Chroma Quaternion Review (Switch)
If there’s one thing we can all agree upon regarding KEMCO, its arsenal of partner developers, and it’s massive library of RPGs, it’s that they stay busy. On the Switch alone, they’ve already published five games this year, which is easily on track to outpace the seven that preceded it in 2020. Of all their entries, developer EXE Create is the most commonly seen, and although they make strides to change up the mechanical formula between releases, the overall aesthetic (that tends to change very little) and usual character shticks (love triangles aplenty) have worn a bit thin.
Chroma Quaternion is the latest release by EXE Create and KEMCO on the Nintendo Switch, and is one of their first stabs at retiring some of their age-old tropes in favor of something fresh (which I cannot commend enough). While they are successful on that front, other aspects hold it back from being one of the best entries in their catalog.
Chroma Quaternion is about dealing with fate, accepting it as the inevitable or outright challenging it. Denizens of this world revolve around roles – their “calling” – which are issued by four deities (aptly referred to as the Quadeities), of which one exists for each season (or realm). Via the maidens within each of these four kingdoms, citizens are given a role that is handpicked by the deities themselves. While role binding is absolute, it is ultimately up to each individual person to make the most of the hand they’re dealt. Moreover, the truly ambitious can adopt an assortment of roles instead of just one, though the process is the same – the blessing of the deities is required.
Ark and his furry sidekick, Foure, witness some odd weather happenings in their village of Furyu, which ultimately leads them to teaming up with the princess of their kingdom (Eara) and her maid (Evaile). The four soon discover that the unnatural events may be tied to a disturbance with their kingdom’s deity, and so they set off to get to the bottom of it.
The narrative starts off simple enough, but has several surprising reveals along the way in addition to some interesting tidbits regarding the events leading up to the actual beginning of the game. What I like the most is that it isn’t abundantly clear who or what the actual culprit is behind the scenes for some time, and even when reveals are finally made, additional twists and reveals continue to change things up over time.
Chroma Quaternion also goes against the typical KEMCO grain by avoiding love triangles, or really any sort of love interest with its primary characters. Instead, it really focuses on how each character chooses to live their life regardless of what fate has laid out for them. This extends to certain antagonists as well, making the reveal of their particular past a surprisingly interesting, somewhat heartbreaking discovery.
All qualities in mind, Chroma Quaternion still fails to make a remarkable narrative splash in the realm of KEMCO’s RPG catalog. The twists scattered about bolster an otherwise weak plot, and the characters themselves aren’t the most interesting I’ve seen from EXE Create. It’s all serviceable, of course, but not really memorable.
Chroma Quaternion is a turn-based JRPG that follows Ark, Foura, Eara, and Evaile as they travel to the four corners – better yet, the four kingdoms – of the world, in order to get to the bottom of the recent happenings and perhaps learn more about themselves along the way.
The core component to progression is roles, which are the equivalent to jobs/classes in other RPGs. Each character begins with a single role within a single role slot, but this quickly turns into multiple roles that can eventually be assigned to three different slots (ie. three roles at any time per character). Roles level up similar to traditional character levels, but require their own point system (RP) rather than EXP.
Increasing a character’s role will open up new abilities and passives, on top of providing a small bonus to a primary stat with each character level attained while the role is equipped. The latter bonuses ultimately don’t amount to much in the long run, since stats quickly go into the hundreds and thousands naturally, but they are appreciated nonetheless. Each role can be leveled up to at least 100, though the excitement wanes drastically beyond level 40.
Reason being is that 99% of role-specific skills are learned between 1-20, with only a single role-agnostic skill rewarded upon achieving role level 40. From the best I can tell, only occasional weak passives and minor stat bonuses await you after that point. Regardless, the role system certainly helps to keep progression and combat interesting, though you will have to commit to a lot of grinding to see everything come to fruition.
Combat is a melting pot of typical turn-based fare (standard attacks and skills), some nuance from more recent KEMCO RPG outings (formations, summons, and ultimate attacks), and a Bravely-esque turn-charging system known as Act Over (which I don’t believe is in any other KEMCO Switch RPG to date, but don’t quote me on that). With Act Over, players can opt to skip a turn (or Act Skip) in order to charge one of three Act Orbs to be used at a later time. Act Orbs also naturally accrue over time.
As you might expect, these can be used in one fell swoop to perform multiple actions in what is technically a single turn. Enemies can also make use of the Act Over system, though, and can easily wipe out the entire player party in certain situations. All of this leads to a balancing act around when to stock, expend, and even steal/break the opposition’s Act Orbs. The Act Over system, while not a novel concept in itself, feels like a refreshing change in terms of KEMCO mechanics. Furthermore, actions taken in combat are based on cooldowns rather than MP, which adds a touch of strategy when you can’t simply spam powerful attacks to win.
Circling back to briefly touch on other mechanics mentioned earlier – formations have been a staple in many KEMCO RPGs. The player can place the four party members at various positions within a 6×6 grid, with the front (or vanguard) dealing the most damage at the expense of taking more damage, the middle positions taking (and dealing) normal damage, while the back (or rearguard) takes and deals reduced damage. Summons are temporary, uncontrollable party members that can be placed within an open position on the aforementioned 6×6 formation grid. More often than not, they will deal a small amount of passive damage while granting bonuses to adjacent permanent party members. Ultimate (or divine) attacks in Chroma Quaternion are uber powerful, as they typically are in KEMCO RPGs, and can generally only be used once per battle.
