Ambition Record Review (Switch)
I’m a big fan of what publisher KEMCO and its many developer partners bring to the Switch RPG table, but I’m by no means a fanboy. I don’t sugarcoat the bad, but I also don’t hesitate to support the things they get right. In regards to the former, Sephirothic Stories of 2019 was one of, if not the worst EXE Create RPGs I have ever played, and it was also the first full-on 3D game I had experienced from the team.
When I heard about Ambition Record, another title by the same team and in the same vein as its ill-fated predecessor, I already had a sour taste in my mouth. I was very skeptical to say the least, but ultimately decided to not judge a book by its cover and give it a shot. Surprisingly, what I discovered was one of the more competent and enjoyable KEMCO RPG experiences within their constantly growing catalog.
Right out of the gate, Ambition Record doesn’t set the premise in standard KEMCO fashion. Rather than playing the direct adversary to the “big bad,” the game instead focuses on a specific band of mercenaries, Avenir, that are sandwiched between a major conflict of the once unified kingdom of Francia. Count Balthazar made a pact with the land’s dragon deity by absorbing some of its power, subsequently declaring war on the king in the name of vengeance for his persecuted ancestors.
With his godly infusion, Balthazar is able to turn humans into monsters that are willing to do whatever they must in the name of their newfound lord. To help offset a seemingly one-sided battle, the king looks to hire mercenaries in order to better their chances against a seemingly unstoppable foe. Luckily, the king hires the Avenir company led by the dashing and strategically intelligent Rafael. Though decorated in combat, the mercenary leader also has a heart of gold, which helps balance out the traditional sellsword mentality into something a little bit different and unexpected.
With his two closest advisors and a new face at his side, Rafael hopes to lead the king’s regime to victory, all while learning more about himself, his companions, and the world at large. While most KEMCO narratives are not their most striking feature, Ambition Record lays out an enjoyable adventure from start to finish. And it’s not just the main campaign, but also the side quest content that actually has some depth to it. While there are still very basic kill/fetch quests to do, many of them actually have small stories to go along with the otherwise mundane tasks, some of which even play a role in further fleshing out the supporting cast.
One of my favorites involves a runaway dog by the name of Mayonnaise – a request levied by three children who offer up a measly five gold coins in return. Despite the laughable reward, Rafael, being a softie and a mercenary, takes on the task anyway and is ultimately rewarded with something far more precious than the children’s life savings. Also, who doesn’t want to help a dog named Mayonnaise?
Narratively speaking, the only real issue with Ambition Record is its portrayal of Alexia, Rafael’s right-hand lady, who has an unhealthy obsession with wanting to make babies and/or marry the mercenary commander. She often goes about her obsession awkwardly and abruptly, undoubtedly in an attempt to offer up some comedic relief. While some of these moments can in fact be funny, most of them just come across as weird. As is the case in most KEMCO adventures, the somewhat spotty translation is surely to blame to an extent, though. Beyond that, everything progresses relatively smoothly and there are even multiple endings for those that wish to seek them out.
Ambition Record is a turn-based JRPG that has Rafael and his band of mercenaries exploring a node-based world map in order to support the kingdom in its greatest conflict. The mercenaries can rest and regroup at their base of operations, buy items and upgrade equipment, and browse the request board for some side work.
The game utilizes a fairly straightforward turn-based combat system in the vein of the JRPG classics we all know and love, but with a few notable features. As the player progresses, they will find remnants of ancient dragons in the form of equippable stones that impart a small statistical bonus in addition to unlocking some of the most powerful abilities in the game called “Lune.” Although Lune abilities can be used at any time and multiple times over, this is generally not the best practice as their accuracy – or LP – requires some time to be effective. Regardless, Lune abilities can be extremely efficient in mopping the floor with many bosses.
Most bosses in Ambition Record have a specific body part that, if broken, will leave them vulnerable for a time. Using a Lune ability on a broken body part will vastly increase its damage output, at the expense of restoring the enemy’s broken part to new once again. There are times where it is advantageous to leave a part sundered rather than cashing in on a powerful Lune strike, however, as each body broken body part will also invoke helpful debuffs on the enemy for the duration of the break. It is up to the player to decide whether they could potentially end a boss early with an empowered Lune strike, or whether they need to play more defensively with a broken part as long as possible.
