Guardian Codex: First Impressions

Where to download:

It seems to be a running new theme for me to get these out later than intended (one I aim to fix in the coming week). However I finally am able to sit down and talk about Square Enix’s Guardian Codex. This mobile title is one of the very few on the market to see a simultaneous release across countries, and this changes the overall dichotomy of the game from a western standpoint. Most players into gacha games can look to resources created by those who have experimented with a Japanese/Chinese/Korean/etc. version of a game to get a feel of what events are to come and how to plan for the inevitable power creep. That’s not the case here. Guardian Codex provides an interesting opportunity to witness a Japanese gacha game develop from its bare bones launch structure. Something that usually only the hardcore app gamer or those with knowledge of Japanese tend to get to experience.

The real question here though is: will it be worth it?

No matter how good or bad a publisher is at localizing an app game from Japan, we western folk usually get the game with some advanced patches included on launch day that the original Japanese crowd had to wait months for. It’s a common trend to help give these games some extra playability in an attempt to keep impatient customers around wanting more. Square Enix doesn’t have that advantage here with Guardian Codex, and so the pressure’s on to deliver an entertaining experience that will appease consumers worldwide right out the gate. From the gamer’s standpoint we no longer have the advantage of researching ahead to spot whether a publisher is trying to game the system or rig cash shop shenanigans against its consumers. We also have no idea what kinds of events are coming or what type of units are being released. This means planning on when to spend your money or hoard free premium currency isn’t really possible given mobile developers’ penchant for withholding event details until the very last minute (I’m looking at you Mobius Final Fantasy).

Which makes me wonder if a gacha game is going to be as “fun” without the ability to research these various things. Time and again I’ve seen mentalities similar to MMOs that lament not joining a game at launch in fear of falling behind other players in other countries, but is a bare bones launch game worth sticking around just to maintain a current, competitive status? That particular answer will differ depending on each individual game. Let’s see what the answer might be for Guardian Codex.

Premise and Gameplay

Plot and initial first impressions.

An example of a story cutscene from the tutorial.
An example of a story cutscene from the tutorial.

The story takes place in the not-so-distant future of 2030 where you’re a part of Star Wars. No, really, the plot’s backdrop is basically Star Wars: there’s an evil Empire in control of the world and you, the player, are an up and coming agent for the Resistance. Now where Guardian Codex gets its unique flavor is that apparently within the game’s world is a database containing all of the information of past eras. This database is called the Codex, and can be explored via virtual reality technology. The Resistance’s goal is to send you into the Codex to find the legendary Guardians: essentially titans and other legendary figures that once roamed the Earth. Once found you are supposed to tame and extract said Guardian out of the Codex and into the real world to help you fight against the Empire.

Of course along the way you’ll find there’s bugs and interference within the Codex itself, throwing a wrench in your plans.

I’m not going to lie: I didn’t personally feel invested in the plot’s idea. If Jurassic Park has taught us anything, it’s that things from the past should stay there. Not to mention the game heavily depends on suspension of disbelief as there’s really no explanation as to how these recreations of data were supposed to materialize in the real world.  Or why this Empire is supposedly so bad, for that matter. You’re quite literally just thrown into the game with a typical “we have no time to explain!” female assistant jabbing at you to just duck your head down and do your job. Now perhaps the further you get into the story more details will unravel, and I’m pretty used to gacha games just throwing you into the fray. But something about the way Guardian Codex does it doesn’t quite match the “serious adventure” Square Enix has been advertising the title as. It’s difficult to take a game’s world seriously if you know jack squat about it. I mean they proved they were more than capable of setting up a good story on mobile with Mobius FF and Final Fantasy Brave Exvius, so I don’t understand why they couldn’t use that same story-telling finesse here.

That being said you can immediately tell that the production value for the game is top notch.  The graphics remind me of grittier PS2 games like Shadow Hearts, and the soundtrack fits the overall tone Guardian Codex tries to build. Most people reading this are probably familiar with the CGI advertisement that annoyingly has to play every time you open the damn app. I mean it’s pretty, but I don’t need to see it every single time I want to check something. That’s a trend growing in this industry that really shouldn’t be one. Phones and tablets have limited space, and those pretty CGI cutscenes take up a hell of a lot of it. Sometimes they render older devices unable to open the app at all. In this particular case even on my fully updated iPhone 5S that damn opening will lag or hang every once in awhile. I admit it’s a nitpick, but for something completely optional that doesn’t add anything to the game it creates a lot of unneeded agitation.

