Through the Dimensional Door
Typically I avoid mobile games like the plague. Mostly because I find they’re often derivative, half baked, and loaded with microtransactions. This is why I’m so glad I didn’t know Seven Knights -Time Wanderer- was actually based on a popular mobile series. I was captivated by the game’s visual style at first blush and decided to try it on a whim. Turns out, that was a fortuitous decision. Cause not only did I find this game very entertaining, but it might have given me a reason to reconsider my stance on mobile games. Please keep in mind that I knew absolutely nothing about the Seven Knights series before playing this game. So all these impressions were forged in the heat of the review.
A girl and her hourglass
The story of Seven Knights is alright, but it’s mostly there as window dressing. It all starts when a young girl named Vanessa is playing around with her friends. She touches a magical object, gets teleported someplace strange, and suddenly ages from a teenager to an adult. She then finds a smack-talking hourglass named Sandy, who informs her that she has to acquire Time Crystals to return to her usual self and return home. Crazy dimension-hopping adventures ensue, with a vibrant roster of heroes and villains. The plot does its job, but that job is to get you started so you can appreciate the other parts of the game. I don’t mean to come out of the gate sounding negative, but it’s clear to me some elements of the plot were lost in translation. I discovered that developer Netmarble was based out of South Korea, and oftentimes I find plenty of grammatical errors and oddities from foreign devs. That’s not to say they don’t make a worthy effort, nor does it mean I hated the story. There are enough plot twists to keep you guessing. It just not an elegantly tailored narrative by any stretch. But honestly, that’s okay. Cause in almost every other aspect, Seven Knights -Time Wanderer- exceeded my expectations.
Old school meets New school
Seven Knights may be based on a mobile game, but it plays like an updated retro RPG. You traverse vast dungeons fighting hordes of monsters, finding treasure, and even fulfilling the occasional side quest. When you’re overwhelmed, you can use Waypoints to return to your home base, the Room of Sand. That instantly heals you and revives fallen characters, a nice touch. That said, it’s all quite linear. In each chapter, Vanessa and Sandy explore a different dimension comprised of several areas. You wander from quest marker to quest marker until you find the final boss of that area, defeat it, and acquire your sought after Time Crystal. But that’s not a bad thing. Though I do appreciate replay value, I found the loop in the game to be quite addictive. Especially since new elements are slowly added to the game bit by bit, including an area called Egonyx and one called Lunanyx. The former is a realm where you can grow closer with your vast roster of compatriots and get rewarded with useful modifier items in the process. By contrast, Lunanyx is a randomized dungeon crawl that lets you either boost or diminish your stats with runes. If you take the dangerous road and pick disadvantageous runes, you’ll get rewarded with more points at the end. Those points can be used to acquire useful items, not unlike the Battle Tower in Pokémon games.
Sharp as a Katana
I didn’t mind the somewhat repetitive nature of the game thanks to the combat. It’s very much the defining feature of Seven Knights, and plays like an upgraded early Final Fantasy game. There’s an action meter, and each turn, you can select one attack to queue before the icon reaches the top. If you don’t pick it quickly enough, the enemy will jump ahead of you in line, and that’s not good. So even though it’s technically turn-based, it’s a very aggressive and active turn-based system. Thankfully, it works incredibly well. An interesting facet of this system is that only one hero on your team of five can select an attack for your entire turn. That means every selection really counts. Each hero has 3 attacks at their disposal, all tied to a different button – B, X, or A. B and X correspond to your regular attacks, which can be various things. They can be healing skills, taunts that draw enemy aggro, magical attacks, or physical assaults. The A button is a bit different. It corresponds to Strike Skills. These have to be charged up by using your other attacks. Once at 100%, you can press A at any time to queue up a massively powerful, and often super flashy, Strike Skill. The thing to keep in mind is every attack has a cooldown period. This can range from a few seconds to nearly a minute. But as rapid-fire as combat is, a minute can feel like forever. For reference, a short battle can take all of 15 seconds, according to the in-game timer. Thus, I got very good at juggling my team’s attacks and adapting quickly to enemy assaults.
TOO MANY SNAKES!
But wait, there’s more! I wouldn’t have been that satisfied if that’s all there was to the combat. Thankfully, they eventually introduce elements and leverage. Basically, there are 4 elements in the game, and each one is strong against another element. By taking advantage of this system and attacking a weaker element, you’ll stun the enemy. If all the enemies are stunned, you get an additional turn to attack, called leverage. Each of the many heroes you’ll get on your team also has a corresponding element, and all their attacks are imbued with that element. This means it’s a good idea to have a varied elemental makeup in your team to deal with any threat that may arise. Even when you break it down that way, there’s still a ton of nuance to the system. There might be a Star element character who’s a healer, another who’s a single attack master, and another that’s a magical tactician. And did I mention there are 15 playable characters? Yea, there’s a lot to enjoy here, and the sheer variety means you have a ton of control over your strategy. It did take a few hours before all this was set in motion, but once it happened, I really started to love the combat in Seven Knights. There’s just one small detail that still bugs me – you can’t select the target of your attacks. If you have an attack that targets a single foe, it will be totally random which one your character picks. Though this wasn’t a problem for most of the game, since I usually had a few characters that could flood the entire field with attacks, it was a big problem for one boss fight. That fight is against a snake beast with multiple heads, and the game tells you to go after the middle head. Since you can’t directly target it, and since the other heads take little to no damage, that was a hell of a challenge. Thankfully I haven’t encountered any battles since that have been nearly as frustrating.
