Maurice Chevalier sang “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” and while the sentiment sounds a little bit creepy today, we don’t know what Japanese-style roleplaying games would do without them. That’s certainly true of Across Age 2, a “Retro Action RPG” that would be lost without its women of an ambiguous age.
Across Age 2 is a sequel to what German publisher calls the “first ever released Japanese Retro Action RPG on the App Store.” The original Across Age appeared just over four years ago, and featured a warrior prince and an apprentice mage adventuring through time to save their kingdom. The backstory is convoluted, but Across Age 2 has an eye-catching opening cinematic tells you everything you need to know.
Prince Ales and Ceska are back for the sequel, but their future has become a dark place. A tyrant king rules the land, and a young mage decides that she will go back to the past to stop his rise to power. Her past is Ales and Ceska’s present, and they are soon drawn into the quest to save the future.
The plot rampages back and forth through time, piling up complications and occasionally splitting up its heroes for elaborate quests in the past or future. We also check in with several characters from the first game– since most of those characters don’t remember their previous adventure, it’s like meeting old friends for the first time. RPGs and time travel plots are convoluted by nature, and Across Age 2 does a superb job of keeping the story interesting and easy to follow.
It also revels in the stereotypes that you would expect in a Japanese RPG. The character of Commander Violet takes the concept of “bishonen” to an extreme– he’s a super-buff shirtless warrior with an effeminate style that would make Jack Tripper blush. Then there’s the several-screen exchange on the subject of Ceska’s breast size. The script is walking a fine line here– is this a parody of the stereotypes, or is it just pandering? It’s hard to tell. The makers of the game seem to like their characters, though, and even the most cartoonish get good lines and heroic moments.
Even with a witty script, though, some of the conversations get very long. You’re following a completely linear storyline, and the game wants you to experience every moment. Again, this is typical of Japanese RPGs, and if you like the genre you’ll enjoy the chatter. What’s a little less enjoyable is getting defeated by a boss and repeating the same introductory conversation several times in a row.
The controls are also a weak point. The interface is standard, and it’s easy to deal with inventory or choose powers. Switching between characters is a little awkward, and since the gameplay is built around the teamwork between two characters, you have to do a lot of that. On the other hand, you’re not usually under pressure when you switch characters, so you can take your time.
Moving characters around is a bigger problem. Across Age 2 stays true to the 16-bit tradition by providing you with a virtual joystick, but you have none of the precision that you would get from a physical joystick or D-pad. We spent a lot of time falling off things or wasting spell power because we ended up facing the wrong way when we blasted our enemies. The game is forgiving, so dying only sets you back a minute or two, but it’s frustrating.
Even with the control issues, though, the game is a lot of fun. If you like Japanese-style RPGs, and you don’t mind hitting “next” a dozen or so times with every conversation, you’ll enjoy Across Age 2.