The UI is actually very well animated and smooth. Buttons respond as they should. It feels strange to praise a game for including a battery meter into the UI and yet, here I am. Mobile titles have a tendency to glitch out sometimes if you have to constantly minimize just to check your battery life, so it’s a very simple QOL touch that I definitely appreciate.

An example of a loading screen where Sphinx's voice actor is credited in the lower right
An example of a loading screen where Sphinx’s voice actor is credited in the lower right

While we’re talking about production value, I do feel the need to point out that there’s definitely a difference between the English version and the Japanese version despite the simultaneous release. This being that the Japanese version has voice overs while the English version does not. Now I’m not going to go into a fit about how the global version is being cheated or anything like that when it comes to this particular feature. However, voice acting can and usually does add more character and personality to a title. Battles feel very different when your characters are vocal. For example: the 5* vampire maiden character is actually really sassy, saying things like “thank you for the meal” and “it may hurt, but it will be over soon.”

A large portion of the story mode is also voiced, and voiced well. I like our assistant a lot better in the Japanese version than I do in the English simply because I can hear the playful tone in her actor’s voice. Text just doesn’t convey everything. I know most people tend to play these games on mute while they’re out and about so this feature probably won’t matter, but it does feel like a loss not to have them at all. I understand perfectly well why our version isn’t voiced and probably never will be: money. But it doesn’t take away the fact that I know if I pay money to support this game, I’m not getting the same experience despite paying the same prices. That’s what irks me.

That being said,  the voicing in the Japanese version feels random. All 5-star characters have a credited voice actor, and Banshee seems to be one of the few 4-stars to also have one. Other than that it looks like event characters and 5-stars are the only ones getting the vocal treatment. Which that is off putting in and of itself. At least give the lesser monsters some generic growl or something.

Turn-based combat combined with the gritty visuals scratches a nostalgic itch.

The combat screen
The combat screen

As for the actual gameplay there’s three key components: the story driven cutscenes, single player, and multiplayer. The cutscenes are your typical visual novel style fanfare where you click through dialogue as you interact with the story. Text dialogue is gender neutral and meant to make the player feel as immersed as possible, which is a good thing. Aside from the game’s opening the writing actually isn’t bad. You’re also sometimes given choices in the dialogue, though really they don’t determine anything unique. The story will play out exactly the same regardless of how you respond. Take that as you will. I personally don’t see the point of choices if they don’t get you anything new in picking one path over the other.

When it comes to the combat: if you’re familiar with the Persona series you’ll immediately feel at home. Within the game world are different dungeons which are separated into “sites”. Each site is basically another level within the dungeon to explore. Unfortunately Square Enix slapped an archaic stamina system into the mix. These stamina points are required to enter any gameplay site.

Sites, once entered, are broken down into a number of enemy waves that you encounter in first person view. Your guardians (or collectible characters in this game) are shown on the bottom of the screen. Combat is a more classic turn-based system, which I admit is a nice change of pace. Each character you control has a set amount of mana points/orbs at the start of a fight, and as turns move forward they’ll gain a set amount of orbs back. Think Hearthstone or Shadowverse, only each character gets their own mp rather than making it party-wide. Special attacks require these orbs while normal attacks don’t. Characters also have a third, vertical yellow bar. As they take damage or inflict damage, that bar goes up. Once it’s full you can launch that character’s ultimate attack: complete with a cinematic cutscene. Now these don’t differ all that much from the animations used for their other special attacks, but they’re still nicely done.

It should be noted that you can’t use items while you’re in combat. So any healing or generation of mana orbs depends entirely upon the abilities of the characters you have chosen for your combat party. Healers are essential, especially for the early stages of the game.

I also want to take a moment to say that this is the one and only part of the game where I hate their choice in UI functionality. If you don’t know what a move does or can’t remember, you have to tap and hold your finger on that move’s button. A dialogue box appears explaining the move. Great! However, once you lift your finger…your character immediately launches the move you just checked.

This is incredibly annoying. Each character comes with four or more moves, and this also applies to seeing what your character’s ultimate does. Yes that information is available in that guardian’s summary page, however you’re not always going to remember what certain moves do. I should be able to check my party’s options without risking the mana loss. We didn’t have these issues with turn-based games even in the 80s, so I’m not sure why Square Enix thought this was a good idea here. There could have been a little circle or question mark by each move I could have tapped instead.

