A brand new recruit with a famous ancestor and a mysterious destiny, thrust into the middle of a world-altering conflict and accompanied by a variety of unique team-mates. Planet Stronghold doesn’t deviate from the standard role-playing game template in terms of storyline but it does feature a streamlined RPG experience with extra emphasis on character relationships. Is this enough to differentiate it from the crowds and make it worthy of a purchase?
As a new recruit assigned to the titular Planet Stronghold you’re able to choose from either a male or female protagonist, although this makes very little difference to the game itself apart from dictating which romantic options are available. Beyond this the game plays out in a very straightforward way – following a fairly linear story punctuated with turn-based battles and conversation choices. The fairly basic narrative and dialogue makes it clear that this is aimed at a younger demographic, and the relationship levels you maintain with all your teammates suggest they’re aiming at a female market as well. Filling a relationship level to maximum usually unlocks an optional side-quest to undertake, and can also trigger a romantic opportunity as there are there are a total of six different romantic partners to pursue (including two homosexual options) although they have no real effect on the game.
However it is a bit of a struggle to make it that into the game. The graphics are pretty unimpressive, consisting of a few static screens and character portraits that are also immobile – beyond an occasional minor change in expression. The battles in particular are a let down visually as you don’t even see your own party-members, just picture of your enemies who flash when you manage a hit on them. The audio side is even more underwhelming with all the conversations consisting of text and no voice-overs (apart from the odd exclamation in battle) and hardly any sound effects. Music is also very limited and sometimes non-existent so you’ll often find yourself playing in absolute silence for extended periods of time.
The one innovating feature however is the aggression system which is key to the fighting system. Enemies will tend to focus on the character in your party with the highest aggression level, which increases as you attack (particularly the ‘burst’ fire option) and decreases as you defend (which also helps recharge your health) so it’s possible to switch the enemy attention between your characters. This quickly becomes the key feature in winning battles, and in most occasions your only real tactic as there is a real lack of items to use and only the dedicated psychic characters can actually use special abilities of note. In fact most battles become a war of attrition as you chip away at enemies health while your various party-members take turns being the targets of their attacks, and you occasionally use a healing item or ability. The final boss battle in particular is not particularly difficult, but just a real test of endurance.
Many players might also be put off by the erratic difficulty level which starts off low before a massive spike as you begin to face enemies who are stronger, tougher and more accurate than you and with various special abilities at a time when you have virtually none. Things become a bit easier when you manage to progress a bit but there’s always a chance that things could go very wrong in a battle due to a critical hit or some of special abilities that even basic enemies possess – like the ability to halve your health in one hit.
Aside from the limited gameplay and difficulty problems there are also some poor balancing issues that I found especially problematic. Most of the weapons and armour you collect during the game can’t be equipped by anyone until you’re near the end of the game due to the attribute requirements, and the loot (metal scraps) you collect after each victory are essentially useless – after about 50 victories I eventually managed to have a weapon constructed, which then turned out to be worse than my existing weapons (which tends to be a common occurrence). Similarly you’ll really struggle to level up your character attributes unless you have each character focus extensively on one or two areas which results in some very unbalanced characters, but does mean you can eventually breeze through the opportunities when you can use special actions like picking a lock or setting explosives to avoid a direct confrontation.
At around 20 hours to complete Planet Stronghold is certainly shorter than many other RPGs and with far less grinding to get through. With two different story paths to follow and the various romantic options there is in theory some replay value but it’s unlikely to appeal to many, but kudos to the game for at least making some good design decisions by prompting you to save at key plot points and allowing you to quickly skip conversations that you’ve gone through on a previous playthrough.
However Planet Stronghold is far too limited and childlike for me to recommend to most adult gamers, and not interesting or accessible enough for younger gamers. A missed opportunity then, although RPG fans may still be able garner some enjoyment out of the experience.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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