Late last month Sega released their newest mobile game: Hortensia Saga. But unlike many free-to-play mobile games, this one has an expansive fantasy plot to back up its addictive gameplay.
Hortensia Saga is a medieval fantasy tale of war and chaos. Three years ago the king was betrayed and murdered by one of his dukes who then built his own kingdom out of the ashes of the old. But now, the original heir to the throne has secretly come of age. Hiding in the guise of a man, she and her loyal band begin the quest to save her homeland.
For a free-to-play mobile game, Hortensia Saga has a surprising amount of plot. Each battle in the game has a few minutes of story attached. Main missions continue the main thread of the secret princess and her battle to claim the throne. There are also numerous flashback missions set shortly after the king's fall so as to flesh out her backstory — as well as that of the player character. But more than that, each of the game's dozens of recruitable characters has his or her own set of story missions, detailing how each first met the princess and came to join her forces. All this serves to make Hortensia Saga feel more like a fleshed-out game than a simple time waster.
As for the gameplay, you choose your party of five from among swordsmen, lancers, axmen, and ranged attackers. Enemies stand on a 3x3 grid and each class's attacks hit in a different pattern: Swordmen hit the entire front most row; lancers hit one full column (whichever one has the most enemies in it); axmen hit in a 2x2 square; and ranged attackers hit the back most row. As enemies have the same classes, a portion of the game's strategy comes from the placement of your troops on your own 3x3 grid.
The other part of the game's strategy comes in the battle itself. Like many turn-based RPGs, Hortensia Saga contains a version of the active time battle system. Whenever you tap a ready character, his or her portrait appears at the top of the screen on the battle timeline. However, as certain spots on the timeline contain bonuses (like double attack power or healing), it's often better to wait for the best slot than simply attack whenever possible.
Each battle also has several special objectives — like winning the battle with a special attack or completing the mission with 3 characters or less. Completing these gains you bonuses in cash (used for upgrades), knight points (used to buy normal character cards that can be sacrificed to improve rare ones), gems (used to buy rare character cards), or materials (used to make special abilities for your characters).
Outside of the story-intensive single player, the game also contains a PVP component. To play, you join a guild of up to 20 people. You then battle another guild of the same rank for 30 minutes twice each day. In the battle the game plays a bit differently. Instead of a party of 5, you have a party of 10 (though only five at a time can be used to attack) and in battle you have no control at all.
During the 30-minute window, you have three options for your party: attack (which takes up BP), rest (to regain HP and BP for three minutes), or to simply do nothing and defend against attacks from the other side. It's surprisingly fun and win or lose, you always get at least some cash that can be used to buy rare cards and new team layouts for the 3x3 grid.
Hortensia Saga is a surprisingly enjoyable F2P mobile game. Though far from the most complex of JRPGs, it's one of those mobile titles that is fun to play for an hour or so each day. But the real shining point is the expansive plot and characters which keep me coming back day after day.
Hortensia Saga was released in Japan on April 22, 2015. It is available for free for iOS and Android.