I will however give Square Enix credit in that they made sure there were multiple levels to forming your battle strategies right out the gate. Usually these sorts of games take time to implement status conditions and debuffs, but Guardian Codex smacks you with them from the very beginning. One of the first event dungeons actually had an enemy equipped with an instant-death skill, while others could inflict defense down and other similar debuffs. So the early game isn’t just about understanding the elemental wheel and making sure your party is leveled properly: you also have to look into status resistance and other things usually reserved for mid-game difficulty in mobile titles.

In the end the actual combat is fun and oddly relaxing. There’s also an auto battle feature should you need it.

The Multiplayer is a great concept, however it’s barren.

An example of your guardian's information page.
An example of your guardian’s information page.

Multiplayer uses the same combat mechanics as single player, however there’s a bit of a twist. Whenever you encounter a large boss fight in your single-player campaign you have the option to tackle it yourself, or invite other players to take it down with you. Once in battle each player waits for their turn to execute a move and combat proceeds as it would normally throughout the rest of the game.

This is a fantastic feature, especially for those that don’t have the money to spend on premium gacha characters or were just screwed by RNG. It almost feels MMO-ish in that more powerful and experienced players can join in these story-based boss fights to help lower level players progress while also getting loot. Particularly premium currency (called Credits in this title). Each month the first 100 players you co-op with for the first time will net you Credits that you can spend. I’ve played games such as Shironeko Project (the Japanese original that spawned Colopl Rune Story which shut down recently) that use this feature, and it’s honestly really nice. It’s a fantastic way to keep players engaged and rewarding them for helping others out if the rewards are fair. I honestly wish more mobile games of this nature would implement this feature because the more you give your players, the more likely they will be to spend on your game in return.

Unfortunately for Guardian Codex, the mode doesn’t translate very well from paper to execution. For one thing the mode is just utterly empty. I remember on launch weekend there were pages upon pages of players hosting dungeon runs for various things. But now? You’re lucky to find any. And God Speed if you try hosting one yourself. I waited for roughly half an hour and no one clicked on my run for a current event dungeon.

This tells me three potential things. Either

  1. The content in Guardian Codex is so easy that players don’t feel a need to receive aid from other people. They’d rather tackle content solo.
  2. The current event dungeons are not fun or don’t provide ample rewards.
  3. No one is even playing the game.

None of the above are good signs for Guardian Codex, especially this early in its lifespan. The game is celebrating its one million download milestone event and no one seems to be playing. And if no one is using multiplayer, that completely strips away a huge chunk of this game’s potential premium currency farming, which makes it harder for F2P or C2P (cheap to play) to keep up with content in comparison to P2P users. In my Really Bad Chess article I said that game mechanics are essentially like dominoes. Yeah, we’re seeing that domino effect take place now. Unless Square Enix can find a way to make multiplayer content more engaging I don’t see the mode making a comeback, and if that happens it will drag the entire game down since such a large part of it is built around multiplayer. Which is sad because it wouldn’t be hard at all. It’s all a matter of whether nor not Square Enix deems it worth the effort.

Another thing that irks me with multiplayer has to do with communication. Guardian Codex is billed as a strategy-heavy turn-based game, which is great. But in multiplayer that means you need to have a good handle on what your teammates are doing in order to effectively take down tougher raid bosses. As seems to be the trend these days Square Enix opted to limit communication to stamps. And they’re absolutely terrible. Very few of them indicate any actions that would actually help convey strategy or player need. It’s just five variations of “Hello,” “Thank you,” and “Great job!”.

I touched on this in a rant on the same subject within Mobius FF, and once again I find myself annoyed that these mobile publishers refuse to assert any kind of consistency across their various games’ teams. The team for Mobius FF eventually learned and responded to player feedback regarding stamps, and while they’re still not perfect, they added more stamps to actually convey tactics to fellow teammates. Yet here we are again with Guardian Codex: same publisher, but apparently they don’t allow their development teams to talk to each other. And it really hurts their image overall. This mistake shouldn’t be repeated, and it wouldn’t if they had just paid attention to what criticisms players offered for their other games.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if mobile publishers and developers are going to insist on limiting multiplayer communication to these stupid stamps, then the stamps have to actually communicate basic player behavior and strategies within the game itself. Something as simple as “AFK” (away from keyboard) or “Use AoE!,” “Use your special!,” “Don’t attack yet!” etc. should be there by fucking default. Yet it almost never is. I only need one “Thank you” bubble. I don’t need 500 variations of that.

