As the threat of Coronavirus spreading ramps up day by day, the more public events are being cancelled out of an abundance of caution. For example, the two fan club-only L’Arc~en~Ciel concerts to be held in Yokohama have been cancelled, Prime Minister Abe is calling for the closure of schools from March 2nd until after Spring Break, a closure of roughly two weeks, and I just got word that the NieR:Theatrical Orchestra 12020 in Tokyo has also been cancelled. I am beyond distraught.

So, what are we all to do when we’re stuck at home with nothing to do but sit around and mope, worrying about not being to work in order to pay the bills? Why, play some awesome smartphone games, of course!

As anyone who knows me understands that games and gaming in general has been a part of my life since childhood. My brother’s obsession with games gradually became my own,, and also as my interest in Japanese animation began to blossom, so did my interest in Japanese games. So, let me take this moment to introduce some of my favorite Japanese games* that you can play** during this unexpected two week spring break!

* Games are listed in no certain order.
** Please note that some of these titles may have no official English release and may not be available outside of Japan.

SINoALICE (シノアリス) - Square Enix, Pokelabo

This was a game that many Yoko Taro fans had been waiting for. With his notorious dark fantasy style of storytelling, this game features characters from many classical fairy tales as they battle it out amongst themselves in order to resurrect their corresponding authors.

For anyone who might be a fan of Yoko's work, he was the director for the critically acclaimed RPG NieR:Automata released in 2017. As a sequel to the original NieR Gestalt/Replicant, Automata takes place around 7,000 years later. The original NieR also went through several development stages in the story, one of which was heavily based on classic fairy tales, much like SINoALICE does. It could be that Yoko recycled his initial ideas for NieR into this title.

As with any modern smartphone game, this game is also pretty grind heavy, but the main story arcs are where the game really shines, especially given all the odd connections to Yoko's other works like Drakengard, NieR, and maybe more! I have discussed in detail how this story could convincingly connect into his overarching timeline in the past, but up until this day, there has been no official statement on any direct connection and thus my theories still remain a fan theory.

The game occasionally features special collaborations with other games, anime, and more that makes getting those exclusive characters a real treat. You'll have to grind well in advance of an anticipated collaboration if you want to have enough gems to use when it goes live. This means, you need to stock up and use gems sparingly.

The music in the game is by MONACA, helmed by Okabe Keiichi, also of NieR fame. There has already been an official SINoALICE concert performed in Tokyo that featured live music of the game's soundtrack.

Currently, the game has four main "Story Book" arcs: Impulse, Hatred, Reality, and Fusion, the latter two taking place in a seemingly real world setting whereas the earlier two take place in a sort of "limbo" world of the Library.

Now, unlike the majority of games on this list, SINoALICE was due for release by NEXON in 2019 but was suddenly put on hiatus due to the localization not being up to par, apparently. There has been no word on its current status and remains on hiatus (aka they haven’t officially cancelled the Global release at this time).

Granblue Fantasy (グランブルーファンタジー) - Cygames

This is the first Smartphone game that I've come across that has such a well-developed world with dynamic characters and unique stories. I was first introduced to this game by fellow concert friends. I believe the first time I heard any of the music from the game, performed by Stella Magna, was at the JAPAN Game Music Festival, January 2018. It was from my interest in the music that I heard at the concert that got me to try the game, which had already been out for many years by then (the game was originally released in 2013; how’s that for longevity!?).

