The latest game from Acquire, Adventure Academia: The Fractured Continent, is… a lot. It’s called a JRPG, but it heavily leans on the side of being a dungeon-crawler, incorporating elements of both genres as well as dipping ever so slightly into real-time strategy. In doing so, however, it makes itself a prime example of the phrase “a jack of all trades is a master of none.” By trying to break into new territory without actually pulling up some of its roots, Adventure Academia ends up feeling like it’s in the midst of an identity crisis. There are certainly bright spots here and there, and I appreciate that Acquire is trying new things, but it’s obvious which areas are experimental. Sadly, these experiments tend to fall flat.
First and foremost, there’s the story. It’s pretty bare-bones and doesn’t do anything new or exciting, but it’s enough to move the game forward. The main character, Alex, and his friends go on a journey to find Alex’s missing father. In the process, they use the power of the Ruler Orb, an artifact passed down through Alex’s family for generations, to save the world. That’s it. There are no surprise twists or no story-altering events. What’s written on the box is exactly what happens. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The story doesn’t need to be highly immersive or keep you on your toes. All it’s here to do is provide support for the gameplay and, while it may be lackluster, it gets the job done. I’d almost be more upset if the story were deeper.
As for Adventure Academia‘s gameplay, there’s a lot of clutter in the form of numerous different systems. These include, but are not limited to, party, equipment, recruitment, magic, rank, and course. Oh, and let’s not forget the missions that are the bulk of the actual gameplay, the shop where you can buy and sell gear, and the gear upgrading system. There’s a lot that goes on in this game and several things feel unnecessary, making for a fair bit of bloat that can be hard to keep track of.
To start with, there’s the party. Players can create a party of up to six members selected from ten different races. This lends an element of strategy to the game, since each race has its own fighting style and magic. Beyond that, party members each have three equipment slots. They get a weapon and two other pieces of gear, and all equipment can have an effect that gives a further stat increase. It’s all pretty standard RPG stuff.
Creating a party is where you run into the first seemingly unnecessary feature. When recruiting new party members, each potential character comes with three personality traits from a list of more than eighty. These seem to affect the character’s initial stats, but not only is it so minuscule that they’re pretty safe to ignore, but also I’m not entirely sure it’s because of the traits and not just random fluctuations. Honestly, it’s a mystery to me why this is even part of the game. It feels like something that was meant to be of some importance, then went unfinished, which only serves to add to the clutter. The recruitment system is simple and free to use, so it’s not like this is a detriment in any way. It’s just wholly unnecessary.
Missions are where Adventure Academia really gets into the gameplay, but I use the term “play” a bit loosely. There isn’t much in the way of it. Each mission drops Alex onto what is essentially a game board that must be traversed, and all the player really does is tell the party where to move. Alex summons party members to fight for him (he doesn’t do any attacking), and they attack nearby enemies automatically. The only attacking players are involved in is selecting whose magic to use and even that is, frankly, so useless that I almost forgot that feature existed entirely.
Where the magic system hits a snag is on the rank system, which involves in-mission levels that boost characters’ stats. Using spells in Adventure Academia, as in most games, costs MP. The rank system also costs MP. When the choice is either using one-off spells or upping characters’ stats for the duration of the mission, the latter is by and large the better option. The only time using magic ever really crossed my mind was when I found myself surrounded by a large group of enemies or when I was fighting a boss, but by that point, it wasn’t going to save me from anything my party’s regular attacks couldn’t take down. All in all, it feels like magic is only there to make the different races seem more diverse without adding any real substance. Much like the personality traits, it’s another system that doesn’t particularly detract from anything, but also doesn’t feel like it adds much of anything.
The magic system is also tied into Adventure Academia‘s course system. Completing missions earns SP, which is spent leveling up a character on their current school course, earning them permanent buffs and upgrading their spells. You can also spend SP to switch a character to a new course, which changes what their magic does and gives them access to even more permanent buffs. It isn’t all bad in that the stat boosts are good to have, but that’s all I really used it for. Magic is just so underwhelming that I never did anything with a character’s course based on the spell it upgraded or unlocked.
Not everything about Adventure Academia is bad or unnecessary, though. As previously mentioned, the party and equipment systems are plenty good. Gear upgrading, in which you spend money to improve your gear, is also enjoyable, and the rank system is nice to have. And while I’d be hard-pressed to say that this game feels engaging, I definitely didn’t hate playing it. I wasn’t rushing to get back to playing it whenever I had to stop, but I wasn’t rushing to turn it off either. In fact, I even found myself losing track of time on a couple of occasions.
For all intents and purposes, Adventure Academia: The Fractured Continent should be a bad game. Gameplay isn’t super intuitive and it tries to do too much, causing it to be bloated and a bit confusing. But the things it does well, it does so in just the right ways. Party members each have their own unique roles without being overly specialized. The equipment system is super straightforward, but offers plenty of options. Upgrades using nothing but in-game currency helps keep material grinding to a minimum. The in-mission sprites look good too, which is always a plus. If some of the fat had been trimmed and a little more work had gone into making things like magic more viable, there would have been a lot more going for it. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and what we’re left with feels like it could have been good had it not tried so hard to do so much.
Adventure Academia: The Fractured Continent is available now for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PC via Steam.