When I was in college, my algebra professor once told me to curb my enthusiasm because inevitably, some thing or other will disappoint me. For the most part, that rule has proved true. But I’m an emotional guy, so I’m prone to getting swept up in moments of personal hype. One such instance was earlier this month when Caravan Stories came out.
I was excited about this game. I like games in the anime style, even if the gameplay can be middling, so I’m willing to ignore it if the game was good. Plus, ever since Black Desert came out on the PS4, I’ve found myself using my console more often. The opportunity to play another MMO was just too good to pass up. I practically begged my editor here to let me do this first impression and I was so hyped to check it out in person.
As soon as I launched the game, I immediately appreciated the graphics. The colors are crisp and bright. Aiming Inc. also added a filter effect where the colors seem to “move.” It’s as if it each frame was colored by hand. So far, so good. At first glance, the game already looked a ton better than its closest competitors, like KurtzPel and Soulworker.
I moved on to the character creation screen. There are five total races. The standard humans, elves, orks, and dwarves are here. There’s also the gessy, which are tiny animal people. It’s a pretty straightforward system until you realize how tightly race is tied to class. I only know that orks and humans can be tanks. I forget what the other races play as, and that’s not from laziness; the game allows you to make only a single character, and once you make that character, it can’t be deleted.
Looking back, I should have started seeing these warnings signs for what they were, but I was just too hyped to play.
The character creator was also pretty weak. There really isn’t much to character creation. There are only a few preset faces and hair options, you can’t change your toon’s body shape, and even color choice is limited. It’s a far cry from my main MMO, Black Desert, but then I used to play Kritika Online and it had a pretty bare-bones character creator as well, so I didn’t really mind it at the time. (Once again, hindsight is 20/20.)
So I made my character, watched the cutscene, and started playing. Nothing particularly stood out upon starting the game. I spawned in what I initially thought was just an instance, and after a few minutes I encountered a red flag that was impossible to ignore: the auto quest button.
The revelation hit me harder than a glass cannon eating a tankbuster. At that point, I had seen everything I needed. But I pressed on, for science, and for the single hope that I was wrong about this game.
Here’s the thing: Caravan Stories is a gacha game popular with mobile users overseas, but according to Sony it’s “a top-rated MMORPG from Japan.” I’m going to abstain from calling that false advertising; it’s more like another culture’s definition of a genre has gotten lost in translation. I can see how this game could be considered an MMORPG for some. For me, the cutoff is a common player hub. This game does not have one as far as I can tell.
For those not familiar with how gacha games work, let me explain. You know those capsule machines at grocery stores that give you a random prize when you put money in it? That’s called a gacha machine in Japan. A gacha game basically works on the same principle: You put money into the game, and hopefully you get something that’ll help you progress.
Since this is a gacha game, you can expect to get high end gear and upgrade materials through the gacha system. Getting new characters is also standard to the genre, which in retrospect explains the bare-bones character creator. These games often run two-week “banner events” that entice players to spend more by promising a rare drop only available for two weeks. Justin did a write-up about this a few years back if you’re interested in jumping down that rabbit hole, but the bottom line is that it all ties into the game’s battle system, which is more like a traditional JRPG – a turn-based battle system.
When battle starts, you go into a battle screen with yourself and your selected party members. The characters do all the fighting on their own, but you can influence the outcome by activating the one skill each member has. That one skill can be a taunt, AoE, or heal. In the time I played, it’s a very simple system and the game pretty much ran itself. It got boring really quickly.
I was also very disappointed when I found out the game had a stamina system. After a certain amount of time, you will not be able to use heroes because they’ll get too tired and you’ll need to bench them so they can recover. (Or pay money to fill them up again.)
Caravan Stories’ tentpole feature is the caravan itself. It’s an adorable vehicle with crab legs that’ll be your base of operations throughout your journey. Think Howl’s Moving Castle. It also double’s as the game’s housing system as well. Players will be able to customize the interior, placing furniture and tools to their liking. These pieces are often used to obtain special items, build furniture or train heroes. And these take time. Early upgrades take less than five minutes, but the more expensive ones will take hours to complete. Of course, if you don’t want to wait, you can always pay money to get it done immediately.
Overall, I’ll have to say I was disappointed with this game – not because anything about it was bad, but because I got something I frankly didn’t expect. Unlike a lot of our writers and readers here on MOP, I’m actually a fan of gacha games, and I know I’m being hard on this game, but it’s only because I wanted to play an MMORPG, not a gacha. If gacha drives you nuts, you’ll be even more unhappy with the game than I was.
I also have concerns about the game’s viability on the PS4. The PS4 is a dedicated home console. I play demanding games that take my full attention on it. Games like Caravan Stories are best in short bursts on a cell phone, which is exactly what it was designed to be. It’s the kind of game you pull out while you’re waiting for your PS4 to load up a video game or while you’re waiting for your last DPS member to queue up.
So if you want a gacha game, just go get one for your phone. But if you’re itching to play an MMORPG on your PS4, there are so many better options out there.