Trulon: The Shadow Engine is a turn-based strategy RPG that makes use of cards rather than standard attack selection. Ever see that card mechanic from Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories? The one that allowed you to attack by selecting a card specific to that kind of attack? It was a still a real time combat system, but it added an element of strategy to the gameplay by allowing you to organize “decks” of attacks to use in battle.
Trulon: The Shadow Engine: PC [Reviewed], Android, iPhone/iPad
Developer: Kyy Games
Publisher: Headup Games
Release Date: 1 March 2016
Price: £14.99 [£8.99 STEAM Sale 40% Until 8/3/16] [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Trulon is very similar, allowing you to make decks, or in this case “tactics”, to use in battle. Cards you select precedently are randomly drawn during combat. Each has their own effects and special abilities, such as being able to use the attack on the entire enemy party, or to use multiple “tactics” in succession. Each of these tactic cards can be earned by exploring the environment for chests or earning them from battle, and then divided up between your party. You can also make use of equipment cards, which apply passively during battle when you wear them from the character menu. These allow you to increase your defense, health, magic, or give you other passive abilities such as doubling attack power or stunning an enemy in certain situations. The card system during combat does seem to be drawn at random, so there’s both an element strategy and luck in every battle. And really, the game’s combat system is its most defining characteristic. It’s an interesting mechanic that can be pretty engaging, and gives this more “casual” aura to the gameplay.
Despite the combat system though, my interests waned when it came to the rest of the game. It’s to my understanding that Trulon is based off of a novel, also using the same steampunk fantasy setting, and while I’m sure the actual book is well written, I don’t think it translates cohesively to the game’s story. I wasn’t personally into the narrative or the characters. Even after I’ve spent hours with them, I still don’t feel like I know any character all that well. I know what they do and what they’re good at, but their personalities seem to be vague at best. A slow start certainly didn’t help, with early quests feeling like they drag on just a bit too long or weren’t captivating enough. The actual designs of the characters didn’t appeal to me either. It’s not that they are poorly drawn, or even that the sprites look bad or undetailed, but it’s their particular style. It looked more cartoony than I’d prefer, especially for a story I’m meant to take seriously. You’ll also see the exact same NPC sprites repeatedly, making the overall visuals look almost boring and needlessly repetitive. The battle animations are woefully underdone, with basic sprite movements that just look cheap at times, and there’s hardly any variation based upon the different kinds of attacks, so they don’t drive the actual impact of the combat and often just add extra time onto combat that wasn’t needed.
However, I’m getting really negative, when it’s not all bad. The actual environmental graphics look really nice, reminiscent of early Playstation RPGs with vibrant colors, and the game even gives off this slight Final Fantasy 7 vibe that I enjoyed. The soundtrack is also well crafted, though there are very few tracks to actually listen to, and they are included when you buy the game if you want to enjoy them otherwise.
I mentioned briefly before that you can explore the environment to find more cards and items, and there is some incentive to do that in traditional RPG fashion. Exploring towns is very simple to do, and there’s usually something hidden in the corners of the map, but you can also explore the game’s overworld for random events. In lieu of more recognizable random encounters found in other RPGs, Trulon gives you an on-screen text prompt saying that there is something to investigate, where you can choose to view the random encounter or not. Sometimes it will just be an empty field with a chest in the middle giving you more goodies, while other times you’ll just find a small line of enemies for you to fight. If it does end up being opponents, you can still back out by simply turning the other way out of the map and continuing to explore the overworld.
It’s nice to choose whether you want to battle or not, depending on how much you feel you need to, but I did find that I needed to fight more than I actually wanted to. Trulon can be grindy, which some people would argue would be reasonable in these kinds of games, but I didn’t know I ever needed to. My first hour or two of encounters were remarkably easy, but as soon as the plot tells me I need to move to a new area entirely, suddenly there is this notable increase in difficulty. Luckily, failing a battle simply places you right before you engaged them, allowing you to back away and grind for more experience and cards, which shortly after I was leveled up enough to take them on properly. However, grinding wasn’t fun for me due to the aforementioned woes of the repeated animations and low impact of combat. There was a point where I had to grind for almost an hour for one fight, and it wasn’t a boss fight. It was simply three standard enemies standing guard outside a mine, but they were able to absolutely decimate my party every time, no matter how I changed my strategy or how many times I leveled up. It was enough to make me quit several times and ruined any interest I had.
Honestly though, I find I can probably attribute many of these problems to the fact that this was originally a mobile game, which has now been ported over to Steam. Mobile games don’t tend to transfer very well to full platforms like the PC simply because they don’t often get anywhere near the time or budget a full title does. While Trulon is certainly one of the more functional mobile ports of a game that I’ve played, I just didn’t have that much fun doing so. It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t offer anything that keeps me wanting to come back to it. There tons of potential though with the games card system, and even it’s setting. I’m certain if this game got a sequel, one that was actually made for PC first rather than Android or iOS, it could be a fantastic RPG well worth everyone’s time. For now though, consider this game with caution.