Thought the 3DS was done for, did you? Well, despite Nintendo’s best efforts with the announcement of the 3DS eShop's closure in 2023, the company’s popular handheld is still alive and kicking, and it’s recently seen a brand-new release with Fragrant Story. This odd micro-SRPG comes from an indie developer William Kage and gets the honor of being the very last 3DS game released in both digital and physical formats in North America (and North America only).
So, is it a fitting tribute to the 10+ year run of the 3DS? Well… no, not even close. But! It is a delightfully weird release that’s still worth your time, even if just for the sake of seeing what the last 3DS game is like.
The narrative takes place in the kingdom of Flowergard, a society where everyone is named after a plant of some kind and speak in endless, groan-inducing botanical puns. You start out as a novice defender of the kingdom and rise to ward off its greatest foe yet, though the path you take to get there is hardly the stuff of legends. It’s abundantly clear that narrative isn’t the focus of Fragrant Story, but what’s here is just goofy enough to be entertaining.
Gameplay unfolds in a typical isometric tactical RPG format, where you individually move your party characters around a grid and battle enemies in simple turn-based combat until your party attains a victory. Some characters are melee-only while others are ranged, and everybody has one unique skill to give them a bit more utility, like being able to summon a bee or hit enemies with a lifesteal attack.
Killing enemies nets you experience points that boost parameters like health and critical chance, while any units of your own who fall in battle are dead for good until the end of the run. Worry not, though, this permadeath mechanic isn’t as devastating as its equivalent in Fire Emblem. Why, you ask? Because Fragrant Story only takes about 15 minutes to play through.
There are only three levels to overcome in the main story mode, each with a couple of waves of enemies. Once you’ve done this, you then unlock a few challenge missions that mix up the enemies that spawn on maps, though each of these missions only last a few minutes themselves. Every time you beat the story mode or a challenge mission on a new difficulty level—of which there are three—you’ll obtain a Mango Ticket that can then be spent in a shop to spend on slight permanent buffs to different units’ stats. Collecting all the Mango Tickets is its own overarching goal, then, though even this doesn’t take all that long to accomplish. Fragrant Story will last you maybe five hours at the absolute maximum, but it’s more likely to run out of gas around the three-hour mark. Considering that the digital version will only cost you four bucks, this short runtime is a much easier pill to swallow. Just bear in mind that Fragrant Story is very much a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of game.
Even though it feels like it’s over before it even gets started, Fragrant Story at least manages to land most of the mechanics of its gameplay. For example, every combat encounter will display a spinning wheel that determines the outcome of the impending attack. If you’re good with timing, you can stop the wheel on a ‘critical’ slice of the wheel and do extra damage. This also goes for enemy attacks, which you can influence to miss your character completely. Having that extra bit of skill that goes into each conflict makes them a bit more interesting than just raw stat checks, and it can greatly affect whether you succeed or fail a mission.
Aside from that, all the basic features of an SRPG are here, although none of them get enough time to properly develop. For example, one or two battles are usually all it takes to level up a character, but the effect of this is blunted by the fact that the character’s progress will be wiped as soon as you complete that mission or campaign run. Meanwhile there are some interesting mixtures of skills among the various classes, but the brief length and simplistic map designs ensure that there aren’t many opportunities to experiment much with the possibilities. If it was spun out to a more fully-featured game, we could easily see Fragrant Story having some real quality appeal, but here it’s kneecapped by shallowness of the overall experience. What’s here is good, but it doesn’t have the time to even attempt to be great.
Regarding its presentation, Fragrant Story closely adheres to an authentic 16-bit art style that looks fine, if a bit simple. The lack of stereoscopic 3D is rather disappointing, while the spritework is rather plain and uninspired. Maps don’t have any real sense of presence to them—they’re just big, flat squares floating in a formless void—while there’s a lack of environment diversity to easily tell them apart. None of it looks bad, but this art style is quite forgettable and clearly isn’t trying to wow the player. Similarly, the low-key chiptune soundtrack from Hitoshi Sakimoto (composer of Final Fantasy Tactics and many others) and his company Basiscape is just kind of there; it’s not doing anything to take away from the overall experience, but it also doesn’t add much.
Is Fragrant Story worth picking up? Sure, as a curiosity and conversation piece perhaps. Four bucks isn’t much of an asking price, and the content on offer here is enjoyable and engaging for what it is. For the afternoon it’ll take you to play Fragrant Story, you’ll probably be satisfied with it — then you’ll have seen everything it has to offer, move onto something else, and never boot it up again. If you decide to pass on this one, there’s really not a whole lot that you’re missing out on. Given its low price and goofy nature, though, it may be worth picking up just so you can say you grabbed the last game on the North American eShop before Nintendo locked the doors for good.