Guardians: Understanding Them and how to Collect Them

A small, yet fresh take on elements and types.

The type menu.
The type menu.

Guardians are the name for the collectible characters within Guardian Codex, and I have to say that their designs are actually pretty cool. You range from some bizarre monster-like characters to ghosts to beautiful human characters. They each also come with a Pokédex-like entry that explains their lore and background, which is always a fun read. Each of these characters are assigned a combat element, and Square Enix has decided to throw an extra wrench into the mix by having six elements rather than the typical five (fire, water, grass/wind, light, and dark). This game also has a steel/metal element that actually trumps light-based characters. So instead of rushing through the game to collect light or dark monsters for end-game meta, you actually have to consider building at least two teams to effectively take on both elemental wheels. In fact, the first area of the game has mainly steel/metal enemies rather than the starter elements of fire/water/grass, which makes it a bit more challenging. While it’s a very simple addition, it does change the game up enough that it feels like an additional challenge.

Another gacha game trope that Guardian Codex changes up a bit are typings (or natures if you will). If you’ve played Brave FrontierMonster Super League, Phantom of the Kill, Pokémon etc. then you know how this goes. Usually in gacha games with this feature characters will be assigned one of 5-7 types. Each type will influence stat growth in some way. In most cases it just adds another layer of frustrating RNG as they can’t really be controlled. So you might have just hit jackpot and got the 5-star character you wanted, but it got slapped with a nature that renders him/her nearly useless.

That’s not the case here. In Guardian Codex all characters start off as the same type: Cool Type. Cool Type doesn’t add any special bonuses. All monsters also have access to the same branches of typings. To unlock the other typings you need a duplicate of the character to fuse into them via the Rebirth system. So essentially you have to limit break them. The neat thing about this system is that once you unlock a specific type, you can switch between types for you monster whenever you want at no extra cost. Need a lot of mana for an upcoming boss dungeon? Set the type that starts you off with full mana orbs. Need extra crit in the next level? Just head on over to your character’s page and change it before you enter.

This feature on its own is so damn nice. Yes it sucks that you have to rely on getting a duplicate monster in the gacha (especially for the 5-star characters), but I’ll take this over the way Brave Frontier and other games handle it. Plus it actually gives duplicates some meaning other than raising a level cap. Being able to change my character’s type at will gives me flexibility. It also adds potential usefulness to 3-star characters because it’s much easier to limit break them, and therefore, easier to activate these bonuses. I do think Square Enix was a little lazy in making these types the exact same across the board, however it’s still easier to ensure the character you’re using has the type that’s optimized for their natural stat growth. More games need to pick up on this feature and refine it.

Evolution can be achieved through in-game farming. Not so much gacha reliant.

Since types are dictated by pulling duplicates in the summon menu, this opens up other opportunities for evolution (for example raising a 4-star into a 5-star monster). Here this is done by collecting monster fragments. Fragments in this game are little statues that enemies will sometimes drop. Collect ten of these and you can use the Create feature to turn those fragments into that actual monster. For example at launch the 4-star character Banshee had an event dungeon that dropped her fragments. You could farm these to obtain multiple copies of Banshee in order to rebirth her and unlock all of her typings.

For evolution you don’t want to turn the fragments into characters, you instead want to leave them as they are. Collect enough of the required boss and generic monster fragments (you can find what you need in your particular Guardian’s information screen while in the evolve menu) and you can raise the star rarity of your Guardian. This raises its stats and level cap, as well as sometimes unlocking new abilities. Having this be in-game friendly rather than being gacha reliant makes buffing up your precious characters that much easier, though it will take more time given that this is a grindy game limited by a horribly stupid stamina system.

There are many other little touches to customize your characters.

Every character in the game can equip gear sets to allow you to further optimize their stats. There’s also a menu with which you can feed them stat-raising stones and experience point potions to level them up faster. Another interesting feature is that you can nickname your characters, much like you would with Pokémon. On the character’s page there’s a button labeled “name” which brings up a pop up menu where you can type in any nickname you want. So if I wanted to name my Valkyrie Buttffloss, I certainly could if I were so inclined. I’m sure there’s some kind of filter on that feature (or at least I hope so), but still the general idea is a nice little touch.

