Atlus isn’t a publisher particularly well known for releasing grounded, mainstream games like the EAs and the Activisions of the world. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Rollers of the Realm is Atlus’ newest offering… and it doesn’t really help with Atlus’ reputation of releasing games that are different. Let’s just say, you will understand once I tell you (assuming you haven’t already spoilt it for yourself) that it’s an RPG that looks like this:
That’s right. Your eyes are not being deceived. It’s a pinball game.
Hold on, stay with me here. Here’s my next surprise for you. It’s actually fun and pretty good.
In Rollers of the Realm, you start off as a little girl who also happens to be a thief. Basically, you’re the quintessential rogue class character in RPGs. Your precocious thievery eventually leads you onto an unexpected adventure that battles injustice in a fantasy world… by stealing gold from them and causing general disturbances and mayhem. As you explore and clear areas in realm, you will be gathering party members who fulfill RPG roles such as the tanky knight, the damage dealing swordsman and the magical healer. Without divulging any spoilers, it suffices to say that the story, while nothing too groundbreaking, is interesting enough to keep you entertained as you progress through what really matters: The gameplay.
It’s pinball. With a twist. All those characters and party members you have? In the game, they are represented as pinballs that you bounce around. All the things you would normally expect to be able to do in a good action/adventure RPG is here, just in pinball form. Combat? Enemies appear as objects you can hit on the pinball “table” who take damage as your characters run into them. Puzzles? Pinball based puzzles! A lot of the time, you even get a combination! There is definitely variety in the level designs and objectives which can create quite a challenge, even for those who can be consider masters in the art of pinball.
An aspect of the game that lends to variety is that your characters, just as in any other RPG, all have different properties. You may now be asking what properties could a pinball possibly have? Well, for one thing, there’s ball size which is important because larger balls won’t be able to fit into smaller spaces, whilst smaller ones can, which could become particularly important on puzzle levels. Each character also has an agility property which dictates how quickly the pinball rolls around as well as how much your manual movements will affect the ball.
That’s right, instead of the “tilt” of normal, generic pinball games, you now have the ability to make your character ball move left and right at your behest when you hit the corresponding buttons. The more agile the character you are controlling, the more responsive it will be to your orders. Characters also have a stat for damage, which is pretty self-explanatory and a defense stat which affects how far your ball will be knocked back after hitting an enemy or being hit by an arrow.
Yes, arrows, as in bows and arrows. To keep the game even more interesting, Rollers of the Realm will throw at you enemy archers who will shoot at you and your characters. “How would archers shoot at me?” you may ask. “Isn’t the player just the pinball?” Well, in answer to that question, the archers shoot your flippers of course! Your flippers themselves have health bars and as their health depreciates, they become shorter and shorter making the actual act of pinballing extremely difficult. Luckily for you, your healer character can heal your flippers as you use her to collect mana, which can be gathered by hitting objects that aren’t treasure chests or gold (you get gold from hitting gold, go figure).
The healing, as you can see in one of the previous images, is the passive ability of the healer. All characters have different passive abilities that can be useful in various situations. For example, the hunter shoots arrows periodically at the closest enemy whilst the rogue pickpockets gold from civilians when she hits them from behind. As you play each level, you will find that certain characters are better suited for certain levels due to their abilities and inherent properties.
In addition to the passive abilities, some characters also have a special abilities which you can activate once you have collected enough mana. These abilities can be game changers and will mean the difference between losing, which means starting right back at the beginning and losing all the progress you’ve made so far, and victory. Even so, no matter what your skill at pinball is, you will eventually find a mission you are unable to complete. Thus, you will be heading to the port. The Port acts as the upgrade shop of the game where you can buy items for your characters to improve their stats with the gold you’ve earned through playing the game as well as hire an extra four party members if you have enough gold and meet the level requirement.
There are dozens of levels in Rollers of the Realm with varying lengths and complexity. Some levels can be beaten in mere minutes, whilst others will take considerably longer to beat. Don’t go thinking that just because this is a pinball game, that the challenge isn’t great. The game isn’t just about keeping your ball from faulting, you also have to accurately and skilfully direct your ball into very specific directions to accomplish different tasks. Phantom Compass, the developers of the game, have done a very good job making sure that no level plays anything like the ones you’ve played before, you know, ignoring the fact that it’s still pinball.
There is also replay value in this $9.99 game in that the large variety of characters you have means you will be able to tackle levels in many different ways, but also the old fashioned RPG grind where you try to accumulate gold and experience in order to help you be better prepared for bosses. Then there’s the old “trying to beat your high score” pinball grind that exists in the game.
While the game certainly isn’t Crysis, it is at least the prettiest pinball game I’ve ever seen and definitely the prettiest puzzle-RPG-pinball hybrid game I’ve ever seen. My only major gripe with the game is that the controls can be a bit difficult and finicky. You will be having a hard time keeping your balls in play as the game is made even more fast paced by the fact that the play area is quite small for pinball. Add in the special abilities of the rogue or the hunter that calls in even more, smaller faster moving balls, that simulate pet dogs and falcons, and you just get a complete mess on your screen. This doesn’t give you much leeway in actually manually controlling the character ball left and right, a human being only has so much concentration.
Games like Rollers of the Realm make people wonder “where on Earth did they even come up with that idea?” But it’s games like this that need to continue being made, letting developers push the boundaries of gaming. Who knows, we might accidentally stumble upon a formula that we can’t even fathom right now that will be the next big hit. However, I’m personally not sure people will be clamoring to make their own versions of a puzzle-RPG-pinball game, but Rollers of the Realm was a valiant effort and a fun game in and of itself.
This bizarre pairing of a pinball game, puzzle and RPG is far from being a match made in heaven, but it works… In a very strange way. It is restricted in what it can do by the inherent limitations of a pinball game and it isn’t going to be challenging the Biowares and Blizzards in RPG depth. However, when you do play it, you will find that the game has a fun little story, has a cheap price and is reasonably well thought out in terms of gameplay. All of these factors make Rollers of the Realm a game you’re going to want to try, if only because it’s different, which is like a breath of fresh air in this recent spate of samey, buggy, big-budget pseudo flops.
- This article was updated on March 8th, 2018