MISTOVER is a turn based roguelike developed and published by KRAFTON, Inc. The town of Arta sits at the edge of a dark mist. From this mist creature soon coming spilling forth. It is discovered that the mist is really a passage to another dimension. What’s more, if someone doesn’t pass through the mist and close off the passage it has been foretold the mist will come to consume the world. To prevent this catastrophe the Expedition Corp is formed. They challenge the mist’s perils searching for a way to close the passage. As the leader of it newest unit the task now falls to you. But there is much that needs to be learned. And your time grows short.
MISTOVER is an interesting, if mixed, gaming experience. Not a single concept or game mechanic failed to grab my attention. And while this attention was very positive at the start it quickly grew sour as I progressed through it. This souring came from many of the game mechanics going just a bit too far. For starters, let’s look at the grand sword of Damocles that hangs over all the player does: The Doomsday Clock.
The primary game loop of MISTOVER is as follows. Firstly, the player accepts an assignment from the Expedition Corp office. This will tell them what the goal of the mission is and which area(s) the player may complete it in. Secondly, the player visits various places like shops, training grounds and alchemy labs to prep for the adventure ahead. Lastly, the player goes on the adventure itself. Once the desired area is selected the player must fight their way through the dungeon clearing it of monsters, opening chests, searching debris piles, lighting Luminosity plants, and completing their special objective.
Upon returning to the town of Arta the player is then judged on how well they accomplished all these tasks. If they did poorly, The Doomsday Clock ticks down one or more times. If the mission succeeded to a satisfactory degree, The Doomsday Clock will not tick down. But, if the player manages to perform exceptionally well they may gain some time.
The need to be thorough in MISTOVER was, at first, an approach I appreciated. Since I knew I had to really nail every mission, or hasten the end of all things, it made me aware of every choice I made prior to going into the dungeon. What would help me more? Training a skill, or having a piece of equipment identified. Everything matters. It wasn’t till I started getting to the larger dungeons that the faults with this system came to light. When MISTOVER’s fullness and luminosty gauges smacked me up side the head.
When exploring one of MISTOVER’s many dungeons the party’s fullness and luminosity are constantly monitored. As the party explores the dungeon both gauges decrease steadily. Items can be bought in town to restore them, so you aren’t completely helpless. But you can’t purchase enough to get you through the bigger dungeons without running out. At least if you are being thorough. Items can sometimes be found in dungeons that will replenish the gauges. Though these often come with random negative effects. Fullness is especially bad to run out of.
While, running out of luminosty will make it easier for enemies to get the drop on you, running out of fullness results in every step taken costing the entire party life. This can quickly turn into a mad dash to find the exit and escape. This wouldn’t be so punishing if not for the Doomsday Clock. Since failing to properly clear a dungeon results in the clock ticking down.
This seeming contradiction in gameplay directions hangs like a cloud over all MISTOVER attempts. While the feeling that you never have enough time to do everything you want can lead to a level of excitement, taken to far it instead leads to a feeling of futility. Especially when everything you don’t achieve brings the end that much closer. This ultimately left me feeling like far too much luck was needed to progress in the game. Losing my first party member really brought this to light.
My party was averaging level four when I lost a member. They came out of a battle low on life, and with my fullness being empty they died on the way to the exit. I quickly realized trying to train up a replacement was the height of futility. All the characters I could hirer were level ones. If I took them into the dungeon I was currently exploring they would never survive. But, if I went back to an earlier dungeon to train them up I would lose time for not completing a mission. Again, I felt a futility to the whole endeavor.
Now, MISTOVER is a roguelike. The need to repeat play throughs because of chance is something not uncommon in the genre. In fact, it’s baked into the genre’s very DNA. What makes this so much harder to accept for me with MISTOVER is how long everything takes. It wasn’t uncommon for me to sink anywhere from 10-20 minutes in town prepping for a mission. Making sure I have every little detail right. Then, I would sometimes spend an hour or more in a single dungeon. And even though I might have completed my mission half way through, you gotta clear out everything. To do that over and over only to lose to what felt like random chance was extremely discouraging. And the thing that makes all this truly frustrating is how much I love the actual combat in MISTOVER.
At first glance MISTOVER’s combat setup looks much like so many turn-based RPGs before it. With the player’s party on one side, and the enemy’s on the other, characters take turns performing actions until only one party is left standing. But there is a massive amount of depth and strategy added to MISTOVER’s take on the formula.
The area your party occupies is broken into a three by three grid. Before venturing out, and between battles, players can setup their characters however they wish within the grid. This is of profound strategic importance. Not only does occupying certain rows get you boosts to party defenses, but what action a character can make is determined by where in the grid they are. With the vast majority of abilities being usable from either front/center or back/center, and every character having their abilities split between the two options, at most only three of your five characters will be able to access all the actions.
This is further complicated by various effects during combat moving characters around. Once a character has been displaced the player must choose if they are better served using them in their new location, or spending actions moving them back. Furthermore, most attacks in MISTOVER cannot attack all three rows. The first time I realized only one member of my party could attack the back row was a sad day for me. All of these intricacies, along with the usual resource management of magic points, came together to create a rewarding tactical experience. If only the rest of the game didn’t weight it down. However, there is an easy mode that weakens monsters, and slows down the tick of the Doomsday Clock. While this doesn’t remove all the games struggles, it certainly makes it a bit more approachable.
MISTOVER has shown itself to be one of the all around hardest reviews I’ve had to do. With the combat mechanics being nothing short of exceptional I want to give it a high rating. But with so much weighing it down I can’t. I’m sure many out there will see the struggle presented by the game as a superb challenge. For the rest of us, I fear the town of Arta might just be beyond saving.
MISTOVER is available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam.
MISTOVER has shown itself to be one of the all around hardest reviews I’ve had to do. With the combat mechanics being nothing short of exceptional I want to give it a high rating. But with so much weighing it down I can’t.