I read once that there’s a hierarchy of video game platforms. It goes like this: PC gamers look down on console gamers, console gamers look down on handheld gamers and everyone looks down on mobile gamers. Kurechii completely upends this bias with their lovingly crafted mobile games. Postknight 2, even in early access, is no exception.

Personally, I think the above platform ranking concept is a boring, outdated way of looking at the video game eco-system. Anyone who truly loves gaming knows there are wonderful and terrible games on every system. But even if there was a grain of truth in that story (something about the lower quality of mobile phone games compared to their console and PC cousins), then the pocket-sized RPG Postknight, released by Malaysian studio Kurechii in 2017 would be an exception to that rule.

I loved that game just as much as some of my favourite triple-A titles on PC and console. So I’m very excited to be delving into the sequel, which has recently been launched into early access. What follows is my initial review of Postknight 2 after racking up about a week of regular gameplay, finishing the story missions so far available and almost maxing out my character level. There has been one update at the time of writing which came only a few days after early access was launched.

Obviously everything below, especially any (hopefully constructive) criticisms should be taken with the grain of salt that this is still early access and the game will likely evolve a lot over the coming months as bugs are fixed and new features are added. I will add to this article as new updates are released in-game to keep the information here up to date.

Update (02/05/2021):

The game has been out in early access for over a month now and after playing almost every day in that time and completing a number of playthroughs I can say that my initial positive impression of the game has held strong. If anything, I’ve grown more impressed with the gameplay and the new art style has grown on me, wearing away some of my initial skepticism about the move to a smoother semi-3D style from the flatter, harder-edged cartoon style of Postknight 1.

My increasing enjoyment of the gameplay is due in most part to significant balancing that came with V0.2.2 (Android build 2281 || iOS build 2034) . The upshot of this balancing is that the overall difficulty has ramped up quite a lot. Before this update the game was easy enough that while you could choose to experiment with a variety of stat distrubtions and equipment + skill combinations, it rarely made much of a difference to your ability to be able to finish a level. With an increased difficulty, the strategic RPG elements of the game (build creation) now carries much more weight.

Overview

  1. Character build systems: You can now pick your character’s features and mix and match feminine and masculine outfits and styles. Weapon and build systems have also been expanded.
  2. Graphics and sound: There has been an attempt at refining the graphics through the use of depth (blurred background elements) and tweaks to the overall style.
  3. Movement and combat: Direct character movement control in towns has been added and there are now three distinct weapon systems with unlockable customisations.
  4. Narrative, questlines and relationships: Subplots for each area, varied characters, an overarching plot and expanded friendship/romance system.
  5. Suggested improvements: Some ideas for consideration during the early access period.

Character build systems

The opening of the first Postknight game had your character arriving at the Postknight Headquarters as a fresh recruit. Before jumping into your first quest, the only customisation available was the ability to name your recruit.

In Postknight 2, one of the big improvements you first notice is the much expanded character customisation at the start of the game. You are now able to pick from different hairstyles, facial features, colours and masculine/feminine clothing options. Another cool feature is the freedom to mix and match between female and male components, rather than being locked into simply picking a “boy” or a “girl” character.

As you play through the game and unlock armour and helmets, your customised hair and other features are quickly covered up so that you mostly don’t notice those customisations in gameplay. That being said, it’s still a great addition to the sequel to be able to craft your own unique character in more detail, helping to nurture an enhanced identification with your character from the onset of the game.

This expansion of character build customisation is also realised through a new combat system with three weapon type choices and a range of skill upgrades. I’ll discuss these new mechanics in the Movement and Combat section below.


Graphics and sound

Update (02/05/2021):

After playing for over a month the new art style has definitely grown on me. While I initially wasn’t sure about the smoother look and feel of the sequel, after returning to Postknight 1 and comparing again, I’m starting to appreciate the refinement of graphics in the sequel.

Overall there seems to be a more pared-back aesthetic in the sequel. The colours are slightly muted and where there were hard lines in the first game, there are now softer edges, and an attempt at a less flat aesthetic through the use of blurred background graphics.