Multiple ways to obtain. But given the game’s current activity, that may be harder than you think.

There are essentially two main ways to earn characters to add to your party: the premium gacha draw, or farming fragments and creating characters out of those. The special event dungeons typically revolve around the later method. However given the current state of multiplayer this could make farming said fragments from tougher event raids a lot harder than it should be. Which means your other method of obtaining is strictly through premium currency. And to be frank, the game isn’t very generous with that.

The Skill System

The final point I will talk about that gives Guardian Codex a unique feel is the skill system. Every time a player ranks up in level they obtain a skill point. These skill points can then be invested in various areas to customize the game to the player’s play style. For example, if you like relying on friend leads you can invest points to increase the max cap on your friends list. If you plan to be F2P you can invest in the Rebirth and Create menus to make use of all the fragments you’re bound to collect. There’s actually a lot of these different “skill trees” you can invest in.

On paper, I like this idea. Because in theory a player can craft their account to suit their needs while cutting out features they never use. On the other hand it feels similar to the illusion of choice that comes with skill-tree based MMO’s: sure you can choose whatever path you like, but there will always be that optimized path that if you don’t take it, you practically screwed your character. Obviously every player in Guardian Codex is going to invest in Create and Rebirth, otherwise they can’t take advantage of the event dungeons that seem to always be taking place. Similar to the dialogue choices feeling useless, so do a lot of these “skills”.

If Square Enix really wanted to make this title unique, then they should have reserved the skill system for other, extra features. A lot of these skills should have been available by default, such as the damn Create and Rebirth menu. Skills such as shortening the time required to fill your stamina back up, however, is a great extra feature that those who want to play more could invest their skill points in. So once more the concept is good, but the execution is all over the place. I feel like I have to invest in base game features before I branch out into skills that would be unique to me, which takes away from the point of a skill system.

How Much Does it Really Cost to Play Guardian Codex?

Here we go, everyone’s favorite part of these reviews! At least it is mine, because this is usually the section where all of the previous design decisions discussed in a game suddenly make sense. What’s interesting here is that Square Enix actually opted out of quite a few current trends when it comes to this part.

Premium Currency and what it is used for.

For one thing there’s only one currency system, and that’s premium currency (Codex Credits). There’s no gold, and therefore no gold sinks. On the one hand, that’s actually really scary. On the other because of how Square Enix has handled this game’s various systems, it’s actually really fucking nice. I don’t have to go spend my limited stamina on a gold dungeon just because I want to evolve or rebirth my character. If you have the materials to complete the process, you can complete said process right then and there. No gold farming (or buying) necessary. And after having trudged through multiple games of late where there’s a gold gate on top of a stamina system gate, this was a huge breath of fresh air. Though it does have some very crippling potential down the line depending on the direction Square Enix decides to take Guardian Codex.

So with that being said, what all is the premium currency used for? Codex Credits can be used to:

  1. Replenish your stamina.
  2. Increase how many Guardians/characters you can have in your inventory.
  3. Increase your max gear inventory.
  4. Summon characters from the Guardian Grab (the gacha summon)

This is a bit of a culture shock for me because I’m so used to premium currency being capable of helping everything. But there’s a surprising amount of flexibility here. The stamina refill was a given and is still a dick move. Especially considering you don’t raise your stamina cap much at all each level up, which is only going to get harder as you progress. And for such a grind heavy game, this blows. Big time. So it’s clear they designed progression in Guardian Codex to really tempt the player to pay to keep playing so that they can keep up in progressing their characters. This is on top of grinding player rank/level to earn skill points to unlock required features such as allowing Guardians to equip gear and being able to feed them stat enhancing stones. Which of course requires more stamina, and therefore, more money! Bleh.

The inventory management is also standard and also sucks. For 100 Codex Credits you can increase your Guardian or gear inventory by 5 slots. 5. Fucking. Slots. You start with 50, which isn’t bad, but again the game is designed for you to form multiple parties to combat different element monsters and you have to gear said monsters up once you unlock that particular feature. So chances are you’re going to need more than 50 slots for each, and fast.

