Sorcery! Review

“Shaping the story around your choices” is how Sorcery’s store page describes it. This may be true to a certain extent, but any changes ultimately prove to be meaningless because of the way this game is designed. Not only is this a game that lasts 1-2 hours at most, but I played through it twice and was amazed by how many identical/similar events occurred regardless of my choices. When you add the mediocre, tedious combat and woefully underutilized spell system into that, you realize that there’s really nothing left to recommend. This is doubly true because everything Sorcery does has already been done better by other games.

The game just stops

It’s important to bring up that the game has no ending—this is an episodic game broken into four parts, but unlike Telltale’s episodic games, there’s no dramatic story climax to end the episode. Instead, the game suddenly ends when you reach a certain point, then pops up a prompt telling you to buy Part 2 if you want to keep playing. There’s no buildup, nor is there anything meaningful that happens up until that point. You just wander from village to village, get railroaded into a few generic events, and then have the game end before you can see whether or not your actions have any results. This might be acceptable if we were talking about a 99-cent app, but Sorcery is a 5-dollar game. That’s a pretty drastic overestimation of its value.

There are few real characters

Sorcery plays like a choose-your-own-adventure book (which makes sense, since it was adapted from one), prompting you with text and then allowing you to choose one of 3-4 responses. This means that you’re only able to interact with people to the extent that the game allows you to, and that’s less than you’d probably hope. The closest thing to a worthwhile character is a brief—and optional—encounter with an assassin toward the end of the game. There’s also an annoying fairy-like creature named Jann who you end up stuck with, but he’s less of an actual character than an artificial limitation to make the end of the game more difficult than the beginning.

Sorcery! Part 1

Screw you, pit of snakes.

Sorcery! Part 1

Screw you, forgotten hole.

Jann and limitations

Magic in Sorcery works using an admittedly interesting system; when you’re allowed to respond to a situation by casting a spell (and sometimes you aren’t given the choice), you’re taken to the stars where letters float in the air. By combining the letters into a three-letter spell, you can cast one of many different types of spells with effects ranging from growing into a giant to causing your enemies to sink into a depression. However, you’re always limited by the letters you’re given, and this means that it’s only ever possible to cast 2-3 predetermined spells in a given situation. Additionally, several of the more interesting spells require you to have acquired certain items to cast them, and the higher-level spells in your spellbook don’t seem to be possible to cast at all in Part 1.

Then there’s Jann. Like I mentioned before, you end up stuck with this creature, and not only is his Navi-esque ubiquity incredibly grating, but he also completely turns off your magic. This means that unless you find a way to ditch him, you spend the entire second half of the game without the ability to use magic. Where you could up to that point shoot a preemptive fireball to avoid getting trapped in the game’s cumbersome guessing game that is combat, you suddenly lose the most interesting element of the game toward the end when you most need it.

The combat is atrocious

When I first started playing through the game, I found the combat to be clunky, but enjoyable. After repeating the same fights over and over, however, this quickly turned to loathing. How combat works is that you and your enemy both have the ability to set your attack value each turn, and whoever sets the higher value does damage. If someone blocks, even the weakest or strongest attack against them will cause 1 point of damage. You’re not able to choose a strong attack every turn, though, because the strength of your attacks depletes by how much you use and only regenerates a small amount each round. This means that if you use all of your strength to attack with an attack value of 8, your strongest follow-up attack will only be something like a 4. If you use all 4, then you’ll be limited by an attack value of 1.6. Rationing your strength, then, and only using as much as is necessary to have your attack value higher than your opponent’s is the key to winning.

And that’s a problem because there’s no real way to tell how your opponent will react outside of guessing or replaying the same fight several times. Some enemies tend to block in the first move while others come out with their strongest attack right out of the gate, and all you have to gauge their next move is a vague description. Of course, that description never includes enough information and is sometimes completely at odds with your opponent’s next attack, so you’re forced to guess how your opponent will attack. Having success in combat be dictated by guesswork and repetition when you inevitably guess incorrectly is never a good thing, and having to replay fights over and over again to keep from losing too much health is more tedious than I can convey through words, especially since there doesn’t seem to be any way to restart a fight save for finishing it and trying again. This means that if you make a bad first move and want to try again, you’re forced to keep attacking until one of you is dead before you can actually restart.