The game is pretty straightforward, also grind-heavy as you gather and upgrade new weapons and recruit new members to your team. With hundreds of character designs by CyDesignation, there is bound to be a character that will interest you. Personally, I have a major weakness for characters with wings, so I was instantly interested in characters like Lucifer and Sandalphon. The game also features many side stories that delve deeper into the backgrounds of sub characters, so the 3-Episode "What Makes the Sky Blue" side story quickly became my favorite to date. This story revolves around the celestial primarchs, very angel looking characters with wings. The character Sandalphon takes center stage throughout these stories, and I must admit that I was entirely taken aback at how profoundly emotional I became at the story. I don't necessarily consider myself a crybaby, but HOLY COW I was sobbing my eyes out at this story. Even well after completing the three episodes, I am incapable of watching the companion animated music video without crying. I would highly recommend checking it out! (haha)

A really good thing about Granblue is that it's fully in both Japanese and English. You're able to switch the text into English at any moment, although there is no English voice acting. This sort of gets to me because I like to read the English translation while listening to the Japanese voices, but many of the character names have been COMPLETELY changed in localization, often for no apparent reason. Those sorts of changes will always baffle me.

Unlike many smartphone games these days, Granblue is entirely interchangeable between Smartphone and PC. For example, I can log into the game on my phone while I commute, then pick up where I left off at home on my computer. Switching between platforms for this game is the easiest I have ever encountered before, and I'm really curious why other games/companies don't try to replicate this.

Lastly, I could talk all day about the music by Stella Magna, helmed by the talented Narita Tsutomu, but I will keep that for another time. Stella Magna has yet to have their own stand-alone concert, but perhaps that will be coming soon since they are currently working on their first album! I'm super excited!! If you're not all that interested in the game itself, I would still highly recommend at least checking out the music! You will not be disappointed!

BladeXlord (ブレイドエクスロード) - applibot

Photo by Terra Dragos, Tokyo Game Show 2018

This was a game that I was instantly interested in when I saw the huge display that they had at Tokyo Game Show 2018. I am and will always be a sucker for good character design.

The premise of the story tells the tale of a young man named Raido who has been training as a member of the White Dragon Knights until suddenly the castle and the entire Knighthood comes under attack by the Black Dragon Knights. Sure, just stating this makes it seem super cliche, but there's a ton of character details that I'd rather not spoil for you here! Applibot splurged a ton on the opening sequence, which is to DIE for! It is one of the most gorgeous opening sequences that I've seen made for a Smartphone game in a long time-- I actually can't recall what other game compares!

Besides the character designs, the music is also quite breathtaking. The original soundtrack was officially released on February 19 by Victor Entertainment, and includes 1 disc with 29 tracks. The soundtrack is also available through iTunes and other streaming services. The music is composed by Kobayashi Tetsuya, who also worked on soundtracks from the Persona 4 Golden anime, composing pieces for the White Cat Project on smartphones, as well as acting as an arranger and bandmaster for various Persona live tours since 2008.

This is largely an RPG that you can endlessly put on auto mode to grind your way through daily missions to gather upgrade items for your characters and equipment. This is the first game that I've seen that utilizes a repeat and energy saver mode that can be toggled on and off at the touch of a button in battles. This is super handy when you're mindlessly grinding and unable to connect to a powersource.

Toraware no Palm (囚われのパルマ) - CAPCOM

This game was an absolute guilty pleasure. As a sort of visual romance novel, this was the first of its kind for me to play through and I was unexpectedly surprised. There are two main stories you can select from the main menu screen: Haruto or Aoi. My descriptions here will be mostly about Haruto’s chapter.

The story revolves around the mysterious background of a young man who’s charged with leaking company secrets and is being held in solitary confinement. But the problem is, he seems to have lost all of his memory and doesn’t even know why he’s being held captive. It is the task of the player to gradually talk to him as a consultant to help him remember and discover what really happened.

What I found interesting in this game was how gradually you come to know Haruto and genuinely feel sorry for his situation. Since this is a bit of a romance novel, there are some really cute scenes between Haruto and the player character which includes occasionally pressing your finger on the screen to seemingly touch hands through the glass separation and even… touching your nose to the screen…? Haha Yes, I am a fool and I actually played through that part in public. Oh my god.

The character illustrations by Mita Chisato are absolutely gorgeous and really help to immerse into the story. She provided the character designs, the illustration stills that can be collected by playing through the story and choosing a certain path, as well as the beautiful background illustrations.

