iOS Universal, Android •
It is difficult to call something, anything, unique these days and be confident it is true. No one person can play all the games, listen to all the music, read all the books, and watch all the things to feel sure about such an assessment. Most things are derivative of something, often clearly so. When I play Erin: The Last Aos Sí, however, I am drawn to that description: unique, rare, different.
In the game you play as Erin, an extraordinarily gifted magi on a quest to defeat Balor, The God of Blight—an all-around nasty fellow—and save the world. Erin must travel on foot across a mythical Scotland filled with beasts, faeries, and spirits of lore—all of which you have to fight and defeat to keep going. In combat you cast spells to destroy these foes, and keep Erin alive. As you dispatch the beasts and mystical beings you gain experience and level up. When you level up you improve your spellcasting abilities and become more formidable. You also frequently find treasure in the form of new spells to learn and magical items to equip. Erin: The Last Aos Sí shares these elements and more with other tactical RPGs, what’s uncommon, however, is its execution.
The mechanic that makes battle feel the most unique is the combat timeline. The best way to think about the combat timeline is a dynamic initiative order where speedier combatants will act more quickly and more often. There are three phases for each turn: cooldown from the last turn, choosing a spell or other attack, and attacking—in Erin’s case this is always casting a spell. These three phases are represented by different colors on the timeline. Combatants move through phases based on their speed and through the attacking phase based on the speed of the attack—in other words how long it takes to cast a spell or make a physical attack.
The biggest reason this matters is concentration. Getting hit and damaged during the attacking phase will interrupt that spell or attack and send the combatant back to the beginning of the combat timeline. So a big tactical driver is picking a spell based on where you and your enemies sit in the timeline. You want something that won’t get interrupted, but preferably will interrupt your target’s attack. Sometimes this means firing off your fastest attack and other times it makes sense to use a slower attack. This sets up a lot of tense, “come on, come on” moments where Erin is racing a bogle or other particularly fast being to the end of the timeline.
Erin: The Last Aos Sí has a lot more going on in combat as well, and oodles of opportunity for tactical brilliance. Spells and enemy attacks are based on elements—fire, water, earth, air, and energy—and your enemies have both resistances and weaknesses to them. Enemies have their own attacks that make use of these elements, as well as physical attacks and special abilities that synergize well with other creatures. You can find out about a creature and add them to your bestiary by casting an Identify spell on them. Once you know what to expect, you can exploit weaknesses and target particularly dangerous foes first, as well as make effective use of the shield spells you’ll find and learn.
The method of casting spells is also a bit different than in other games of the genre. You choose a spell by selecting runes on the screen for Erin to trace. You’ll end up memorizing your most used spells, but can also go to your spell book to cast from there. When it comes time to actually cast the spell you trace patterns on the screen. The more accurate you are the more effective the spell. The result can be anything from a critical hit to a botched spell casting and lost turn. Each spell has a casting difficulty—some are quite easy and others much more elaborate. The most powerful spells can be pretty complicated and require practice to get down. It’s an intriguing and fun way to introduce risk versus reward to spellcasting and make players work a bit for the most powerful effects.
Erin: The Last Aos Sí also has a different payment model. The game is free-to-try and you can play the first thirteen levels before you’re asked to buy the game. At that point you can pay what you want, and what the game is worth to you, ranging from $1.99 to $14.99. I love this model. It respects the player and acknowledges that mobile-game value is a personal thing. I wish more developers would go this route.
The year is young, but it has brought us gigabytes of good games already. Erin: The Last Aos Sí is my favorite mobile game so far, and the front runner for the best-game-you-haven’t-heard-of award. If you are a fan of tactical RPGs you’ll likely love this one. Try it and see, there’s no risk in doing so. Also, check out the “Making of Erin” video below, especially if you are interested in game development.