Reviewer’s Note: This article pertains to Across Age DX (Out Now, $2.99), an edition of the game tailored to 3G and 4G iDevices. Only the original edition of Across Age will play on 2G devices. This review will do its best to point out the most important differences in content between the available versions.
What’s a knight to do when he needs to take down an evil wizard capable of traveling through time and foiling any action the hero makes? Fighting fire with fire sounds like a good idea, and that’s why Ales trudges all the way out to Cravely Village to find the Grand Mage, Ceska. As he had hoped, Ceska may invoke the titular Across Age spell at will by sheer birthright, but she is otherwise a novice still lacking in all the magical firepower that should otherwise be concomitant with her title. The ultra-crabby and impatient Ales isn’t exactly an idyllic knight in shining armor himself, but somehow this mismatched duo will have to make ends meet if the world is ever to be rid of their time traveling foe.
Ales’ and Ceska’s growth through teamwork might have made quite an emotional impact if played straight, but Across Age DX‘s developers opted for the more common approach of letting slapstick and snarky jabs carry the day. While the story makes little pretense of trying to carry significant narrative weight, the dialogues are a fun read thanks to generally impeccable text quality.
What Across Age DX does have in spades is high caliber game design. As with many of the Action RPGs to spring out of Japan in years past – Alundra and Brandish come to mind – the focus here is on intricate environmental puzzles, and thankfully these bring the game’s party system and the time travel element to their fullest potential. Each player character’s strengths lend him or her to certain roles in problem solving. Ales tends to rely on brute strength: he can move stone blocks and even do some dwarf mage tossing, literally catapulting Ceska onto ledges neither of them would be able to reach otherwise. Then it’s Ceska’s job to use her growing repertoire of elemental spells to set alight objects, freeze small bodies of water, etc., in hopes of opening a path they can both use to proceed once the team is reunited.
Time travel adds a welcome layer to the game’s numerous puzzles, as Ceska might need to allow an item to sit and age for awhile or otherwise clear obstacles no longer vulnerable in the present.
Across Age DX leaves a bit to be desired in terms of excitement during combat. Lack of comboing brings players back to the days when enemies didn’t take much punishment and could be dispatched easily on-the-fly, and while that aspect is welcome, there’s little question that Across Age DX could stand a little more oomph in the action department. That’s not to say that the game doesn’t at least hold its own; Ales and Ceska accumulate some special attacks and the player must alternate between characters to tackle certain types of enemies.
While one could quibble over the importance of the extra dungeon and boss in DX compared to the initial release, the greatest improvement over the original is ironically found in combat: Ales can actually swing his sword upon pressing the attack virtual button now. Yes, that’s an improvement, and a much needed one; in the original edition of Across Age, the player had to ram the poor guy right into enemies to damage them. Yikes! That alone makes DX the obvious choice for players with the appropriate iDevice who haven’t purchased either version yet.
By far the most compelling confrontations in Across Age DX are the boss battles, which spice up combat by stirring in a healthy dose of puzzle solving to complement the player’s need for quick reflexes and memorizing enemy attack patterns. Once the player figures out how to make use of Ales’ and Ceska’s skills to pinpoint and exploit a boss’ weakness, there’s little need for the kind of on-the-fly potion chugging we’ve seen all too often in the genre on this platform. The usual restorative item hotlinks can be created by equipping the player characters with consumable items via the menu system, but even during run-of-the-mill adventuring they don’t seem all that necessary; the player can usually survive on auto-consumed health and magic restoratives regular enemies leave behind when defeated.