KEMCO/Exe Create has been in a habit of porting over their various RPGs to the Switch recently, and why not? They have tons in their library, and the Switch is quickly becoming the go-to system for RPGs of all flavors. While in recent years they’ve become more known for developing mobile-based games, a select few of their titles have trickled onto other platforms as well. Asdivine Hearts, originally released back in 2016 on other systems, is the latest one to hit the Nintendo Switch.
Unfortunately, KEMCO RPGs often carry the stigma of being, more often than not, mediocre at best. Having played all of their offerings released on the Switch thus far, I can attest to that to an extent. None of them are necessarily bad, but each have some sort of flaw(s), whether that be from shaky gameplay mechanics, questionable microtransaction practices, or both. But in my research, the general consensus is that Asdivine Hearts is one of the best KEMCO RPGs released to date. Today, I’ll be diving in to see if that is actually the case.
Asdivine Hearts follows two orphans that have a run-in with one of two of the world’s deities (light, the other being shadow), who has had a “fall from grace”, so to speak. This deity has lived in balance with its shadow counterpart since the beginning of time, and is responsible for the creation and destruction of life itself. A year ago, however, this changed, with the light deity being kicked from its seat of power. The being, along with the orphans and a slew of other party members set out to not only restore the deity’s former glory, but also bring balance to the world again (by way of ensuring the shadow deity doesn’t throw everything out of whack in the light’s absence).
The game paces itself very well, and you do not spend a ton of time in any one location. Some may see this as a negative, but I believe it is favorable given the game’s content. There are a handful of lore tidbits and interesting dialogue outside of the main story to be found via the townspeople and such, but not enough to really make it worth sticking around one place for a long time. I would much rather go into the thick of the story and move on instead of slogging through a bunch of different things if the environment isn’t really drawing me to it.
KEMCO RPGs have, to a certain point, mastered the balance between being serious and comedic relief in dialogue. Too often do games take themselves way too seriously, or spit so many jokes that it pulls you out of the world. Yes, some of the conversations here can become a bit over the top, but for the most part they do a good job of delivering equal portions on both sides of the fence.
What might pull you out of the game a bit are the translation issues. It isn’t unreadable, mind you, but you’ll come across many excerpts that just seem a bit “off” in terms of structure. Additionally, some party members can seem flat-out conflicted at times. For example, Zack is billed as a spiky haired (aka. Pineapple head according to the light deity) orphan that dislikes manners. But outside of a few early events, he is shown as being selfless and kind to almost everyone.
Despite living in a world of countless Cloud Strife doppelgangers, I don’t mind the tough guy approach nor the kind hearted one, but pick one personality and stick with it. That is, unless something happens in-game to change their perspective on things (and thus, their personality). Given the events of Asdivine Hearts, I won’t knock that being a possibility, but it wasn’t portrayed as well as it could have been. Regardless, the game offers a decent enough storyline if you can get past the issues at hand.
Graphics and Sound
Many people will immediately dismiss Asdivine Hearts as “just another RPG Maker” game due to its graphical style. And I will admit that, at a glance, it is logical to compare it that way. But as far as I know, none of the more recent KEMCO RPGs were made with RPG Maker. And even if they were, nothing grinds my gears more someone getting hung up about the use of a particular engine. I understand that RPG Maker games as a whole have a reputation of being lazy cash grabs due to, often times, stock asset use and poor implementation of other features. But that doesn’t innately make every single game made with it bad!
In fact, quite a few commercial games, like To The Moon and the LISA Series experienced critical acclaim, while others like those from Dancing Dragon Games have found success as well. Simply put, if you base your gaming decisions on looks alone, you are going to be missing out on some potential diamonds in the rough.
Getting back to Asdivine Hearts, I think that this is their best looking Switch game yet. Revenant Saga may have had 3d combat environments, but it also lacked consistency since it was 2d based everywhere else. The graphics appear to be a blend of hand drawn assets mixed with sprite work, and the combat areas and animations in particular look really nice. I would have liked to have seen more enemy variety, but at least the ones present are designed well.
