Square Enix is back in the free-to-play RPG saddle with a follow-up to 2012’s Guardian Cross. — though it’s more of a spiritual follow-up than a direct one. Guardian Codex is a decent enough F2P RPG that doesn’t succumb to some of the publisher’s past egregious monetization methods — but it’s also not particularly noteworthy.
The world of Guardian Codex is at war, with a ragtag faction of freedom fighters standing against an oppressive government (RPG Stories 101). Your character, conveniently hit with a bout of “amnesia” for expositional purposes (Lazy Story Writing 101), is a member of that resistance and has been tasked with taking on a desperate mission that could drastically improve the resistance’s chances.
A tiny bit of a less by-the-numbers story peeks out by way of the Vital Task, which is to enter a digital reconstruction of the world from centuries past (think The Matrix, but with a Final Fantasy vibe), locate a powerful Guardian, then somehow bring that digital memory into the real world.
Because I guess that’s just how to win wars in Matrix Final Fantasy world.
Guardian Codex is really all about the titular Guardians. They’re sort of like Pokemon in the sense that they act as your adventuring party, fight monsters for you, gain levels, learn new abilities, and so on. In a weird way it sort of gives me a Shin Megami Tensei vibe, only without the option to have conversations with enemies or fuse various creatures together to create new ones. It’s not bad in that regard, and I definitely enjoy watching my Guardians go from level 1 fodder to one-hit-KO demigods. Until getting to the next mission area and getting stomped on, anyway.
I also quite like the look of Guardian Codex. The character portraits are very nicely done, both stylistically and from an overall design standpoint — although they do rely a bit too much on cleavage. The Guardian designs are also pretty cool, evoking a similar feel to both updated versions of classic Final Fantasy Monsters as well as Eidolons/Espers/Summons/whatever you want to call them. A lot of the Guardian abilities and element types are fairly interchangeable, so none of them feel all that unique from a gameplay point of view — but they sure do look awesome.
It’s a shame that there are so many other problems with Guardian Codex, though. For starters, it still falls victim to things like obnoxiously slow progression, excessive and random difficulty spikes, the need to download an absurd amount of additional data when starting the game up for the first time, running out of stamina and having to wait, etc… I’ve played much, much worse in the world of free-to-play, but that doesn’t make some of these “features” any less annoying.
Another problem I ran into was how often the game ran into “connection problems.” For some reason, accepting multiple friend requests at once creates some sort of server error and either freezes the game or boots me back to the title screen. I’ve had connection errors pop up after completing various combats. Heck, the game almost bricked my phone when I tried to open the options menu from the Guardians menu. It took a few minutes and a USB connection to my laptop to finally get things running again.
Finally there’s the combat, which is largely like other mobile RPGs — but with one glaring problem. As is typical, enemies have counters that indicate how many turns are left before they act. The catch, though, is that each Guardian action counts as a turn — and if a Guardian gets knocked out, it still cycles past them in turn order. Your KO-ed Guardian not doing anything still counts as a turn, and usually results in enemies getting several free hits in.
I hate this. It feels like it was either an oversight, or intentionally put in there as a poorly thought out way to further increase the difficulty, not-quite-forcing players to cave in and spend precious resources (or real money) to continue when their team gets wiped out.
All things considered, Guardian Codex is a decent free-to-play RPG. It certainly has its problems, but it looks good and is fun in a by-the-numbers sort of way. If you’re patient enough to put up with the connection issues and occasional design quirks, it makes for an entertaining way to pass the time. That said, if you’re only looking to have one RPG in your rotation, there are plenty of better options out there.