Trulon: the Shadow Engine is an isometric RPG with a card based combat system that has recently made it’s way over to Steam after a stint on the mobile marketplace.
There’s a lot to like when it comes to Trulon: The Shadow Engine, for one the game channels a lot of the classic JRPG vibes from the days of yore – and it does this without making it feel like a visual gimmick. In fact, the world is rendered in a detailed 3D viewpoint, while the characters of the world float over it, jutting out like stickers in a storybook. It reminds me of the art in Breath of Fire III & IV, however this is – as you would hope – cleaner, and crisp.
Accompanying the stylish graphics is an absolutely wonderful soundtrack, while a lot of the audio in game are 45/60second loops they are composed well enough that they are easy to listen to without growing annoyed at it – the main combat theme is a mix of guitar, pipes, and instruments – combining into something between Dynasty Warriors and classic JRPG.
It’s not all wonderful, that said, the story is overly cliche at times. There were points where I longed for the chance to go against the flood but there was simply no option – as a matter of fact, the story as a whole is entirely linear, with you moving from area to area running errands to fill the gaps between the story advancements. Luckily then, I suppose, that the setting is a step further away from the traditional fair – and it moves at a very fast pace.
The setting is one which is already destined for more than this game – as the universe itself was created with books and further fiction in mind. It’s got the world history to certainly become a bigger property – with the many citizens of the world living on the shoulders of a great, illustrious Empire – long fallen.
This Great Empire was so advanced technologically that they lived in a state of luxury, having channeled the energy of the world into technology that allowed them to live a meek existence as their robot workers – Animae – trawled the landscape and worked the land enough to sustain their human masters. Something of course happened – as it always does in fictitious utopia – and soon there was nothing left but darkness and ruin.
Following that collapse two great nations were formed as neighbours in the South. Tripudia, the homeland of the game’s protagonist, is a idyllic trading and agriculture based kingdom who have lived a peaceful rural existence. Meanwhile their neighbours, the ominously named Maelon, live in great cities and, like the Empire before them, use the essence of the world to make robots, albeit for unstated reasons.
From the get go the game (and the – in my opinion – unimpressive trailer on the Steampage) seems set on making you cynical of the people of Maelon, with their smoggy cities, strange technology and a vastly less welcoming demeanor than the people of Tripudia. Immediately the game has you finding the cause of recent monster excursions to be the fault of Maelon. Immediately the local government refuse to help you, immediately you go rogue and try to solve the problems of the world by taking the journey to the vile, murky lands to fling a few accusations around. It’s a shame the story forces you down this route so fast, as it throws the writing – and as such the depth of the story, and setting – into
The problem is that Trulon’s world does a good job of explaining that they are under pressure from a warlike tribe to their North, they also have a horrible disease spreading across their land, and that, while they might be industrious (a sinister trait in most JRPGs) the two kingdoms have been at peace for a long time. Basically, what I’m saying is, it seems like they’re desperate, not evil. That said, you do get pinned up as a villain yourself shortly after arriving in their land, but that tends to happen when you make assumptions and are rather quite rash – I just can’t side with the protagonist on this one. Regardless of that, they soon rank up among the many things you’ll be killing your way through as the game progresses.
The card based, turn based combat of the game is the core part of the game, before the setting, before the fantastic art and audio. Thankfully then, it’s really quite good, and exceptionally well balanced.
The start of combat sees each character given six cards. Five of these are from the character’s deck of cards, this deck will increase exponentially as the game goes on – increasing the variety, but also the diversity of the abilities the character can perform. One of these becomes a wildcard, a card which can be used multiple times throughout the combat, the other four are single shot. In addition to these five you also get a standard attack. A little confusing sounding, but it ensures that you never reach a point where a character cannot perform an action.
I actually really liked the card system, you can include as many cards as you wish in a character’s deck – and so if you wanted could have just 4/5 cards, so you know for most fights exactly what you’re going to get drawn at the start. The problem is with that (frankly terrible) plan, longer fights last a lot longer than one turn – and so you’ll want a deeper deck for your moves to be drawn from – this in turn further randomises your carefully selected deck.
Cards aren’t as simple as “Attack” “Fire Magic” etc. Certain cards do attacks that will do more damage, but weaken your defense until next turn, other cards will allow you other turns. There’s other mechanics which come into play as well, certain cards actually trigger bonuses depending on equipment the character has attached, like igniting an enemy, or healing themselves.
You’ll be finding a card every 5 minutes of game time or so – although they’re not all for use directly in combat – some are equipment that give the bonuses to cards in combat, or buff or nerf statistics.
Each of the four characters in the game have set leveling up structures, with statistic tailored to their combat style – the mage character will naturally be better with magic than the tank character. To further maintain that specialisation a lot of the cards in the game are exclusive to certain characters.
The controls of the game, and the UI, are built with mobile in mind. As such the menu options are all large and easy to understand, similarly the controls can be managed entirely with the left-mouse button and the mouse cursor. That said, don’t let this lure you into thinking that this is a child’s game. It’s tough, especially if you lapse in keeping your card decks organised.
Thankfully, for all of the difficulty, the game is extremely forgiving for the luckless. A death in combat will send you back to just before it started, leaving you space from the enemy to retool yourself, and once you’ve scraped through that fight your characters are fully healed – meaning it’s simply a case of moving on to the next obstacle.
That obstacle is normally just another enemy though. Missions and quests in the game are basically just a mission to get X of Y then return to the start of the maze to cash in the quest and possibly gain a few moments of story. It’s fine, that said, as the combat feels wholesome enough, and the visuals don’t dull over time.
As a mobile game, and as an affordable console/pc release it’s practically perfect, my only wishes would be for better navigation tools in the game – maybe a mini-map in the maze-like levels. The overworld, also, could do with roads, or markers, showing where you need to head next.
Those niggles aside though, Trulon is a simple RPG with a well balanced card-combat system, that’s definitely worth looking into if you’re looking for a fun way to spend a few hours.