The maps outside of combat suffer a bit due to being a bit too cookie cutter or “boxy” for my tastes, but the props within look nice enough to not get too hung up on it. My biggest issue is the actual interaction with those props (ie. potential hidden items in objects, or lack thereof), but seeing as most retro RPGs fail in this category anyways, I can’t really harp on them here.
Environmental variety is a bit sparse as well. Asdivine Hearts only contains a small amount of uniquely designed regions, so things tend to look a bit samey after a short while. The pitifully small musical selection doesn’t help either, as you more or less have heard the entire soundtrack within 30 minutes of playtime.
This is unfortunate, because the tracks themselves are good quality, and I’d love to remember them as such rather than just how repetitive they become after being used in multiple locations. I’m begging KEMCO to utilize a little more funds in their music department on the next game, because I think they are capable of sourcing quality work. Ultimately though, it feels more like an EP rather than a full soundtrack in its current form.
I mentioned props/assets within maps earlier, and I want to revisit it in general and go a bit deeper this time. KEMCO has always done a pretty good job with dungeon length in their games, and Asdivine Hearts is no exception. Most hostile environments are long and branched enough to keep you interested, but don’t drag on so much that is makes things a chore. Maps almost always reward exploration with treasure chests, making wrong turns or those just wanting to go off the beaten path compensated for their efforts.
Something that bothered me in previous KEMCO RPGs is how blatantly obvious hidden tunnels were in those games. Antiquia Lost was especially bad at basically painting the secret passageways as so you’d never miss them. Asdivine Hearts manages to break the mold partially with their iteration of it.
You can still pretty much find anything with little to no effort if you’re taking your time and paying attention, but some locations make it quite difficult to perceive where the hidden trails actually start. This is a nice change of pace in comparison to the previous KEMCO titles I tried, and I hope that they continue on in this fashion by making the secrets more difficult to discover.
Hallelujah, we have a KEMCO RPG with no microtransactions! I have not played the mobile or Steam versions of Asdivine Hearts, but I can tell you that the Switch version technically does not have any in-game purchases that are made with real money. Two rare item shops do exist, but as far as I know, there is no way to partake in their goods outside of accumulating a special in-game exclusive currency.
This is incredibly refreshing, seeing as many of the KEMCO games have no problem shoving microtransactions down your throat. Like Antiquia Lost and Revenant Saga, the “microtransactions” items in Asdivine Hearts are not necessary to progress or beat the game, and can be completely ignored should you choose to do so.
In a previous article, I referenced KEMCO RPG’s general design scheme when it comes to side quests. To sum up what was said there, these games are known for uninspiring side quests. Most of the time, they will unlock in your current town AFTER you have finished the main story section of that area, and they typically bring you right back to places you just left. Upon turning in your quest, you usually end up with a reward akin to being gifted the Christmas fruit cake.
Regrettably, I’m here to inform you that Asdivine Hearts suffers from the same degenerative cycle as its predecessors. Because of that, I decided to skip most of them here (and I suggest you do the same, for sanity’s sake).
Rubix and Jewels
The rubix and jewel system of Asdivine Hearts is what makes it pretty unique when compared to its KEMCO siblings. Think of it as if you were placing Final Fantasy VII materia into a rubix cube of sorts. On your travels, you will come across a plethora of different jewels that can be fitted into each character’s rubix cube in a Tetris-like fashion. Your party members are not limited to what jewels they can use, only by how they fit into the cube itself. This means you can mix and match to your heart’s content.
While there isn’t near the individual variety of jewels in comparison to the materia system in Final Fantasy VII, there is a decent enough selection where I found myself swapping things out depending on the situation (or if I picked up some other gear with unique modifiers that would favor a different jewel setup). All in all, a neat (though not groundbreaking) feature delivered in an interesting way.
The combat department is where Asdivine Hearts really begins to shine. KEMCO RPGs have a tendency to offer a multitude of difficulties, with most of them being meaningless to RPG veterans. Before this game, I could confidently say that those comfortable with standard JRPG mechanics would be fine playing KEMCO RPGs on at least the second-to-hardest difficulty. Even then, you’d be auto-battling through most of the game, and even on some of the bosses.
