Caravan Stories is a free-to-play MMORPG that has been played by over 2 million adventurers in Japan since its inception in 2017. Now, PS4 owners have a chance to give it a go over here in the West. I’ve spent about 30 hours playing and while it’s not a bad game by any means, it does feel out of place on console considering it’s designed to play like a mobile game.
You can choose to start as one of five playable races: Human, Dwarf, Elf, Gessy (cute rabbit) or Ork. They each come with their own class (Tanker, Magician, or Healer) and starting equipment (Human carries a sword and shield, Dwarf uses ranged attacks) and you can customize their appearance (hairstyle, etc). I chose to start as a Human. After setting my character up, the story begins with my village being attacked by some kind of giant black slime that fell from the sky. While it’s interesting enough, the story becomes background noise to everything else going on. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of story, because each main character you come across has various story beats for you to unlock with rewards if you complete them. It’s the systems, leveling, and character upgrades that will bring you back for more. There are so many currencies to keep track of like Crystals (for upgrading your Caravan), Gold (for upgrading characters), Phantasm Gems (for speeding up Caravan upgrade processes), Anima (for level-breaking characters past 30) and an obscene amount of upgrades for each character and the Caravan that joins you on your adventure, that you’ll lose track of what’s what.
Combat is turn-based. Auto-attack just happens normally but you can use one special ability at a time, per character, and these each have a cool-down. The abilities all look great and each battle is fast-paced. Some abilities will place a marker on the ground for you to be able to target as many enemies as you can for a large spread AOE attack. There is an auto-battle feature, but for some of the tougher fights I wouldn’t have auto-battle on. With auto-battle, your characters will just use everything at their disposal from the start of the fight (even healing abilities, when you’re already at full health). For the tiny random encounters though, I’d just leave auto-battle on. What’s even better is you can turn on auto-play and let your characters roam a certain area of the map. They’ll fight battles for you while you’re off doing some house cleaning or something else that is equally amazing that you just love to do in your spare time. This eliminates the need to grind because you can just let the game do it for you. Once you’re ready to sit down and play again, just turn off auto-play. It reminds me of Final Fantasy XII. Setting up the auto level for that game was awesome, and coming back to your characters being over powered is great stuff. Each of your characters has a stamina bar that goes down after each battle, but I was never needing to give my characters a rest so it didn’t seem to be an issue for me.
Early on in your adventure, you’ll discover the biggest feature in Caravan Stories, which is a Caravan that will travel with you. It’s essentially a house with legs that can level up and be equipped with weapons and armor. As it levels, you can install everything from extra Crystal Storage to an altar you can pray at to get items needed for upgrades. In fact, everything can be upgraded and leveled up. This is where the addiction kicks in my friends. You’re upgrading your Caravan and leveling up your characters, and once a character hits level 30 you can evolve them and they become stronger versions of themselves with upgraded looking gear. There’s a Pokemon type monster recruit ability that allows you to befriend any creatures you fight, and add them to your roster. Once you’ve completed a bit of the story, you unlock multi-mode. You can now see other player characters running around. You can chat with them. You can join up in parties to tackle tough enemies or complete quests. You can join guilds that other players are in and help each other out. You can run raids with them or quest together. The world of Caravan Stories really comes alive when you can see other players running around.
Along with plenty of quests to partake in, there are dungeons that require a certain ticket to enter. 1 ticket is given out per day, and as long as you don’t have more than 6 in your inventory, they don’t have an expiration date. Take the Gold Dungeon for instance. You’ll have five minutes in the dungeon to find as many pieces of gold bars as you can, after the time runs out, you’re kicked out. If you don’t want to pay real money for gold, this is something you should make sure you complete daily. The Philosopher’s Tower provides players with the chance to earn experience orbs to level up. You have five minutes in there as well, and you’ll want to pick up as many orbs as you can.
While Caravan Stories lures you in with its cel-chaded graphics and enticing world, you’ll quickly start to notice the tiny cracks in its armor. The translation can be rough at times. I’m having a hard time understanding why my healers name is Fholk, but the village we live in is named Fholk. Is this just some kind of translation problem? NPC names are also hilarious. There was a woman named Bieber I saw during my travels. It’s a fine name for a woman I suppose. Could she possibly be related to Justin Bieber? That remains a mystery. There are loading screens after everything you do. Go into battle, loading screen. Exit battle, loading screen. Enter a different area, loading screen. It wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t a percentage bar at the bottom of the screen when I’m heading into battle. It’s relatively quick, but I wish there could have been something with a little more flair. A cool transition that didn’t feel like I was just waiting to get into a battle that was going to take longer to load then complete.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a free-to-play game if there weren’t micro-transactions. You can buy Gold or Phantasm Gems with real money to either buy items or level characters in game. Phantasm Gems can be used for a number of different things, including speeding up the process of building add-ons for your caravan or replenishing stamina for your characters. If you opt to just play the game regularly, you can earn a decent amount of gold from the Gold Dungeons, so you don’t have to pay for it with real cash if you don’t want to. The same goes for stamina. It goes down after every battle, but I never found myself needing my characters to rest. It always replenished itself fairly quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if Caravan Stories was already being developed for the Nintendo Switch. Since it’s available on phones in Japan, it plays exactly like a tablet or phone game. With touch controls, it would be a much smoother experience. On PS4 it just feels clunky with some very noticeable slow-down once you’ve got a ton of upgrades inside of your Caravan.
Caravan Stories is a decent free-to-play game that feels like it doesn’t belong on the PS4. The game can be quite addictive, and I always find myself logging in to claim my daily rewards. It just sucks that the PS4 version gets so overwhelmed when you’ve got so many different icons to click on and upgrades running within your Caravan menu that it actually starts to slow down the performance of the game. It’s free-to-play though, so why not give it a shot? – NVJ
Caravan Stories is now available on PS4
Phantasm Gems provided by Stride PR