The main story is told in several chapters with additional story DLC you can purchase in the app. Just be careful, though. This is how the game entices you to make in-game microtransactions, which can add up relatively quickly.

The Refrain version with an additional character, Chiaki, has been released for Switch, iOS, and Android.

There seems to be a lot more voiced lines by non-main characters, like the prison guard is voiced by the renowned Sakurai Takahiro of Final Fantasy VII (Cloud) and .hack//G.U. (Haseo) fame! I can recognize his voice anywhere.

There are some really interesting things that this game manages to pull off really well, and that's with the various in-game systems like the text messages. You're able to select from several topics to write in a message and you can see those typical three dots that show the recipient is typing a response. It's really interesting to get that feeling of anticipation as you wait for their reply.

* You travel around the island to places like the library, cafe, and park, looking for clues, talking to residents about what they might know while trying to piece together. You can also gather items to give to the MC that usually triggers a new conversation or unique illustration still.

The Refrain version of the game makes some really nice updates to the UI that make it much easier to navigate. For example, you couldn't control the view from the security camera before, but now there's an Auto mode that will follow the character automatically.

Project Babel (最果てのバベル) - COLOPL

I heard about this game sometime around TGS 2018 and was really impressed with the character designs and opening sequence (again, I'm very easy to please), but it seemed like this game had some pretty big names behind it.

  • Scenario: Nojima Kazushige
  • ....Movies: Final Fantasy VII Advent Children, Kingsglaive Final Fantasy XV
  • ....Games: Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Dragon’s Dogma Online
  • Sound: Sakimoto Hitoshi
  • ....Final Fantasy VII, Odin Sphere, Tactics Ogre
  • Concept Art: INEI

I started playing this on my old iPhone6 and it was a living hell because... well, my phone was apparently supported, but just barely. The beginning couple of chapters played normally, but perhaps with a later update to the game caused it to play horribly on my lower-end phone. It would constantly crash during battles, randomly while walking around, and even in the menus. It happened so frequently that I had to quit playing until I got a new phone... and thankfully, I was able to resume from where I had originally left off. All that effort to find out that service for the game will be discontinued at the end of April. I was devastated at this news, which I will talk about in more detail another time.

Anyway, this game plays like almost any other standard RPG, which I was really pleased to discover. The only thing is that you are unable to heal your party in a normal fashion like visiting an inn or something similar. Instead, the game utilizes a sort of healing pod which you are given 4 to begin with. Each pod you use takes 3 hours to regenerate, which means if you really like the game and want to play for hours on end, you likely can't because you'd be dead since you can't heal and replenish your MP. If you use all 4 of the pods, it will take 12 hours for them all to regenerate again. You are able to use special items that will heal you as though you used a pod, but they are rare and hard to come by. To me, I felt this was the biggest gameplay mechanism that held everything back, perhaps in the hopes of extending the longevity of the game itself.

The story revolves around a young man named Rai, who has apparently been kept under house arrest for the past 10 years for some unknown reason. Eventually he's allowed out to explore the world before him, and he meets everything with such awe and wonder that he tends to seem a bit naive but also extremely charming and likable. Eventually we come across a young woman, Mileja, who is locked in what resembles a bird cage, again reasons unknown. Right off the bat, this similar experience helps to bring the two together.

Rai has lived much of his life in the tower of Babel, its electricity supplied by battery-like power cells, which have suddenly begun to die, causing wide-spread and frequent power outages. The beginning couple chapters revolves around Rai's newfound freedom while also trying to save Babel from essentially dying.

The game has already slowly entered the end-stage of its life, making Part 2 of the story its last and also eliminating all in-game purchases. Service for the game will continue as normal until the end of April when the servers will be cut permanently. It’s really a shame and I can’t help but wonder exactly what went wrong with this title when so many big-names worked on it.


So, what are your favorite smartphone games? Let us know! And please stay safe and healthy throughout this Coronavirus craziness!

By - Terra Dragos.