Developed by Q Entertainment, SCE Japan. Published by Sony Computer Entertainment. Released March 25, 2014. Available on PS Vita.
With free-to-play games appearing to dominate on mobile - even as research suggests very few F2P customers invest more than a day into any given game - it was perhaps a given that traditional handhelds would want a slice of the pie. Destiny of Spirits is a fairly serious attempt at a freemium game on PlayStation Vita, taking a hint of Pokemon, a dash of Magic: The Gathering, and offering plenty of chances for a player to spend a few bucks.
The core of Destiny of Spirits is promising, and an admirable attempt has been made to keep it engaging without the need to spend money. However, despite such earnest efforts, some nasty tricks of the F2P trade have made their way into the experience, unquestionably making for a worse game than could have existed.
Destiny of Spirits is, essentially, a card game with very little strategy and a significant focus on collecting loads of stuff. You pick up spirits - random monsters that inhabit a mirror world or something like that - by summoning them with Summon Stones, or earning them through fights and trades. These monsters can be used to form a party of up to six, three of which will go up against three enemy monsters (with spares held in reserve to replace fallen ones). Each spirit automatically attacks, though players may select which opponent creature is targeted, and implement a spirit's special active ability at timed intervals.
Those are the basics, and the general flow of combat doesn't get much more complex from there. By setting a "leader" for your party, you can also add a passive bonus to your team, such as upping their speed or critical hit chance. The only other features to be mindful of - and this can be a game changer - are elements, which have a classic rock/paper/scissors relationship (metal is weak to fire, fire is weak to water, etcetera). Each spirit belongs to a certain element, and as such, will have advantages and disadvantages against opposing forces.
Progressing through the game is a simple case of battling, battling, and battling. You work your way through a world map, selecting consecutive fights from a list, occasionally having a crack at tougher boss spirits along the way. By freeing areas of the map from bosses, you can obtain bonuses, such as the power to field stronger spirits or keep more spirits without having to get rid of them. There are also "Raid" bosses - highly powerful monsters that are fought in a separate menu, retain their damage even if you are defeated, but can only be fought a certain amount of times.
To get into all this, however, one needs to grab loads of spirits. These are mostly obtained using the aforementioned Summon Stones, a currency freely obtained in combat, to bring a random spirit into your fold. Like collectible cards, these creatures are categorized by rarity, with rarer spirits being harder to put into the party due to a restrictive point cost system that limits your potential fighters. Spirits can also be strengthened by merging them together, selecting a base creature and then adding one or more others to raise its level and boost its stats. This requires a different form of currency - Spirit Points. Spirit Points are also awarded in-game, but become quite precious indeed thanks to their multiple uses.
Not only does it get fairly expensive to merge spirits of higher levels, Spirit Points are also used to "rent" creatures from fellow players, a sometimes invaluable way of adding a powerful ally to your party without prohibitive point limits getting in the way. Here is where Destiny of Spirits first reveals its biggest problem - its need to restrict and hamstring in a passive-aggressive way, all the while hoping you'll drop some real-life cash to purchase the third currency, Destiny Orbs.