Why do so many freemium puzzle game RPG hybrids look and play the same?

After having played Puzzle & Dragons since its introduction into the mobile gaming scene 2 years ago, I’ve tried out quite a few of its direct clones as well as those inspired by it. (If you don’t know what Puzzle & Dragons (PAD) is, it’s one of the most renown games on iOS and Android in Japan. Click on the link in the first sentence to go to the official English home page for more details.)

Honestly, I’m not even sure PAD was the first that got the ball rolling on the Bejeweled-like puzzle RPG genre but it’s the benchmark I use. Anyway, I think the obvious answer to the question is “anything like PAD will sell”. It’s the same deal with many other popular games.

It’s actually kind of funny and somewhat disheartening how, just by looking at screencaps, you’ll already have an idea of how these kinds of games will play.

For example, they will have a similiar UI with the bottom of it featuring a quest/dungeon menu on the bottom left, followed by some roster-related menu, a shop, gacha menu, and then Friend and some other thing at the right-hand side. That last category varies from game to game but it’s usually Info, Help, or Options. The top, on the other hand, will typically show a stamina bar, your username, your rank, experience, and the amount of general and premium currency you own.

PDdungeons

Seriously, although this screencap is in Japanese, it should kind of invoke a bit of deja vu to people that have played these kinds of games before.

Come to think about it, even the card battle RPG titles have the same sort of interface. I suppose it’s to give a sense of familiarity to users? Or maybe designers are just lazy? Perhaps it’s both??

Then there’s the whole rock-paper-scissors thing going as a gameplay mechanic where a certain colour that usually represents an element or weapon type is strong against one kind and weak against another.

I’m kind of dying to see a studio give us something that’s not the same old thing over and over. And while I haven’t found any that really goes out of way to make things different, I did find two that put a bit of a spin on this tired genre:

Thousand Memories (サウザンドメモリーズ)

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=jp.aktsk.memories
iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/jp/app/sauzandomemorizu-kyararinkurpg/id729234712?mt=8
Official web site: http://thousand-memories.com/

Download info: This game is REGION LOCKED to Japan. For the Japanese App Store, you can easily create an account to download free apps and games. It’s not as easy with the Google Play Store since you will need to somehow get the store to acknowledge you’re from Japan. This used to be possible with market spoofing apps on rooted devices but recent versions of the Play Store negate their functions. The only alternative I can think of is downloading the app itself from other sources. (I am not suggesting piracy since this is regarding a program that’s already free to begin with.)

Quick overview:

  • It’s a matching-colours game but instead of the usual where you’re moving a single tile to make lines of the same colour(s), you have to trace out a line to connect them. This line can go horinzontal, vertical, and/or diagonal as long as the route you’re tracing is of one colour. You can make use of skills and strategy to make the most of your lines such as causing the entire area to become the same colour.
  • Questing is stamina-based meaning that each quest you go on will consume a certain amount of it. Stamina will be replenished over time but you also have the option of using premium currency to instantly refill it. This is a staple of MANY freemium games.
  • There’s the whole unit collecting bit too! But on top of that, you can collect weapons and equipment to arm your party with.
  • Yes, you can level up characters and their skills. You can even level up and evolve weapons.
  • Armaments and such are enhanced the usual way by using other weapons and equipment and some gold/coins. Evolving them requires them to be maxed out as well as evolution material. This is yet another staple in these sort of games.
  • The gacha system is in place where you can get normal and premium/rare characters and items.
  • You will obtain Friend(?) Points (FP) by completing quests and selecting adventurers or “friends” — when are they ever truly friends? — to bring along on said quests. (I can’t seem to verify what the F stands for. ^^)Edit: Seems like the FP is actually gained from battles and not from friendship. The points needed for weapon enhancement — called Reputation/Fame Points — are from friends and random players.

What’s different about Thousand Memories:

  • There’s a plot of sorts! You’re treated to little cutscenes when entering new quest areas and after finishing them.
  • Voice overs. While there’s not a lot of it, there are certain cutscenes where some dialogue is read out. All characters have little audio quips during battle too.
  • 2 kinds of skills, 1 special attack. The usual Leader skill and active-skill-that-will-activate-after-a-certain-amount-of-turns is in Thousand Memories but there’s also a special attack that may happen randomly. You can up the chances of it occurring by levelling it up. Its strength and whatnot may also increase but I’ve yet to try this since it’s rather expensive to improve as doing so requires an enormous amount of FP.
  • Levelling up units doesn’t have anything to do with using fodder. All character-related improvements rely on FP.
  • Characters can’t evolve. Er, at least not that I can tell.
  • Characters can be converted into FP. Seeing that you can’t mash ’em together for levelling and evolution purposes, get rid of unnecessary people or duplicates by changing them into much needed FP. 😀
  • Assigning sub characters to leader/main units. The party is made up of 3 main characters and 6 sub characters. Who you place in the team influences the health, attack, recovery, and luck parameters of the group. Note that only leader and main unit skills can be utilized during combat.
  • There is no gacha option for normal/regular units, only for rare ones and it uses premium currency.
  • Some other point system is used for weapon and equipment gacha. I’ve yet to translate or look into how it’s obtained but there shouldn’t be any shortage of it especially since it can’t be purchased with premium currency or in-app purchases. Edit: I made a correction on this. See previous edit above. XD
  • Enemies can be weak to certain types of weapons, inflict status effects, target certain colours, and even put up barriers. Tearing them down requires you to attack the barrier colours in the order they appear underneath the enemy.

Wussy gameplay video by me that shows the very basics of battle (It has no audio):

Fable Age

iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/fable-age/id695433457?mt=8 (This is the link to iTunes Canada. Check your region’s App Store to see if it’s available.)
Official web site: http://blueteagames.com/mobile-games/fable-age/

Download info: It’s only available for iDevices at the moment. :/

Quick overview:

  • Fairy Tale/myths/legends-themed.
  • You’re matching same-coloured tiles.
  • You’re collecting characters and evolving them.
  • Leader skills and active skills are in this too.
  • Yes, before you set off on a dungeon stage, you can pick a random adventurer or “friend” (re: random player you’ve approved to be a friend or someone that accepted your request of false friendship) to go along with you.
  • Gameplay time is limited by stamina.
  • Gacha system is in place.

What’s different about Fable Age:

  • Character fodder is only used for skill enhancement.
  • Characters are levelled with experience books. They’re basically items that have a set amount of experience attached to them. The basic EXP book is a common drop in dungeons.
  • Random attributes can be attached to characters via special elixirs. These can be HP increases or buffs such as resistance to certain elements. They will remain with the character until you choose to replace them. As far as I can see, only one attribute can be embued at a time.
  • Edit: You can also use potions to boost hitpoints and attack power~!
  • Connect same-coloured tiles from all over the board. It’s done in the same manner as in Thousand Memories where you draw a line to tiles that are of the same colour.
  • The Link system. This is pretty much the main point of difference. This system lets you chain tiles of different colours together! Maybe some other developer’s already did that in their game but this is the first time I’ve seen it. To create a link, you have to ensure you have enough “link points” available as each one consumes 5 points. This is handy for dishing out some serious damage, or restoring health when you’re in a pinch.

I’m sure there are other titles that try to provide unique mechanics and such but the amount of clones is overwhelming. 😦

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