Don’t forget to heal
Though the game starts pretty easy, the difficulty definitely ramps up progressively. Never so much that I felt I was totally overmatched, but enough I had to experiment tactically. If you ever feel underpowered, it’s a good idea to take on a few side quests. You’ll encounter several in each chapter, and generally, they are fetch quests or involve defeating a mini-boss. I’m fine with both of those flavors, but there’s also more annoying ones that involve solving riddles. Each time these were super obscure and very hard to parse. Again, this brings me back to the translation issues I mentioned at the beginning. I’m not sure if these were intentionally vague, but regardless they were a hassle. Especially since at the end of each chapter, you’re totally locked out of the previous areas you visited. You’re constantly barreling ahead. And while that’s fine, I do think it would have been nice to let players return to previous areas at some point. Admittedly, I haven’t beaten every chapter in the game yet, but I’m far enough that I expect if they were planning to reintroduce areas, it would have already happened. I guess worst-case scenario, this will offer replay value for the completionists out there. For everybody else, just do the quests you can manage and keep going. That’s what I did.
Pretty as a painting
I talked earlier about the visual style drawing me to Seven Knights, and that’s cause it’s gorgeous. There’s tremendous 2D art to bring dramatic scenes to life, but even the portraits for characters and models are delightful. Each of the 15 characters looks totally distinct, which helps lend them more personality as they fight. Some of my favorites were the dark-haired and stern swordswoman Shane, as well as the dual personality sorceress Kagura, who is both sweet and sinister depending on her mood. Oh, and lest I forget, the bosses and many monsters you face also look amazing. Standard foes are a diverse bunch with very few palette swaps. There’s goblinoid archers, tiger ninjas, lamias, imps, drunk pandas, and a whole bestiary besides. Bosses not only look great, but they really put the hurt on you. Put simply, there’s nothing ugly in this game. Musically it’s also pretty good. Though none of the tracks blew me away, I appreciated the Japanese voice acting for each character. However, I did find it made Vanessa sound like more of a ditz than I expected, and Sandy the hourglass was kind of an ass. Taken together though, the visuals and music made a great game even better.
One final intermission
Now, the vast majority of the game was quite enjoyable. But few games are perfect, and Seven Knights is no exception. The following are a group of issues that kept it from a higher score. Firstly, and most importantly, many of the nuances of the game are poorly explained. Though there is a general FAQ that pops up to explain most key elements of the game, these often lack detail. For example, the combat element wheel I mentioned earlier – the game never clearly tells you what the elements are called. I mean sure, they look like celestial bodies, but shouldn’t it be made clear what their names are in the FAQ? Another issue was that skill descriptions didn’t really tell what they do. One character has an attack that deals damage and puts a ‘dragon mark’ on foes, but I have no idea what said mark affects. Or there’s a skill that removes CC from your team, but nowhere does it define what CC stands for. None of this was game-breaking, but it sure made me a bit more anxious about my comprehension of the game. Also, and this is a nitpick for me in every game, there were grammatical errors. Not everywhere mind you, but I found them often enough during dialogue. I also was perturbed by the fact the dialogue was often very generic. Had they invested more effort there, I think the characters would have been imparted with as much personality as their design suggested. Also, I find it a bit odd you can’t use items during combat. And lastly, I think there’s a missed opportunity regarding battles. Though I rather enjoy how it works, I do wish characters could learn new attacks and that the player could thus choose the abilities for their team. It’s nice that all your attacks gradually level up and grow stronger, but I like controlling every little aspect of how I fight.
A fantastic beginning
Honestly though, when you take everything into consideration, Seven Knights -Time Wanderer- totally blew me away. I never thought I’d have this much fun with a game inspired by mobile, but here we are. Not only is the game visually luscious, but it plays like a fast-paced dungeon crawler. Sure, it’s a bit repetitive and the plot could be better, but few games are perfect. What’s here is still incredibly solid and fun, and I’d recommend it to any old school RPG fanatic. And when you consider how inexpensive the game is, I can’t recommend it heartily enough. It’s definitely a worthwhile exclusive for Switch fans, and I can’t wait to see what Netmarble has in store for consoles next!
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Netmarble Corporation; Developer: Netmarble Corporation; Players: 1; Released: November 5th, 2020; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.