Kemco’s prolific JRPG output was a staple of the 3DS and Wii U eShops, and continues apace on the Switch, with the initial release of last year’s Revenant Saga followed by Dragon Sinker and now Asdivine Hearts. A port of a 2014 mobile release by Exe Create, Asdivine Hearts is an old-school JRPG that’s entirely competent but difficult to fully recommend; it ticks many boxes from its retro inspirations, and players looking for pure comfort gaming will find elements to enjoy, but as an experience it’s ultimately underwhelming.
Asdivine Hearts’ opening act introduces players to Zack and Stella, childhood friends and fellow residents of a quiet orphanage. Leading relatively uneventful lives in Asdivine, they’re asked by their kindly caretaker to help bring a healed wildcat back to its home in the forest. Things quickly go south, however, and instead of being released into the wild, the cat — affectionately known as Felix — ends up possessed by the Light Deity and recruited into the party, as they set off on a grand adventure to save the world from the destruction foretold by the furry little god.
Along the way, you’ll recruit two more party members for a total of five, and this band of travellers is one of Asdivine’s stronger points: they’re fun, varied, and together represent a party makeup that feels appreciably different from typical JRPG groups. Their personalities and interactions still draw heavily on anime archetypes — especially in the amount of universal affection showered on Zack by his female companions — but the sarcastic cat and likable human characters make for an interesting dynamic.
Beyond character interactions, the larger story is serviceable if nothing particularly special (as is the writing), and serves mainly to funnel our heroes across a Dragon Quest-style overworld map, taking them from town to town and dungeon to dungeon in classic JRPG fashion. This gameplay template — lifted largely unchanged from 8- and 16-bit RPGs, except for the addition of side-quests — means you’ll split your time relatively evenly between watching story beats unfold through dialogue sequences and fighting monsters on the battlefield.
In combat, Asdivine Hearts feels like a mix of classic turn-based battle systems. When a characters’ turn approaches on the action line at the top of the screen, you’ll be able to select from different options, including attacking, using magic, or performing skills. The distinction between magic — which consumes MP — and skills (which draw from a regenerating in-battle metre) is a nice touch, and lets you spread your battle strategies out over these two separate resources. We appreciated the freedom that this brings to not pigeonhole a single character as a ‘healer’ whose MP always goes to the party health pot, for example, and this makes experimenting with new skills and spells more fun.
Positioning also plays a role in battle, with both party formations (on a 3x3 grid) and enemy lines factoring into damage dealt and received and affected areas of skills and spells. It’s a nice touch that we had to take into account more than we expected, because Asdivine Hearts is surprisingly challenging at times. Even on ‘Normal’ difficulty, we found boss fights tense and exciting, which is a welcome change from many Kemco RPGs — though auto-battle will still do just fine for many low-level fights.
One of our favourite wrinkles on progression presented in Asdivine Hearts comes in the form of the ‘Rubix’, a gridded box each character possess which you can fill with different Tetris-block-shaped ‘jewels’. These jewels act as boosts which can raise certain stats, tweak elemental resistances, or give characters access to magic types they wouldn’t otherwise have. The puzzle-like element of figuring out how to rotate and fit each enhancement you’d like to use is engaging, and while in practice this system may not differ much from skill trees in other games, it’s still a welcome, fresh-feeling take on the concept.
Unfortunately, this actually underscores Asdivine Heart’s main problem: as a whole, it feels anything but fresh. The Rubix system stands out precisely because so much of the experience feels cookie-cutter and retreaded — like an RPG designed by committee. Dungeon layouts are straightforward and mostly unexciting — coiling, linear mazes with treasure chests placed so you’ll definitely see them but have to go slightly out of the way to reach them — and quests and environments will come with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.
To be fair, that déjà vu is almost the point — Asdivine Hearts is certainly counting on its audience’s nostalgia for the genre — but it’s also accompanied by a lack of polish that’s not characteristic of classic RPGs. Walking speed feels consistently off, for instance, and makes lining Zack up with NPCs or treasure chests an unexpected chore; we also experienced issues with phantom control inputs and glitchy movement on more than one occasion.
The presentation is also more of a mixed bag than we’d like. The graphics are decently attractive, and there is some excellent sprite work, but that art and other nice touches — like moving clouds in the overworld and area-specific battle backgrounds — are countered by a notable lack of variety in enemy designs, an ugly font, and the unappealing mismatch between the pixel work and the too-slick, smartphone-optimised UI. The music comes up similarly short; it’s pleasant but generic sounding, and there just isn’t enough of it. The same song being used for 'pensive', 'sad', and 'evil' story moments makes it hard to get any effective reading out of the MIDI score, and the frequent, jarring transitions between tracks are as memorable as the melodies themselves.
Content to iterate rather than innovate, Asdivine Hearts wears its inspirations on its sleeve both for better and for worse, delivering a decently enjoyable but ultimately uninspired JRPG experience. Its gameplay template is tried and true, but lacklustre presentation, control issues, and a pervading sense of paint-by-numbers design mean it’s unlikely to leave a lasting impression. Those looking for a straightforward, old-school RPG on Switch will certainly find that here, but for most players we’d recommend embarking on other adventures — like Lost Sphear, Earthlock, or Romancing Saga 2 — before diving into Asdivine.