Now the above wouldn’t be so bad if multiplayer was functioning as it should. One month of relatively casual multiplayer co-op would pay for these upgrades by itself. But since no one is fucking playing, no one can earn their multiplayer credits, and ergo premium currency is suddenly a lot harder to come by. Because let me tell you: you don’t earn a lot of premium currency from completing quests. You get 10-30,max, per mission/quest/level. That sucks. Again, that was surely done to offset how much currency one could earn through multiplayer, but since multiplayer is so frustrating and boring these pitiful amounts are suddenly very taxing to try and collect. Your upgrade purchases way far more heavily now than the developers probably intended. Again: domino effect well in play here.

Finally you can use your Codex Credits to summon premium Guardians/Characters into your line up. A single character draw costs 500 credits, whereas a 10-pull costs 5000. Now what’s nice is that if you save up (or purchase) a 10-pull you’re guaranteed at least one 4-star character or higher. What’s odd though is that it’s strictly a 10 monster pull. Usually in these games it’s a “10+1” as further incentive to get people to spend more as you’re given a unit for free. Not the case here, which feels a bit stingy.

I also want to point out that there’s no monthly sub-like package like a lot of other gacha games are opting for. Which in my opinion is actually a bad thing, as they’re usually cheaper bonus packages to tempt usually F2P users into C2P users. Without this Square Enix is dealing with a very strict either you pay or you don’t dichotomy, which could certainly hurt this game’s growth in the future.

How to obtain Codex Credits

The obvious way is to purchase these with your cold, hard cash. And I have to admit that the pricing, like a lot of other elements of this game, are a bit all over the place. For a dollar you get 120 credits, which lets you expand one of your inventory slots once. That’s good. I hate nothing more than when a cash shop’s lowest tier for spending does absolutely nothing for me in the game, so this is already a good sign that Square Enix intends to let every purchase count.

The next tier is $3.99 USD for 600 credits. Remember that it takes 500 of these to summon one character. This makes a single summon cheaper than the average gacha game that tends to charge $5 per summon. Here it’s $3-$4 depending on how you save and use your credits.

But when you want to purchase a 10-pull is where things start getting stupid. Remember that a 10-pull costs 5000 credits. Well your choices if you wish to support the game with your money are to either cough up $24.99 for 4700 credits, or $39.99 for 8000 credits. How big of a dick move is that? So if you wish to actually purchase a 10-pull you either have to pay $50 and get 9400 credits (which isn’t enough to pull twice), or pay $40 and STILL not have enough to draw the 10-pull twice.

That is so fucking stupid. If you’re going to offer a definitive 10-pull in your gacha game, then you need at least one spender’s tier that will cover said pull. This on top of not offering a free character via a 10+1 is a kick in the balls that, given how poorly this game seems to be doing, Guardian Codex didn’t need. Talk about disrespecting your potential paying customers. “Paying us $30 like you would in other games isn’t enough. Pay us $40 bare minimum.” Fuck you too, Square Enix.

Combine the above with the minuscule amount of credits you earn for completing single player content (10-30 per quest depending on conditions) and the game suddenly has a very steep monetary wall. Again, this probably wouldn’t be the case if Guardian Codex didn’t drop the ball on multiplayer. However they did, and unless Square Enix makes an effort to revitalize that one mode this is going to be the overall nature of the game. You want shiny new chess pieces to play with? $40.

For $40 I can purchase Pokémon SunFire Emblem Fates, dozens of games on Steam, etc., and not have to deal with any of this RNG bullshit on top of it. Which brings me to my next point.

Despite a simultaneous multi-region release, we still see discrepancies in transparency.

The English 10-pull details message
The English 10-pull details message

If you tap on the “details” button beneath the gacha window you get the screenshot above, claiming that certain monster rarities will drop at a fixed rate. Note that like just about every other English gacha game, they don’t tell you what that rate actually is. Now, look at the screenshot below of the Japanese gacha menu:

And here's the Japanese version's 10-pull details message.
And here’s the Japanese version’s 10-pull details message.

According to the Japanese version the odds of a 5-star character being pulled is 3.5%.  That’s actually pretty standard in these games. However that doesn’t alleviate the premium currency problem. 3.5% is still terribly low. You could easily spend hundreds on 10-pulls and not see a single 5-star character drop. I’ve played plenty of gacha games with this particular summon rate and have lived through that despair. Don’t fall for it, it will happen to you. This is why re-rolling for a good starter exists.

But the particular point I want to make here is that even with a simultaneous launch, Square Enix refuses to assert the exact same information to their English-speaking customers. Why? If this game received a simultaneous release, and is therefore the same game across regions, why can’t they say what the rates are in the English version?