Many KEMCO RPGs feature some form of crafting in them to mixed results. In Chroma Quaternion, players are able to refine unwanted gear with unique modifiers into rings that will feature the same unique property. This means that you never really have to let go of a particular unique effect that you fancy because you can just turn it into a ring whenever the item’s original form is no longer relevant. While ring creation is great, the upgrading process is anything but. Most rings can be upgraded multiple times by sacrificing excess gear, and while this isn’t a problem at first, it can quickly devolve into a headache.
Why? Because you must have the exact amount of materials required in order to upgrade, and many rings can eventually require more gear than you can naturally hold in your bags. The solution? Getting lucky with good gear drops – they are worth more XP – or buying tokens from the premium shop to increase your inventory space. An easy solution would have been to just let you chip away at the upgrade bar even if you didn’t have the full amount on hand.
Although Chroma Quaternion is mechanically sound, there are a couple of things working against the system at large, most of which have seemed to trend (unfortunately) with several newer KEMCO releases. Excessive grinding has seemingly become the norm even within the confines of a normal difficulty playthrough, and I think a lot of it has to do with the newer three-fight battle feature.
At the beginning of any dungeon, players can approach an obelisk to adjust the encounter rate, as well as face off against three random battles in a row (among other options). One might think that this tool would be there to help those more interested in getting most of their fighting out of the way quickly, rather than having to spend a lot of time naturally fighting within a dungeon. Instead, abusing the three-fight method is all but mandatory to progression thanks to how quickly each new boss encounter can get out of hand in terms of power. That’s not even considering the amount of grinding required to purchase gear (early on), and to level up all the various roles for each character.
That said, I’ll admit that this “hurdle” could be of my own doing. Because of their mobile roots, virtually every KEMCO RPG features a “premium” shop. While the premium currency required to partake in the goods has always been slowly accrued through normal gameplay, the shops themselves have historically broken the balance of the game, leading me to more or less avoid them entirely. However, Chroma Quaternion provides both EXP and RP bonus key items in exchange for a portion of the premium currency, which makes the amount of grinding required (again, in the context of just a normal difficulty run) a lot more reasonable. If the extreme grinding trend continues, though, I admit that this is something (and others like myself) will simply have to get over and just accept.
In the developer’s defense, the premium shop and microtransactions here (and in other recent releases) have come a long way compared to earlier entries on the Switch. From what I can tell, the premium currency in Chroma Quaternion can ONLY be accrued through gameplay rather than purchasing it outright, which is great. And although there are a couple of extremely powerful items available in the premium shop (the ultimate skill charge one in particular should absolutely NOT be on there), it is far less heinous than those found in previous entries.
In terms of actual microtransactions, they are limited and straightforward, only amounting to damage, EXP, and RP boosts, and nothing more. All that in mind, I still hold out hope that the console versions of new KEMCO-published products are better balanced and drop the premium shops entirely, especially considering the consumer is already paying double the original price to have the game on the Switch.
Exploration and Optional Content
Chroma Quaternion features a decent amount of side content, post-game goodies, and incentives to play the game multiple times over. While the actual side quests are generally of the standard kill/fetch variety, they will sometimes have decent rewards attached to them. Not only that, thorough exploration of each area can lead to the acquisition of additional roles that would have otherwise been impossible to unlock.
And exploration is made quite simple in Chroma Quaternion as it, like so many KEMCO RPGs before it, goes out of its way to make each and every nook, cranny, and secret extremely obvious. On one hand, I’ve always appreciated how newcomer-friendly these games have been, but that doesn’t mean you have to downright insult the player’s intelligence either. Let secrets be secret, I say, not an obvious extension to the standard map.
Players can also tackle the in-game arena, as well as some post-game content. Moreover, multiple endings can be unlocked (I saw the “normal” ending), further incentivizing players to really invest themselves in everything the game has to offer. Despite the mechanical flaws beaten to death previously, the game makes it extremely easy to whisk to and from most locations by way of a fast travel system, which goes a long way to encourage people to dive deeper into the world.
Chroma Quaternion’s most commendable feat, hands down, is its abandoning of its tired, pixel-perfect design in favor of something that feels more natural, thus more pleasing to the eye. There are obviously still limitations in place – a lack of variety in both visual and audio assets are always an issue – but the softer outlines of sprites and objects have ultimately made a world of a difference in the overall presentation.
Additionally, battles are presented quite well, with nicely animated party members and enemies atop of a pseudo-HD-2D background. Party sprites also change on the fly to match the appropriate role of the skill used – an awesome touch! Barrel Foura is among my favorite sprites in the entire game. If EXE Create continues to adopt this visual template in future endeavors, then we’re all in for a treat.
Chroma Quaternion is one of the better entries I’ve played from KEMCO and EXE Create in recent memory. While I’m not a fan of everything it presents, the new visual template and departure from any sort of protagonist love interest alone have made this quite the refreshing experience. On the other hand, I’m becoming more concerned about certain trends that have continued to surface in many of the team’s more recent outings, on top of some questionable things that, as alluded to in the introduction, have simply become “the norm” in these adventures.
That said, I’ll always be a beacon of light for this often misunderstood team as long as they continue to make products worth our time. Chroma Quaternion isn’t the best that KEMCO has to offer on the Switch, but it is still pretty good.