There’s an intriguing dualism to D.N.Age – the turn-based strategy game from indie developer Rimemory. That’s probably not entirely surprising, since the main mechanic of the game is splicing and merging the DNA of battle monsters.
Check out our interview with the developer right here.
Originally conceived as a mobile game – a platform I have some savage issues with – back in 2014, D.N.Age is making the leap from Android and iOS to Steam on 29th July 2016. Sharpen those pencils, if you have pencils, and put that date in your diary, if you have a diary (just remember it if not).
D.N.Age is from the same one-man band who recently released Colour Symphony 2 on Xbox, PS4 and Steam. That game was a stone-cold slice of genius, marrying a challenging platformer with rhythm game sensibilities, and there’s a definite feeling with D.N.Age of smashing two styles of gaming together. It’s not quite as well implemented here, but it’s the solid start that shows the glimmer of creativity beginning to break through.
You’ll take control of Russell, a regular Russell Joe, who is awoken in a mysterious world by a sweet elf – you know, the anime type with wide eyes and no waist. The world is pretty much what you’d expect from that sentence: European-style fantasy world with a patchwork of fields and villages. The story plays it old-school, occurring entirely in text boxes; however, the character’s dialogue, while playing it almost entirely straight, has a certain tongue-in-cheek self awareness. Occasionally this chatter goes on five beats too long, and you may fight the urge to swiftly scroll through without reading, just as soon as you’ve got the gist.
The art style is one of those peculiar dualisms: Almost everything about the design of the monsters and the world itself is child-friendly, but the girls you meet on your journey all fit the same bill as your elfin assistant. Sure, they’re not rocking lingerie, but there’s a clear hint of sexuality to each of them, in their thigh-high boots and note-perfect bodies. If you’re down with that, then D.N.Age is sure to please – although there’s no denying that there’s nothing particularly revolutionary about artwork that could’ve come straight from a teen girl’s notebook. That’s a shame, because the concept for the game lends itself to so much more creativity and memorability, rather than a paint-by-numbers anime style you’ve seen a thousand times before.
Once the surprisingly in-depth tutorial’s over, you’ll be able to pick up quests – generally kill quests and fetch quests. This is the first game I’ve played where I’ve been told to kill 3 hamsters (leave the conscience at the door). To complete these, you’ll fight your way across a series of floating islands.
Loosely speaking, D.N.Age could be described as Pokémon meets Final Fantasy, as you collect a team of monsters (and, once you’ve evolve them, human-like allies) and take it in turns to beat the living hell out of your opposition. There’s just one difference – all combat is automated.
No two ways, this is disorientating, since most games in this genre allow at least some element of control. And yet, once the initial confusion – and the resulting boredom – pass, you realise this is a sound gameplay move. Because this isn’t about choosing which attack is best suited to which enemy; it’s about choosing and crafting the best possible team. No denying it, once you’re on-board with automatic combat, it does become strangely satisfying. That’s not to say real, actual combat wouldn’t have been welcome, it absolutely would have added an extra dimension and immersion, but taking the game as it is, it’s acceptable (I keep telling myself this is a hangover from the limited functionality of originally being a mobile game). In fact, I’d equate it, to some extent, to the Football Manager games – you might not play the match yourself, but you’ll only win if you’ve effectively strategised.
A large part of forming that strategy comes from the DNA mechanics, in which you take two of your monsters, throw them together to get a new creature with stats based on both parties. Have you ever wondered what would happen if a Charmander and a Psyduck combined into one uber-Pokémon (A Charduck? A Psymander?)? Good, because D.N.Age answers those sort of vital questions – also, please see a head-doctor.
DNA merging is crucial to success, and, mercifully, is simple enough for even those without a genetic science PhD to follow. Each ‘merge’ – which costs gold – stands a chance of upping the stats of your monsters, combining elements from each of the two parents to form a new (and sometimes near-identical) creature. Those two parents need to be of the same species, so no pimping your Clucky to an Imp and seeing what results from that. While this makes sense, it also seems like a missed opportunity to make a game that’s truly focused on evolution, customisation and experimentation.
You’ll only have a finite number of spaces, and once those are filled with your monsters, you’ll need to say farewell to them, which frees up space and gives you gold. I found it easier to merge monsters and cast off the parents once I had a marginally more powerful creature. That limited inventory forces you to engage with the DNA system, and progressing through the game is nigh on impossible to complete without managing your team effectively.
That requires a fair amount of strategising, from choosing your lead monster to hit the enemies where it hurts to picking which position they play in the line-up. You can only take four into battle, and those set to the right will be attacked far more often – so do you opt for defence or offence? Thankfully, you can have five load-outs, meaning if one particular monster roster loses in combat, you can try another set list.
So how does the game transition from mobile to desktop? Surprisingly well, actually. The buttons are nice and large (a tell-tale sign of a mobile-first game), but there are no issues and controlling everything via the mouse is smooth. The only real issue I stumbled upon was, occasionally you’ll be double-clicking, and other times not. This can be slightly jarring as you wonder why the hell the game’s frozen on certain menus, only to realise you haven’t hit left-click enough times. Beyond that, the game’s more or less indistinguishable from its mobile counterpart (and I mean that in a good way).
Overall, D.N.Age is a neat little game that takes some getting used to. But if you’re on board for strategy, rather than out-and-out combat, you’re bound to get at least a few kicks from the 180-plus quests and 25 unique monsters. But more importantly, it’s an awesome introduction to an indie dev whose work gets better and better with every game released.
D.N.Age is available from Steam from 29th July.
The developer donated a Steam code for this game – which was nice of ’em.