More and more these days, companies are making games with a free-to-play model—focusing on micro-transactions to finance the game. While these have been popular for various PC-based MMORPGs, the Vita gained its own free-to-play MMO with the release of Samurai and Dragons earlier this year. But is this curious mix of a dungeon crawler and a 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) strategy game something special that will keep you coming back for more or is it just another free title not worth its non-existent price.
Good — Co-op Dungeon Crawling
By far the most enjoyable part of Samurai and Dragons is the co-op dungeons. Every few levels you unlock one of these and take your player character (chosen from among five possible classes), join a team of up to three other adventurers, and head on in. After equipping four different skills/spells and a weapon, you kill floor after floor of monsters in real time before capping off the adventure with a boss fight. The gameplay is nothing special, but it is surprisingly fun.
Good — Replay Motivation
Upon completing the dungeon, you gain stars and crystals that can be used to buy new armor, weapons, and monsters to protect your city—in addition to a nice little chunk of exp. This encourages you to play the dungeons over and over, even if you're over leveled, in the hope of finding rare items and monsters. It's a simple way to keep you coming back for more.
Mixed — Overly Simple Strategy
The strategy portion of the game is, while still competent, overly simple. When you have quarries, you build mines. When you have fields, you build farms. And as they increase your resources, you upgrade these structures or build more specialized ones. If you play enough, your territory will come into contact with another player's—setting up a PVP battle utilizing the monsters you have obtained from your star/crystal purchases. Of course, the person with the best monsters is the one who will no doubt win these encounters.
Bad — Wait or Pay
However, both strategy mode and dungeon mode share the same major problem: you must either wait or pay. Each day, you are able to enter the dungeons only a set number of times. SFrom that point on, you are locked out—unless you pay real world cash for more trips. Similarly, the strategy portions only allow two objects to be constructed at once. And should you wish to construct more than two at a time—or don't have enough building materials—you are forced to spend real world money. Basically, without paying real world money, you are only allowed to play the game for an hour a day before you run out of things to do and are forced to pay or wait.
Samurai and Dragons is a decent time killer and I did enjoy my time with it. But like Mobile Suit Gundam Battle Operation, the game's main failing is that you can't play it as much as you want. It's a game that delivers the fun—but only for a short while before rudely yanking it away. Still, if you only have an hour to game a night and little discretionary income, you could do worse than spending your time with Samurai and Dragons.
Samurai and Dragons was released on the PlayStation Vita on March 29, 2012, in Japan. There is currently no word on a Western release.