Don’t get me wrong, the graphics are still adorable. But there’s a certain charm that saturated the first game that doesn’t seem to be hitting the mark for me so far in Postknight 2. If you look at the side-by-side comparison of Pompon and the game HUD below, these differences are apparent.

The background of the lower screen panel is closer to a plain white rectangle in the sequel, rather than aged paper with ragged pirate-map edges in the original. This paper is framed in what looks like hardwood in the original. The wood in the sequel is missing the cracks and chips that gave the wood in the first game it’s character.

Pompon itself was full of visual detail in the first game. The trees had small blue flowers in them. The smoke from the chimney was made up of individually defined fluffy clouds. There were multiple layers of grass and trees in the background, each clearly outlined with layers of shading inside them.

Overall the graphics in the sequel seem to be less detailed with smoother edges and a more vector-like aesthetic. This could just be a temporary transition state during early access. If it is an intentional change it could be something that I get used to over time and grow more fond of. But at the moment I do miss the intricate, more organic and illustrative feel of the first game’s art style.

Likewise with the game audio, there was a certain zany-ness to the sound effects that accompanied UI navigation that seems muted and toned down in the sequel. While the music still has the same motifs that I loved from the first game, there’s a satisfying audio landscape in the original game that is so far missing in the sequel. Every interaction had a cute sound effect to go with it. There’s much less audio feedback for UI interaction in the sequel and I miss it.

It feels like there’s a layer of gold-plating in sound effects,  visual effects and general UI graphics that is yet to be carried out. For example, when you finish a level you no longer get the fireworks that accompanied level completion in the first game. I’m hoping that this is because we’re still in Early Access. The other option is that it’s an intentional change. If that were the case I’m guessing it would be to try and give the game a more refined, grown-up feel. I hope that’s not what’s happening because the quirky, silly, expressive nature of the first game’s sound, graphics and FX were one of its big draw cards.


Movement and combat

Probably the biggest leap forward in the right direction for Postknight 2 comes in the form of a significant evolution in how you control your character in towns and how you fight with them in the trails.

Direct character control and fast travel

I absolutely love the new walking mechanism. Instead of just swiping left and right as you did in the first game, you can now directly control your character in town by dragging left and right on the level start button. There’s also a new fast travel mechanic which is incredibly satisfying to use and which makes shopping and character customisation a lot more efficient. Now, if you long-press on that same movement/level start button, a wheel of icons pops up representing points of interest in the town. Simply drag your thumb to one of those points and let go and your Postknight sprints to the location.

Postknight 2 – Fast travel wheel

After playing Postknight 2 for a while, I went back to the original to compare how the games felt to play. I instantly missed the movement controls of the sequel. While the end result of both movement systems is the same – e.g. you move between different shopkeepers and other points of interest in towns – the actual feel of the experience is vastly different,  and greatly improved. Somehow,  being able to move your character freely left-to-right, at varying speeds, creates a wonderful feeling of agency. You really feel that you’re controlling the character.

Sword, hammer or daggers?

Update (02/05/2021):

One of the biggest changes to come with V0.2.2 (Android build 2281 || iOS build 2034) is a combat rebalance that has increased the challenge posed by all enemies, especially bosses. While there was some consternation amongst early access testers who felt the increase in difficulty was too great, many players – myself included – felt that it was an improvement. The reason I see this as an improvement is it has forced players to use every stat type and other mechanism such as food buffs to strategically upgrade their characters to match the enemy type they’re facing in different areas. In short, by increasing the difficulty it has increased the importance of strategic gameplay, which both increases the longevity of the game and makes succesful runs more rewarding.

The new combat mechanics are fantastic and improve probably the biggest weakness of the original game. That being, that while there was a variety of builds afforded by varying combinations of equipment and skill loadouts. You were fundamentally doing exactly the same thing in every run (most of the time): hitting the charge, shield and potion buttons as quickly as they were available.

