As a gamer who has been playing Japanese role-playing games since they've been a thing, the first hurdle to overcome in Cube Roots' Dungeon Hearts was getting used to having my party on the left side of the screen. That's not where four heroes are supposed to assemble.
Then again, four heroes are generally controlled by blue menus with white text, not a series of runes rushing towards them via the Fatestream. Pressing a single button normally gets the job done, but here the heroes have to join free-moving colored runes in groups of three to generate attack runes, detonating them with a finger-press to disrupt enemy attacks and dole out damage. There's an endless stream of power and pain heading our champions' way, and only the quick-witted and nimble-fingered will have time to craft complex detonation combinations.
And while normal role-playing games give the player a breather between battles as they watch a series of statistics improve, here even leveling up is a challenge, each of the game's four characters gaining experience levels and unlocking new skills through the power of the puzzle.
Traditionally I've really enjoyed games that combined puzzle mechanics with role-playing, but that's because I find titles like Puzzle Quest relaxing. Dungeon Hunter is not a relaxing game. It's an endless journey down a raging river of anxiety. Speed and precision is of the essence here, and with no visible health bars on the enemies you fight, all you can do is hope you're killing it, raise your character levels, and survive as long as possible.
It's a tension I enjoy in short bursts. I'd probably enjoy it more if there were stronger motivation than unlocking additional soundtracks (though the music is quite lovely) and filling up a lore-expanding bestiary. I appreciate randomly-generated adventures, but with no persistent character progression I feel like I'm just going through the motions every time I play.
"Four spirits race across the land, burdened with tragedy. Within each lies the specter of guilt and fear, which The Dark One bends to his will to enact his resurrection. They realize the deception too late as the promise of salvation turns to betrayal. A black wind washes over the planes, turning all to ash. As the fallen heroes face the engulfing void, a spark of hope clings to life. When the demon peered into their hearts to learn their secrets, so too did they learn his..."
Isn't that compelling? That story snippet from the iTunes description captures the current state of Dungeon Hearts quite well — a promising start, now let's see some more.