumped by water. The trick is to have a range of parties skewed towards particular enemy profiles, so that if you’re taking on a lot of wood-based enemies you’ve got a party that’s strong in fire to send into the fray.
There are two ways to add units to your army. You can acquire them on the battlefield, through completing missions, or you can summon them using Kizuna points, orbs, or crystals, which you also acquire by completing missions.
The units that you summon are random – that’s gacha for you – though you can choose to summon special units or rare ones. You can summon strengthening materials, too. Summoned units tend to be more worthwhile than the ones you capture on the battlefield. The best thing to do with those is fuse them with a base character to increase that character’s skill level.
So far this may all sound a bit familiar, and it’s true that Cryptract doesn’t stray too far from the tried and tested gacha SRPG formula. There’s a dizzying amount of stuff in the game, including Unions (basically guilds), unit evolutions, a variety of different currencies, and so on. But none of it will surprise veterans of this type of game.
Where Cryptract absolutely stands out, however, is in its strong focus on narrative and the rare quality of its localization.
Cryptract aims to be a real interactive story, with deep, fleshed out characters and a compelling narrative arc. Between the short, three-stage battles you’ll be treated to some creditable writing in the second person, creating subtle moments of tension and levity between your character and the others.
The abundant side quests are equally well written, introducing you to fleshed out characters and engaging situations before bearing you along to the next little story in Cryptract’s wartorn world. This is a game where the writing matters.
To some extent this comes at the cost of technical ambition. Cryptract isn’t a bad-looking game, and its 2D sprites are smoothly animated, but it takes place against fairly old-fashioned 2D backdrops rather than the bulging polygons you’ve grown accustomed to. Otherwise, there’s very little to complain about, and you can check out Cryptract for yourself here.