The mechanics have been improved in two significant ways –

  1. Combinations: After you hit the attack button, instead of just becoming unusable until the timer has run its course. There is now a secondary timer that runs, during which subsequent button presses trigger a follow-up action. For example, if you’re equipped with a sword and shield and you hit the shield button, for a few seconds afterwards if you press the attack button again you’ll carry out a big leaping smash, which will then cause both the shield and charge buttons to need a recharge interval. If you instead wait for the shield timer to run out before pressing the charge button you’ll do a smaller attack, but you’ll be able to hit the charge button a second time to carry out an extra charge without waiting for the lengthy cool-down timer. This creates the opportunity for split-second strategic decision making.
  2. Multiple weapon types: As well as the traditional sword and shield loadout from the first game, Postknight 2 now has daggers and hammers/axes. Each weapon class has their own unique playstyle with completely different mechanics for the attack and block buttons. For example, instead of being a simple lifted shield as is the case with the sword/shield loadout, pressing the block button while using the dual daggers leads to a brief parrying move. When timed correctly this can be a “perfect” parry which can trigger special unlockable skill effects such as briefly stunning your opponents. This variety in weapon choice adds a whole other dimension of choice and exploration to the game which is a definite improvement on the original.

With these gameplay changes, it’s amazing how much choice, strategy and nuanced combat that Kurechii has managed to achieve with a one-finger touch game. Watch the video below for an example of the hammer in action with its unique charge up and smash mechanic.

Hammer skill customisation and gameplay

As well as the new weapons, and button mechanics. The weapon’s specific skill books and skill level-ups are an additional layer of customisation that you can unlock through the accumulation of gold and tokens. This means that as well as ranking up your postknight, tokens can now be used to purchase skill books from the rare-goods merchant Adrian. These skill books then give your postknight additional powers when using their weapon skills. This is another welcome addition to the combat mechanics which add a much needed depth to the gameplay.


Narrative, questlines and relationships

The friendship/romance mechanic in the first game was a great extra bit of fun and the reward of obtaining the illustrated memories was legitimately motivating because of the how gorgeous the drawings you got to collect were. One small annoyance was the fact that all friendship/romance options in the first game were girls.

I’m happy to report that in the sequel, you can now befriend male characters as well, and the friendship system has been expanded. You now not only exhange gifts with a range of NPCs and eventually unlock memories. Along the way to getting five lovehearts, you can unlock “events” which are small interactions in different environments with the object of your affection. This is a fantastic improvement to an already solid component of the Postknight universe. Some of the best writing and characterisation so far in the sequel has been found in conversation with the romanceable characters and it’s great to see the narrow gender focus of the first game expanded.

This attention to narrative improvement in the friendship mechanic is also carried over to the story missions. There are a number of characters involved in each area’s story missions and as the quests progress, you not only get to enjoy an unfolding story, but as in the first game, see an evolution in options available to you when you arrive back in town.

I like the structure of quest narrative in Postknight 2 which sees each area having an almost self-contained sub-plot that plays out through its levels. While at the same time, there’s a larger plot that links together the areas as you move through them. From a narrative point of view, the sequel is definitely an improvement and expansion on the first game.


Suggested improvements

If you’re a Kurechii dev reading this, please take all the below with a grain of salt. I know that it’s easy to sit on the sidelines of a project and have an opinion, and a whole other matter to be the one actually making the game. Also, with it being early access still I’m sure there’s heaps of work that you’re planning on doing that hasn’t yet made it into the game. But in the spirit of getting involved with the early access player collaboration and providing feedback, please feel free to take onboard any of the below suggestions if they’re useful.

Additional character animations for end of level

The story gets quite dark in some places, more so than the first game. I don’t want to give any spoilers away so I won’t go into details. But regardless of what happens in the story scene at the end of a level, this is always followed by the same character animation of your Postknight grinning wildly and throwing their arms in the air in triumph.

I understand the need for some efficiencies, so wouldn’t expect a unique hand-crafted animation for every story scene. But even having a small number of different animations to match up with different emotional tones would improve the immersiveness of the game.

Perhaps when something negative has just happened in the story, rather than the joy emote, you could furrow your brow, or look worried in some way. Some sort of emotional reaction that’s more fitting to the story segment that’s recently unfolded.

