Sometimes it’s nice to go into a game without any pre-conceptions about what it is or what to expect. I didn’t have any prior knowledge of Wanderjahr and after spending some time with it, it’s rather un-like any experience I’ve had on Vita to date. It’s an interesting hybrid of Strategy-RPG mixed with real-time elements which mesh together fairly well to begin with and provide bursts of fun, but sadly don’t deliver a lasting enjoyable experience.
Upon booting up, you’re immediately treated to a short cutscene explaining the world and laying the basis for the story. Sadly during the course of a playthrough the game never goes any further than this – there’s a plot in there about universal source code and monsters invading, but it’s infrequently used beyond establishing the initial premise. It doesn’t help that these story sections are merely static images with bits of text attached, providing a rather hands-off experience.
In fact, presentation is a constant mixed bag for Wanderjahr. Little touches like the menu cursor being a Final Fantasy-esque pointed finger complete with iconic clicking sound show a nice attention to detail, but constantly re-used environments and enemy models are less impressive. Playable characters and foes are 2D and animate fairly well, such as one of your support characters being a literal cheerleader who waves her pom-poms to buff her allies, but there’s something mobile-esque about the choice of artstyle throughout the game that makes it less endearing.
One thing I can commend the developers for is actually thinking about the Vita’s screen in the porting process. The UI appears to have been shifted so character portraits are now at the side, providing a better use of the available screen. You also have the choice of full-touch or button based controls and – for the first time I can remember in my Vita-gaming career – I actually elected for touch controls due to them feeling more fluid and natural for this particular title.
So on to the gameplay, which as previously mentioned is an interesting hybrid of strategy and real-time. At it’s core, Wanderjahr is essentially an RPG with a twist – rather than having a small group of characters each with a large number of different abilities; you have a large group of characters who each only have a couple of skills. You can take up to four party members in to battle but can switch between all characters at any point, meaning that you’ll constantly be changing between them to find the best setup for the enemies you’re fighting.
In practice this means micromanagement – the closest example I can give is something like Theme Hospital, except instead of managing doctor’s fatigue levels and skill sets you’re keeping an eye on health bars and enemy weaknesses. Allies attack, heal and buff automatically, so it never becomes overwhelming, and the game does a good job of not playing on auto-pilot either – you’ll need to pay attention as enemies can debuff and hit as hard as you. The game encourages replaying levels to chase high scores through a star-rating system awarded at the end of each stage, as well as going back to farm experience and gems (the game’s currency, which need to be clicked to be collected).
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the game, combat becomes tedious after a while – although Wanderjahr provides a variety of enemies all requiring different strategies, inevitably you’ll get into a rut where you know exactly how to dispatch a group of foes so set up the perfect team then sit there waiting for them to win. Bosses inject a little variety into the proceedings and can even completely shake up your thought process about how to play, but these are few and far between found only at the end of each set of levels.
Other than battles, Wanderjahr offers the various RPG systems you’d expect. You gain group experience from battles which can be allocated to whichever party members you wish, who in turn gain a few extra active and passive abilities as they level up. There’s a shop which you can use to buy various healing items as well as ‘artifacts’ – items you can take into battle with you that provide passive bonuses to the whole team. You can explore a world map, but sadly this is merely selecting levels from a menu and doesn’t give any sense of scale to the game.
You’re also given an encyclopedia which includes stats about in-game foes, recaps of tutorials and – surprisingly – large chunks of story and character backgrounds. Taking the time to actually read these really fleshes out the world and the characters (and many of them are quite quirky, amusing stories), but they’re hidden away in a sub-menu that’s quite easy to miss, which is a massive shame.
What I definitely can’t fault the game on is content – the base game alone has plenty to do on top of replaying levels for high scores, and there are even cool little secret areas that have to be unlocked by performing certain actions. If this particular brand of management-style combat clicks with you, you’re bound to have a great time progressing through all of the stages.
At the end of the day, though, you’ll spend the vast majority of your time fighting samey battles against foes and without a compelling story to keep you pressing forward, it’s likely that interest will wane. I wouldn’t say for a second that I didn’t enjoy my time with Wanderjahr as there’s an incredibly competent game here, but not one I felt compelled to keep coming back to.