Death is never the end

If you die in combat, you can restart the fight and try again, and if you die as the result of bad decision-making (as in the pictures above), you’ll be able to restart that section without incurring any penalty. In fact, the game is broken into short events, and you can rewind back to any event you’ve completed no matter how far back it is and replay it in a different way. This is a nice system, but again, there’s no way to restart an event while you’re still playing it outside of finishing. The closest you can come is to restart the event before it and make identical decisions to get to the same point, but that often ends up taking up just as much time as playing through the event in the first place. It’s just not very well designed.

There’s not much to keep track of

There are only three things you need to keep track of while playing Sorcery: your stamina, your gold, and your rations. Gold is obviously used as money in this game, and rations are there to eat when your character feels hungry (starving yourself is never a good idea and often negatively impacts your stamina), but “stamina” is much more ambiguous. Put simply, stamina is your health/mana pool; when you incur damage in combat or cast a spell, this comes out of your stamina pool. I’m just going to go on record as saying that I don’t like this system at all. When you first play through the game, it’s impossible to know what’s coming up, which means that you’re often trying to keep your stamina as high as possible just in case. Since it’s possible to get through combat without taking any damage whereas spells are guaranteed to reduce your health, your first playthrough more or less requires that you focus heavily on the game’s tedious combat and avoid magic for the most part. It’s just yet another system that doesn’t seem very well designed at all.

Railroading is a bad thing

If there’s a way to avoid getting saddled with Jann, I never found it. If there’s a way to avoid getting captured and forced to save a village chief’s daughter from a manticore, then I never found that, either. Yes, you’re able to ditch Jann before the end if you make certain string of decisions, and it’s technically possible to escape from captivity without ever facing the manticore, but actually getting forced into those events in the first place doesn’t seem to be optional. The more I played Sorcery, the more I felt that no matter what you do, you always end up in the same situations.

Sorcery! Part 1

Naturally, you never get the opportunity to cast it.

There are better games like this

I may have liked Sorcery overall if I hadn’t played through the Tales of Illyria games first; not only are they comparably priced, filled with more content, and complete games in their own right, but their mechanics are deeper and they have more memorable characters, events, and music. Their events are even random, making traveling around much more unpredictable than in Sorcery, where making the same decisions leads to the same results every time. Again, this could be forgiven if Sorcery was a 99-cent app, but this is inexplicably a premium-priced app.

The graphics are rare, but nice

Most of the time you spend with Sorcery will be spent looking at plain text, but it has its visually impressive moments, too. The intro is definitely a high point, setting up the overall story for the four-part series with a short dream sequence not unlike the excellent text-only dream sequences in Lost Odyssey. The combat, too, is a graphical high point, with both your character and enemies sporting an interesting hand-drawn aesthetic that looks like detailed sketches brought to life.

On the other hand, the game refused to play in full-screen, instead keeping my Kindle Fire HD’s side and top bars present no matter what. This is the only mobile game I’ve ever played where this has happened, and I found it to be distracting.

Predictably orchestral

I’m beginning to become incredibly annoyed by how phoned-in a lot of soundtracks are, at least stylistically. Fantasy games always have orchestral soundtracks while futuristic games always seem to feature electronic music, and it’s only the rare outliers that ever bother to switch it up. While Sorcery plays it safe by featuring an orchestral soundtrack, I do have to give it credit for being memorable and melodic in the beginning dream sequence. However, the music then disappears for the most part, giving way to a chord here and there when you cast a spell, as well as lingering notes that serve as meaningless background fluff.

Here’s what you should do:

Sorcery! Part 1

Sorcery! Part 1 Screenshots: Page 1

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Sorcery! Part 1 Screenshots: Page 2

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