Because it gives them room to fuck up, that’s why. Whether because it’s actually a fuck up, or, an excuse to play with the rates during certain events to test out the waters in something. No that’s not just a conspiracy theory either. Many publishers who have localized games from Japan are notorious for changing the rates of obtaining characters and taking advantage of the lack of gambling laws for this genre to do so (I’m looking at you Gumi, you mother humpers…). This is why you never see percentages stated anywhere in English localized gacha games: they’re usually published across multiple countries which don’t have the same gambling laws, and there just isn’t a law over in the west that enforces the need for these developers to state the odds of obtaining things like there is in Japan.

Now you may be thinking “well, we can always just check the Japanese version to know the rates.” But what I’m getting at is that by not stating what the rates are in English, Square Enix (or any publisher) is not obligated to actually match the rates of the globalized version to the original Japanese version. So for all we know, the rates for the English variant of Guardian Codex for a 5-star character could be the expected 3.5%, or it could be .00000001%. So long as it’s not stated in the game, Square Enix has the right to change that number to whatever the fuck they want. And considering they want $40 minimum for you to gamble at a chance for said 5-star character, this is one of their most scum-bag moves to date in terms of mobile.

I’ve seen publishers (Gumi, Colopl, etc.) who have used this as an excuse to explain screw ups with rates during events and claim it was either on accident, or fully on purpose (“We want to be our own version!” ). Thing is, that doesn’t fly for Square Enix and Guardian Codex because it’s being advertised as a simultaneous game live for all players at the same time. We no longer have the advantage of checking future content like other gacha games to be able to catch when Square Enix pulls this shit, or know when to save and what to save for (which is typically used as an excuse as to why these companies pull this in the first place).

I’m sorry, but this is just downright pathetic. Square Enix knows it’s setting its customers up to be screwed over, just like they knew when they were advertising the UCE for Final Fantasy XV Yet once again they’re cowardly hiding behind a massive language barrier so that they can feign ignorance if in the event they’re ever caught.

So my advice is if you intend to monetarily support Guardian Codex that you do so with extreme caution.

Final Verdict: A Game with a Lot of Potential, but Several Warning Signs Exist. Invest with Caution

Pros:

  • Fantastic graphics.
  • (Mostly) Smooth UI
  • Unique character design.
  • Great turn-based battle system.
  • Many ways to strengthen your monsters.
  • Multiple ways to customize your monsters via types and gear.
  • Multiplayer can be a huge asset for account growth if it can be fixed.
  • No gold requirements and therefore no gold grind on top of all the other grinding.
  • Fragments allow for free monster acquisition
  • Skill system could potentially be very intuitive.
  • Re-roll friendly
  • Emulator friendly.

Cons:

  • Stamina system exists in yet another grind heavy RPG. Just stop it already.
  • Boring story mode. I just don’t feel invested at all.
  • No 10+1 in the summon page.
  • Skill system locks base game features behind it.
  • Multiplayer is boring
  • Because multiplayer is boring, no one is playing it. Meaning that farming premium currency is that much harder.
  • Communication in multiplayer is limited to nearly useless stamps.
  • Single player gives pitiful amounts of premium currency.
  • The spending tiers in the cash shop don’t make any sense.
  • The English version clearly has less assets than the Japanese version despite simultaneous release.
  • No definitive rates for monster acquisition despite this supposedly being the same game as the Japanese version.
  • Intense battery drain for some devices, even if you turn down graphics levels.
  • Several great concepts, however they’re all lazily executed. Doesn’t bode well for future gameplay updates.

As you can see the lists are very close. I’m split down the middle as to whether or not this game is worth sticking around for watching it develop. On the one hand the game is still very young, bringing me back to my first point in the article about watching a gacha game grow from its (usually bland) roots. However there are so many red flags in the cons list that I just can’t justify recommending this game to anyone. If you want to play Guardian Codex I say it’s well worth a shot, but be warned that Square Enix is already showing signs that they intend to be relatively half-baked with this title when it comes to gameplay execution. Furthermore, spend money at your own peril. The fact they’re willingly hiding a lot of pertinent information despite a simultaneous release should tell you all you need to know about how they think of you as a paying customer.

Now if Square Enix can turn this title around and fix some of the most glaring issues Guardian Codex has the potential to be a truly unique, fun game. But they really started off on the wrong foot and I can’t bring myself to play it for more than a few minutes. So I will personally be passing this title by.