I had so much fun playing Blood Gate: Age of Alchemy at DeNA’s San Francisco offices that I often stopped paying attention to my host’s description of it.
I binge-played Puzzle Quest back in the day, so I was eager to see this new “action puzzler RPG strategy” game. (“No simulation?” I asked. If you’re going to pile on the genres …)
While Blood Gate has obvious parallels with Puzzle Quest — you connect puzzle tiles on a shifting board to attack foes and charge up spells — it plays differently in a number of important ways. For one thing, the puzzle board isn’t yet another Bejeweled clone; you connect long, snaking paths of like-colored runes on a hexagonal grid. Longer chains net stronger attacks. Chains that loop back to their beginning create attacks and boost your shield.
Another big difference is the “action” part of DeNA’s description. The monsters in each dungeon won’t sit idly by while you plot your move. At intervals, they’ll strike out at you. That makes for tense battles where you need to pay attention to the puzzle board while also watching the fighters themselves to see how your shield is holding up and how long you have before your opponent strikes again. When your character is hitting the end of their status bar, you can swap in another member of the team to take over while the first one heals behind the scenes.
Dungeon victories yield loot you can equip and use. Like many other games, there are common loot items, unusual ones, rares, and exotics. There are also potions, gold, emeralds, and keys that will open grab-bag boxes full of yet more items.
Emeralds are how DeNA makes money off this free-to-play game. The green gems are powerful currency but rack up slowly in the game unless you use In App Purchases to get more. Want to revive your heroes in a dungeon without losing your hard-won items? Want access to richer, better, grab-bag boxes? Want to keep playing despite using up your daily allotment of dungeons? Hand over some emeralds. The temptation to use them gets stronger as you go deeper into the game.
While the RPG elements will be familiar to any fan of the genre — you’ll find a story arc, crafting, skill upgrades, and three character classes — the character design is worth calling out. Not only can any of your characters be either male or female, but the females wear clothes that look like, well, clothes. And their chests don’t look like hot-air-balloon races. This simple design is a welcome change from most fantasy games.
While I don’t get nearly as much gaming time as I’d like these days, Blood Gate has proven to be an enjoyable, quick diversion for my mobile devices.