Boy, was it a big, beautiful slap in the face to finally get owned by an early boss here! Asdivine Hearts gets challenging pretty fast, so much to the point that I ended up dropping it down to normal after the first few boss fights just so I could get through everything a bit faster. Even on normal, the game offers a pretty decent challenge (and even throws some brutal fights in there occasionally) after the first few hours. Those that religiously grind should still have no issue whatsoever though.
What I absolutely love is how the game encourages you not to auto battle, despite having that option as well. What I mean is that enemies often become enraged when you attack them. If they have this “rage” status, they will counter every normal attack you dish out. Sure, you can still power through some encounters totally ignoring this mechanic, but that isn’t always possible.
Some people may scoff at a game making auto battles more difficult, but I thought it was a wonderful change of pace. I believe that this rage mechanic existed in previous KEMCO games, but not to the extent that is seen here. I just appreciate that some care was given to the random battles, seeing as they take up the majority of your time in anyways. It is not very fun to button mash your way to victory all the time, so I highly commend the system that is in place to discourage that practice here.
Common KEMCO RPG battle features, such as random enemy variants, barrels and boulders appear in Asdivine Hearts once again. While none of these things are so crazy that they merit individual discussion, it is worth mentioning that more things exist beyond the rage mechanic that serve as spice to the meat that is random encounters.
If this is your first RPG experience from KEMCO, you’ll be happy to know that, while looking retro, it actually appreciates your time in many ways. Saving the game can be done from virtually anywhere, so you are never in a spot where you have to push through before being able to set it down for a little while. Yes, I realize the Switch can be suspended to your liking, but I can still appreciate these things if I want!
Even though there isn’t a fast travel system, you are able to traverse places with relative ease thanks to the map design itself, the walking speed of your character, and use of the exit feather item in-game (which allows you to immediately exit most dungeons). This approach to design is likely due to it being a mobile game at heart, but it is appreciated nonetheless. You also have the option for manual, semi-auto and automatic commands in battle, but more on that later.
A couple of minor quirks I had were related to some control issues and the quest/treasure fanfare. Control-wise, Asdivine Hearts is more than playable as long as you use the d-pad. Even then, lining up with NPCs or airships can sometimes be a pain. This is because your character moves on a hair trigger, and the slightest tap of the key can make him move very little or much further than you’d expect (the latter being the case more often than not). It also seems that there is a slight bit of input lag when playing it docked, but it could just be that the underlying issue itself is simply brought to light moreso while playing this way.
The excessive fanfare usage in Asdivine Hearts gets a bit grating pretty quickly. Loot a chest? Fanfare. Progress part of the main story? Fanfare. It’s not that the tune itself is bad, but I wouldn’t want to hear anything this much. Think about how iconic the Final Fantasy franchise’s fanfare is, and imagine it being played every time you open a chest. Now, add it to every section of story you complete. I think you can get the idea why this is a bad thing. A fanfare, by definition, is a short ceremonial tune often used to introduce something important. It is not important to recognize that I just looted a gummy bear from a chest.
The issues of controls and fanfare are not solely within Asdivine Hearts, as they exist in every KEMCO RPG I’ve played on the Switch thus far. At this point, I don’t see them shaking these bad habits in the future, but here’s to hoping that they will eventually.
Anyone who knows me also knows that I am a sucker for titles marketed specifically as retro JRPGs. This is likely due to my overwhelming attachment to Final Fantasy II (SNES) in my youthful years. That is why I’ve bought every KEMCO RPG on the Switch day one, regardless of what reviewers may have written about them for other consoles.
Coming into Asdivine Hearts, I was cautiously optimistic due to my experiences with Antiquia Lost and Revenant Saga. I can honestly say that this game trumps both of them in all aspects, and is certainly worth the time of those individuals looking for an old-school JRPG that won’t take 50 hours to complete. It won’t be as memorable of a ride as the classic RPG titles we all know and love, but is a good enough experience to recommend at the price given you temper your expectations a bit.