Like every other game genre, there's no one set of generally agreed-upon rules for what makes a Japanese RPG good. Some people simply can't stand turn-based gameplay, feeling it's an obsolete relic of an era gone past; others get misty-eyed with nostalgia and/or prefer its more deliberate pacing. Then there are gamers who debate whether or not linearity harms a game's appeal; some are bored by it, while others are content to let a game's narrative take them along for the ride. In any case, your personal tastes in the genre are going to have a lot to do with whether or not you enjoy Kemco's Alphadia Genesis, a mobile port which is content to cash in on nostalgia without really bringing anything special to the table. Like this year's earlier Wii U eShop JRPG, Pier Solar HD, less picky genre fans will likely have a ball — just go in with expectations set at a reasonable level.
Alphadia Genesis' story hits every hackneyed note from the last twenty years of JRPGs with an undeserved zeal that can be quite funny. It's like hearing a really good joke from your beloved uncle... who's forgotten he's already repeated it every holiday since you were born. Don't believe it? Stop us if you've heard this one: fifteen years have passed since the heavy-handed plot device known as the "Energi War." Two orphans, a spiky-haired youth named Fray and his sister, child prodigy Aurra, have been given a task by the king of Archleign — to research why some of the clones created to fight in the war have begun malfunctioning and killing people. Along the way, they recruit additional party members — including two people from a neighbouring kingdom that is initially an ally but foreshadowed in a painfully deliberate way to have some sort of antagonistic role. They all learn about friendship, humanity, and so on.
This narrative is more aggravating in its execution than in its actual concept. Sure, spiky-haired rebel youths has been done before — but it can be done well if the characters are given worthy motivations and can be identified with. Here, the plot points are telegraphed so obviously that exchanges between these cardboard cut-outs didn't earn any emotional investment from us. Anyone who's read a book or seen a movie — much less played a JRPG — will know within the first two seconds of seeing Enah, the cute little clone with a heart of gold, that she is a plot device to sway our sympathies to the side of the clones. She's less an actual character than a representation of one of the game's themes ("clones are people too!"), and this brand of lazy manipulation has its fingerprints all over Alphadia Genesis. That, and the writing is just dismal; Natsume has done little to improve the game's viciously boring cliches in its localization, with one particular party member's dialogue so harsh and mean-spirited that this reviewer personally hoped the narrative would just put him out of his misery.
Luckily, there's a lot more to Alphadia Genesis than the story, and thankfully it's also the part that makes the game worth playing. While it's kind of a been-there, done-that experience, the title's combat system has a perfectly balanced speed that equally suits experience grinding and longer, more strategic battles. It's extremely easy to pop in and out of random battles as you explore dungeons or the world map, gaining vital experience in a matter of seconds. This also cuts down on the frustration of encounters in general, as the quick nature of battle ensures you'll be able to explore every nook and cranny of the world with minimal distraction — you won't forget where you were going when you were caught unaware by a rogue slime. Exploration is limited to the usual "one pathway leads further in the dungeon, one leads to a dead end with treasure" pattern, but is largely assisted by the outrageous speed with which you can travel. In this area, it feels like Alphadia Genesis definitely has its finger on the pulse of its audience: it allows you to cut right to the important action with minimal fuss.
Character growth is refreshingly simple here, although it doesn't leave a whole lot of room for customization where stats are concerned. Your primary method of learning new abilities is through "rings." The process works like this: find clear rings throughout your adventure, assign a specific elemental property to them, equip them to your party members and watch as they get whatever magic is associated with the ring's element on each level up. Later, you'll be able to up the rings' level cap so your characters can learn higher-level magic of that specific elemental type. It's nice to be able to teach your characters whatever abilities you find the most useful, but this doesn't really carry over to the statistical side of things — other than minimal manipulation through changing your character's equipment, you're pretty much locked into whatever strengths and weaknesses they've been set up with since the beginning of the game. This is only a minor setback, but we would have liked to see a separate set of rings tied to specific areas of stat improvement.
Alphadia Genesis' presentation, meanwhile, is spotty at best; like a lot of nostalgia-fuelled JRPGs, the title shamelessly rips off '80s and '90s-era games in more ways than one; the overworld art is a cheap high-res imitation of what you'd see in the SNES days, while the rather flat score does a bargain-bin imitation of Uematsu's early work. Most jarringly, when moving from the field to a random encounter, the 2D overworld dissolves to reveal Final Fantasy VII-style 3D battle graphics with bad animations and embarrassingly low-poly models. It's a weird clashing of styles — you'll grow accustomed to it before long, but it's far from being attractive. However, if there's one thing about the presentation that stands out, it's the character art that accompanies dialogue: a patch of welcome detail and effort in an otherwise aesthetically unappealing product.
If you can put up with Alphadia Genesis' liberal use of tired cliches, poor localization, and dissonant presentation, you'll find a fun little JRPG with fast-paced combat and a refreshingly simple customization system. A little more effort on the part of the writers would have gone a long way toward making the narrative and characters less insufferable, but as-is most JRPG fans should be well-versed enough in this banality to look past it and enjoy the game for what it is.