The latest in the Puyo Puyo series strays far from its pure puzzle roots in many ways, but it does so by drifting into a burgeoning arena in its own right: the puzzle-RPG hybrid. Puyo Puyo Chronicle borrows liberally from 3DS peers Puzzle & Dragons X and Monster Strike (and progenitor Puzzle Quest before them), knowing that its distinct fun lies in the fact that, at the end of the day, you get to play some Puyo.
As is fairly standard with these games, the “RPG” side of things doesn’t involve a particularly compelling story or character development. What does it involve? Quests! Lots of basic fetch and kill quests. And leveling up and generic dungeons with treasure chests, of course. The hook for Chronicle, outside of the party composition scheme lifted straight out of Puzzle & Dragons, is gathering Puyo series characters and putting your favorites together in differently-composed three-unit teams. Each has different attributes and a special ability, but it’s the attributes that are most important.
Why are the special abilities not a big deal, then? It’s this: Puyo Puyo is not a game designed for short bursts or methodical turn-based play. In Puzzle & Dragons, you have the opportunity to survey the enemies and board and make the best strategic decision, but Puyo is fast — after all, that’s what makes the game fun to begin with — and the resulting RPG combat focuses way more on just being good at stacking Puyo. The game tries to make battles shorter by providing a small chain stack at the beginning of each encounter, but that just ends up being irrelevant since it’s there all the time and the game’s balanced to match.
There’s a fun collection aspect to the game, and not in just the big characters: defeating monsters lets you put them in your party, level them up and go on an adventure with whatever sort of companions you’d like. That said, the most useful party members are the ones you know, like Arle, Amitie and fish-man Suketoudara. We’ve found it best to go with the simpler abilities, like Arle’s “let’s turn more of the Puyo on the board blue” one, since there’s an actual chance of pulling that off well without surveying the enemies on the top screen or pausing to consider the ramifications. You can also find and craft better equipment cards suited for your play style, giving you better defense or stronger attack depending on what you need at that point in the quest.
Where Puyo Puyo Chronicle shines is in its aesthetics, with a look that finds a happy medium between the classic muted palette and the blinding sheen of the series’ modern Fever era. It’s a pleasant world to traverse, and a legible puzzle board to parse. Importers will find it a bit tough to understand what’s going on and won’t get anything out of the little chats between characters, but it certainly helps in those moments that it all looks very nice. (And also that you can skip all the text.) The menus and such are fairly straightforward for actual play, but if you’d like some help, check out Puyo Nexus’ excellent menu translations.
It also shines with its feature set, as Chronicle quietly also includes what we’d previously have called a fully-featured Puyo game. It packs in modes and variants like the anniversary games that preceded it, it offers online battles and download play, and it even throws in some basic lessons in case this is your first Puyo game for some reason. If your favorite rule set isn’t Tsu — and we’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like Tsu but the law of large numbers says you’re out there — you can play Sun or Big Bang or any number of offbeat variants. And you can do all of these with friends! You know, provided your friends also have import systems, as Download Play is still inexplicably locked in that regard. There’s also a co-op RPG boss battle mode which we really hope to check out soon.