Greater variety in areas

In the first game, progressing from Pompon to Shello Bay and then onto Griffondell felt like you were discovering completely new landscape types with new enemies and a refreshing change in visual elements. The change in visuals in the sequel when moving from Maille to Pompon and then on to Caldemount is much more subtle. It would be great if you could introduce some more unique areas with striking aesthetics like Shello Bay and the Fractured Forest.

More UI guidance on how to use skills

It took me a while to figure out how to parry. I also only happened to find the skill books and skill traits section of the UI from clicking around idly. I think it would be really helpful to have some optional onboarding the first time you play to step you through some of the different mechanics of the game. It would also be great if the skill books showed a video demonstration of the skill in action when opened instead of just the icon of a shield and/or weapon.

More foreground graphical detail

The new art style with softened backgrounds and smoother images could work better if there was an extra layer of foreground details and hard edging to really make the look pop. I realise this new art direction may be intentional, but I feel that it could do with some more layers and details as at the moment the overall effect is that the game feels a bit muted and barren visually.

Expansion of the dialogue choice system

There were a number of times that the NPC’s response to a dialogue choice seemed like it would have been the same no matter what I picked. For example, at one point the dialogue options were something like: a) “a spy” or b) “we were betrayed”. When I picked option b (“we were betrayed”), the dialogue response was something like “a spy!?” which seemed more fitting to option a. This is what made me suspect that there wasn’t actually a choice with that dialogue and the response would have been the same no matter what I picked. There are also a lot of moments where the two dialogue options seemed so similiar as to almost make the choice meaningless.

That being said, I think the system itself is a great idea. In moments where the dialogue choices seemed significantly different and the response of the NPC seemed relevant to what I’d chosen, the new dialogue system did help create a greater sense of immersion in the story and interactivity with NPC characters.

Leaderboards on trails for end-game speedruns

When you replay trails in the sequel there are no times recorded. I’m not sure if this is just because we’re in early access and that feature has yet to be added, or if it’s an intentional change. If times are being left off of trail replays intentionally, then what’s the point of replaying levels in the end game other than for farming materials. And once you’ve leveled up all your gear what then?

There’s also a weird setup at the moment where the trails have a refresh timer that you can’t force a refresh on (so not needed for dev income through ad views). The first time you replay a level in a refreshed period you get a nice long trail with plenty of enemies. The next playthrough tends to be about 10 seconds quicker with fewer enemies. The playthrough after that has even fewer enemies and once again tends to be about 10 seconds quicker.

After this third playthrough, the trail becomes locked for replays until the timer refreshes, which takes a couple of hours. I don’t really understand why this feature is in place as delivery quests are already time limited, which I think is fine. And the story quests only happen once. I feel like it would add a lot more motivation for late-game play if the replayable trails had timers on them, ideally ones with both local, friend and global leaderboards. I would also be good, if they were the same length every time you played, with no timer lockout.

Improve performance

This almost goes without saying and I know the devs will already by working on this as hard as they can. But it really is one of the most noticeable differences between the original Postknight and the sequel when you swap between them. The first game is much snappier and loads much quicker between levels. I’m not sure if this is because of it being a predominantly offline game, whereas the sequel is always online. I’m hoping that the always online nature of the sequel leads to some cool game features being available (e.g. global leaderboards on trail replays). Because I think for some people it really is going to be a deal-breaker, due to the variability of mobile internet speed around the world among other things.

Reintroduce pets

I’m really hoping that pets are going to be added during early access! I miss my wolf pup 🙁


Summary

So far, there’s a lot more about Postknight 2 to celebrate than there is to bemoan. Especially seeing as how it’s only just launched into early access. That being said, I do miss some of the visual and audio charms of the original and some features like pets are also sorely missed. On a huge positive note, the expansion of the character creation, movement and combat systems as well as a deeper relationship mechanic is a great leap forwards. Overall Kurechii hasn’t disappointed and remains, in my estimation, one of the best mobile game studios creating work today.


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