When you think of the letters RPG, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Probably not pinball. But when Atlus thinks of RPG, they think “Why not Pinball?” – and that’s exactly how we get crazy concepts like these. Rollers of the Realm combines pinball with an RPG, and as we all know, combining any concept with an RPG and doing it even half decently gets you solid gold. Rollers of the Realm picks up where Puzzle Quest left off with that strange combination of genres that shouldn’t work but somehow does.
Fair warning, from this point on I’m going to say the word “balls” a whole lot.
Basic gameplay skews more towards the pinball side than the RPG side. All actions are accomplished by taking to the flippers and playing some pinball. Your characters are represented by balls and it’s your job to hit them around the board and help them accomplish various objectives. Sometimes this means hitting barrels and crates to collect money, and other times it means hitting your ball into the enemy’s balls (ha!) to do damage complete with RPG style numbers. You’ve even got special abilities thrown into the mix. In the demo I played I was able to use my character’s special ability to summon her pet dog, represented by another ball that gets thrown into play. When this furry ball hit an enemy they’d get distracted and wander off the give chase to the dog, leaving vulnerable areas like gates unguarded. As you progress through the game you’ll actually get more characters who have different abilities and stats.
Actual objectives on each level vary. In the first level it was merely a matter of distracting the guards to get through a gate, but later on they got to be more varied. For example, one level had me looting money by ramming into townspeople and then fighting off a horde of guards as they were dispatched to stop me. Objectives will stack like this, too. Completing one objective will lead to another which will lead to another. Additionally, there’s some optional objectives. One level tasked me with fighting off of a group of guards that was attacking a drunk, but otherwise harmless, knight. Passing or failing these objectives will have rewards and consequences. In this particular case I failed to defeat the guards in time which caused my dog to run off. I didn’t get far enough into the game to see if this had any repercussions later on.
According to the Atlus rep I talked to the final game will have anywhere between 6-9 hours of story content. This is pretty light on on the RPG front, but incredibly long on the pinball front so it balances out. This time is strictly the story mode – the challenge mode as well as any additional time used to perfect levels will bring the time up significantly. Each level contains a treasure chest that can be hit to unlock and is placed in hard to reach locations. I played several levels and didn’t manage to open a single chest, so between opening them all and completing all the optional objectives there should be plenty of challenge for completionists.
My one and only problem with the game comes from the combat mechanics. Ramming your ball into the enemy is all well and good but it’s impossible to know how close you are to actually defeating any of them. Some sort of health bar or damage indicator would have done wonders, since it sometimes took 5 or 6 hits to kill an enemy and once there’s a few on the board it becomes very easy to lose track of how much damage you’ve done. The story could be very hit or miss as well, but only having played for 20 minutes it’s impossible to tell either way. It seems like it would difficult to make a compelling story out of a pinball RPG, but it also seems like it would be difficult to make a pinball RPG at all so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.
Overall, Rollers of the Realm was a compelling and incredibly fresh take on the genre. It’s exactly these kind of weird, out of left field ideas that make gaming such an exciting hobby. Normally I shy away from pinball because I’m just not very good, but wrapping it in an RPG skin was just what I needed to take another look and find out that I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. You can pick up Rollers of the Realm as a digital download for PC, PS4, or PS Vita later this year.