Although I haven’t watched the Eminence in Shadow anime, I started playing the mobile game which came out last week out of mild curiosity. To its credit, the game doesn’t actually look cheap—it has detailed 3D animations, which especially shine when you’re interacting with the cute female characters. As far as anime gacha game goes, it would actually be okay if it weren’t for a couple of major flaws that became more and more noticeable as I kept playing.
This is not a user friendly game at all
First of all, this game suffers from significant technical issues, like long loading times and intermittent crashes. Some of the biggest problems, like the game initially refusing to download for some users, have already been identified by the staff, so I’m not going to hold unexpected problems at launch too much against them. It’s possible that those bugs will get fixed down the road.
The bigger problems are the ones that are in there by design. To put it frankly, the battle system is atrocious.
At its core, it’s an auto-battler game that seems inspired by the likes of Princess Connect! Re: Dive. Although you can control some inputs like when to activate your characters’ skills, you can’t select your targets or customise your abilities, so a human player won’t play much differently from an AI. The idea is that you’ll generally be leaving the battles on auto, which is cool if you are designing a mobile game that can be played idly.
However, in practice, the battle system is super unbalanced in a way that doesn’t suit idle gaming at all. Your characters may be able to easily sweep one battle within seconds, but then fail miserably against another battle with the exact same recommended power level. Timeout is the most common way of failing—all battles must be cleared within 60 seconds. There are some fights where the enemy can do full heals or make themselves completely invulnerable to damage, which means your crew only actually has, like, 15 seconds to finish the job.
This results in annoying difficulty spikes that you sometimes can’t overcome even by playing manually. And because the recommended power levels are misleading, this means that your rate of progression is inconsistent. The game doesn’t provide you with that much free stamina, so unless you’re coughing up precious gacha currency to progress, there will be entire days where you can’t even advance the main story.
Even in just a week, this game is feeling tedious to me, so I won’t continue playing. And I still haven’t touched on the biggest complaint people have about it.
Bad monetisation even by anime gacha standards
It’s not a crime that this game doesn’t hand out much free gacha currency at this point. The character pool is so limited that you’ll pretty much have everyone you need (barring specific SSR characters) in two or three 10-rolls. That said, a stingy gacha will definitely be a huge problem going forward. New characters will be exceedingly difficult to roll for when you only obtain enough free currency to get a guaranteed SSR character once every six months.
The price tag on paid currency is ludicrously expensive—$30 doesn’t even buy you enough for a single 10-roll. I’m not even exaggerating here. The standard $30 pack gives you 2,480 gems but you need 2,800 gems to do a 10-roll.
What’s most insulting about the monetisation is that the limited-time events come with a separate premium shop that you have to pay to access. WTF?
These rewards are so pitiful, by the way, that I can’t even fathom why the devs would lock this shop away behind a paywall. I suppose they have to be aggressive considering that hardly anyone is expected to download this game after the anime is done, but this is just pathetic.
Saving grace: the girls are cute
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I haven’t watched The Eminence in Shadow. I haven’t read the novels or manga either, so the game was my first exposure to the story. What surprised me when playing the main story quests was how much the narrative centered on Cid when the girls so clearly felt like the appeal of the game. The game has a pseudo dating sim mode where you can chat with the girls and see their cute animations, but as far as the original story seem to be concerned, they’re just sidekicks who barely get any screen time on their own! I thought that was amusing.
It’s reasonable to assume that if you thought the girls were cute from the anime, you’ll like them even more if you play the game. There are a lot of extra scenes designed to show off their quirks, and I was able to get a sense of what makes them tick just from the game.
Ideally, I’d like to see this 1-on-1 time system and unique animations applied to a different game with characters I care about, but I won’t deny that I was genuinely impressed with this aspect of the game.
There is also an extra story filling in the two-year gap between the prologue and main story, but it’s pretty dull in comparison. I got the impression that it’s funnier in the context of the original story learning that Shadow Garden built up massive wealth and influence offscreen; I didn’t really need to see them fighting random monsters and talking about how inspirational Cid is. But who knows? If you’re a fan, maybe you’ll find it interesting.
Overall, this game was almost good enough to get me to care about The Eminence in Shadow as a series, but it was too frustrating for me to stick with. I guess I’ll just read the manga.