Beyond those two features, combat should be pretty familiar. Party members can be put in the vanguard (100% damage dealt and sustained) or the rearguard (75% damage dealt and sustained) to suit their tastes, and the turn order (governed by a variety of factors) can always be seen on the screen. Overall, combat should be a comfortable formula for fans of turn-based RPGs, and the game’s difficulty is very forgiving in most cases, making it double as a painless entry point into these types of experiences (without ever touching the “cash shop”).
Player power in Ambition Record is driven by two distinct systems: jobs and equipment crafting. Each party member can play as any job, of which there are about a half dozen standard as well as a few additional unlockable ones. Characters and jobs have three types of abilities: job-specific, character-specific, and cross-class. While the majority of a job’s toolkit will not carry over to another one, the biggest bonus is being able to use any given job’s passive bonuses on another job, granted the former is at job level 10. In short, each party member can take advantage of a total of six job passives so long as they’re willing to get at least one job to level 10.
Characters and their jobs are further expressed by one of EXE Create’s most sensical and rewarding crafting systems to date. Gear can be upgraded in one of two ways – strengthening, which increases the potency of the base item for each additional item (weapons or armor) selected, and conversion, which takes a base item and a secondary item to not only strengthen the base, but potentially upgrade it into a new tier of equipment.
Conversion in particular can give the player access to higher tiers of equipment well before they’d naturally receive them, many of which are exclusive to the system itself. Furthermore, conversion allows the player to both add and remove unique modifiers – paralysis-inducing strikes, for example – to truly shape the equipment they desire. It’s worth noting that strengthening equipment can also carry over modifiers from other equipment, but is in general far more restrictive in how the player can customize a certain piece of gear.
All of these gearing and customization opportunities are welcomed, though the latter’s usefulness is somewhat stymied once the player acquires some achievement-based equipment rewards, as they tend to completely trump other items in terms of raw power. Moreover, it’s unlikely that the player will explore an assortment of jobs since getting their hands on the highest tiers of equipment without resorting to the “premium” shop is a difficult task. On that note, the game can easily be played from start to finish (up to postgame, anyway) without ever using the naturally-accrued premium currency and its associated shop.
Publisher KEMCO and its many developers are at their best when utilizing traditional 2D pixel art, some of which can be quite impressive even compared to higher budget experiences. While Ambition Record does have a few moments, it ultimately only solidifies the aforementioned point. The chibi characters are detailed and varied, and the enemies can also look okay despite a lack of variety. The portraits also look great, but that’s hardly new in the realm of budget RPGs published by KEMCO. Beyond that, the graphics are mediocre at best and, more often than not, poor at worst. There’s nothing wrong with trying something different, but why bother with dull 3D graphics when the 2D pixel art from the same team is always a much higher quality?
The soundtrack fares much better even though it shares the same “lack of variety” fate that is to be expected from budget-tiered experiences, let alone those of the KEMCO variety. Ambition Record features easily one of my favorite soundtracks to date by the team, and it’s a shame it cannot be found outside of the game to enjoy (someone make a KEMCO RPG OST YouTube channel, please). Performance-wise, the game is generally stable but does have a few hiccups here and there. Out of combat 3D animations are subpar, and the entire game lags up over time and requires a software reboot after multiple days of suspension (memory leak, perhaps?). The controls can also be bothersome from time to time, with intercardinal movement feeling a bit unresponsive and “sticky” at times, but beyond those outliers, the experience is smooth.
All things considered, Ambition Record is a solid KEMCO RPG that more or less rights the wrongs of its 3D predecessor, Sephirothic Stories. It takes a refreshing approach to storytelling by way of the charming Rafael, who is impossible not to love, and layers on some interesting customization and progression systems that help keep the experience fun and interesting throughout. Mind you, it does still come with the KEMCO caveats you might expect, such as a limited budget and remnants of mobile roots. But the former is pardoned (to an extent) by its affordable price tag, while the latter is, fortunately, a non-issue in this particular adventure. Simply put, if you’re not deterred by its unsightly graphics and obvious budget constraints, Ambition Record is certainly a KEMCO RPG worth your time.