Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Puzzle Quest (PSP)

I first spotted Puzzle Quest several months ago in the upcoming releases on Gamestop's website. The name intrigued me, especially the subtitle "Challenge of the Warlords". I thought "Heh, they might have legal trouble with the "Warlords" people (a long running PC game series). Only later was I to discover this game actually was from the Warlords people, Infinite Interactive (formerly SSG), published by D3, and co-developed by Vicious Cycle (who also did the PSP version).


It's nothing like the Warlords games though, except using the same setting. Instead it's a fairly straight forward RPG, except that combat (and just about everything else) is handled through a "match three" puzzle game, akin to Bejeweled or Zoo Keeper. Basically you have an 8 x 8 grid, and have to match jewels by fliping the position of two pieces. When you make a match, the jewels vanish and the top ones drop down. Just what you match has various effects. If it's a colored jewel, you earn mana of that color type. If it's a skull, you do damage to the enemies hit points. There are also gold and experience points. In most cases, you take turns with an opponent, and whoever is reduced to zero hit points first is the loser. There's no real penalty to losing, other than having to try again.

You play as a new member of the Agarian Knights, a small-ish kingdom in the middle of Etheria. You can be one of 4 classes, and each class has it's own special abilities or spells, and thus plays somewhat different. There are also several skills, and these can be improved by skill points which you get when you level up (how many skill points a level in a skill costs depends on the class), or by spending enough gold.

First you have to pass certain tests given to you by your Queen. These are pretty easy, and once knighted, you are ordered to investigate and stop an ongoing series of attacks by undead creatures. That's the main quest, and it's quite long and involved. There are also a large number of smaller side quests you can do. Most of these quests are not really complicated, usually just go someplace and fight something.

The story isn't super compelling, but what really makes it enjoyable is the dialogue, especially with your companions. Over the course of the game, you meet a lot of people, and some can join your party. Some of the conversations are very very funny. In theory the companions are supposed to provide a small bonus or effect in puzzle combat, but thanks to a bug in the PSP, it doesn't work. They still provide extra quests, though.

If you skip the side quests, you can probably finish the game in 20-25 hours. With the side quests, it's probably at least double that, maybe more. And because there are 4 different classes, the game has a lot of replay value, since each class plays somewhat different. There are also some instant action modes, which lets you fight any monster you want, so if you just want to play a quick game, that option is there, too.

Beyond that, you can also forge items, conquer other cities, capture monsters, and build up your citadel. There's really no shortage of things to do in this game.

That said, the game isn't perfect. It's incredibly addictive at first, but after playing a while, you start to see some cracks. First off, it can be a bit repetitive. There's actually a decent variety of monsters/opponents in the game, but they tend to come in clumps. So you get a bit sick of fighting the same monsters over and over. Similarly, your class will generally use the same tactics over and over. Sometimes you will have to vary them a bit, but usually not too much.

Secondly, the difficulty of the game is uneven. Early on, the game is somewhat difficult because your character is weak, and has no equipment. A lot of times, winning depends more on luck than anything else. But then, later in the game, it gets to be very easy. Some spells are very powerful, and it's possible to build your character to have very high stats, which mean you can cast those spells right away. And if you know what you are doing, there are some combinations of spells that let you win any battle without any real effort, simply because you won't let your opponent have a turn. But even avoiding those, you'll likely win most of the time later on in the game, while early on you'll probably be closer to 50/50.


The art in this is completely 2d. It's pretty simple, but very nice looking. They used some nice artists for the character portraits. On the PSP screen, it looks nice and sharp.

The sound is good enough, no speech or anything except the narration between chapters. The music is really quite nice, but suffers from there only being 3-4 songs. While excellent, you'll probably get sick of them eventually and turn the music off.


Loading times are decent enough for a PSP game, though not perfect. Basically, you have a small pause in the game the first time something happens. Either in combat or on the main screen. Like the first time you enter puzzle combat, you will have a pause on the first match, to load the animations, a pause every time you or your opponent use a spell for the first time, each time it uses some speech (Just two phrases in combat). Once it's loaded though, it won't have to load again until you turn it off or exit the game. The same with the world map, the first time you play the game, it has to load the map when you scroll around, or when it adds a wandering monster. The only recurring loading is when you have a cutscene shown. That's pretty quick, only 3-4 seconds.

Final Thoughts

This is one of those games that is really quite original, despite being based squarely on two conventional genres (RPGs & Puzzle games). And for that, it deserves a lot of credit. And it's addictive gameplay should appeal to just about anyone, from casual gamers to the hard core.

Still, it really needed some more playtesting, firstly, to iron out some obvious bugs, but also to fix the play balance of the game. That marrs an otherwise almost perfect game. But perhaps those problems are only obvious because the game itself is just so good. A-