Last week, we took a first look at the latest moe anthropomorphism mobile game, Girls’ Frontline (or “Gun Ladies”, as my wife calls it).
Since then, the game has officially launched out of open beta and got well underway, so I figured it was worth taking a closer look. With that in mind, I’ve been playing it a whole bunch over the course of the last week or so.
Short version: it’s really fun, it has interesting mechanics and great art and it is fair and generous. Sounds like a winning formula to me!
Like most free-to-play mobile games, in Girls’ Frontline there’s a variety of different things to do once you get out of the initial tutorials and training missions. These different things cater to a surprisingly broad range of different play styles, whether you’re someone who simply enjoys playing casually for the sake of the story (and the cute girls) or if you have an interest in trying to “powergame” your way through and develop an invincible fighting team.
First and foremost, as we looked at last time, is the main narrative. These “Normal” missions begin with a short dialogue sequence and gradually escalate in difficulty as you progress through them. Difficulty can easily be determined in a few ways. Firstly, the mission itself has a recommended strength score, which corresponds to a similar value each echelon of T-Dolls you’ve assembled has. Secondly, once into the mission proper, each enemy echelon has their own strength value, too, allowing you to see at a glance whether or not you’re likely to win a bout against them.
I mentioned last time that this isn’t just a numbers game, mind, and it’s true; while having a considerably higher strength score will, of course, allow you to completely dominate a group of foes, if your rating is a little bit closer you’ll need to pay more attention to things like the formation of your T-Dolls, the combination of gun types you have in an echelon, and the skills they have available to use. Some T-Dolls, for example, have skills or passive abilities that can only be used in special “Night Battle” stages, making them somewhat less useful in the standard daytime missions.
The physical arrangement of your T-Dolls matters, too. Put a T-Doll with poor evasion in the front line and, regardless of the bonuses she’s providing to her allies, she’s going to get riddled with holes fairly quickly. Instead, you need to think logically; close-range weapons such as sub-machine guns go at the front and can act either as conventional or evasion tanks depending on their individual abilities, while longer-range weapons such as rifles benefit from being further away where they can deal devastating damage but avoid being hit.
As for raising that strength score, there are a few ways to go about it. Firstly is simply by participating in missions; every battle within a mission awards an echelon with experience points. This depends somewhat on them actually being able to defeat the enemies in question, of course, but is a good reliable trickle of experience for the echelons you find yourself using the most.
Secondly, once you’ve completed all three “medal” requirements for a mission — complete it in a set number of turns and with a particular number of defeated enemies; complete it with every node on the map captured; and just… complete it — you can send an echelon (or sometimes more than one) to “Auto-Battle” the scenario. This takes a period of real time, and allows them to go and acquire the various rewards from the scenario without you having to actually do anything. This is great for when you’ve finished playing for the time being, as it means you can still make “progress” even when not actively playing.
Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, on specific days of the week you can participate in “combat simulations” from which various rewards are available. On Monday, Thursday and Sunday, you can earn enhancement capsules that let you boost your T-Dolls’ base stats; on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday you can earn data points to improve their active skills; and on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday you can earn huge lumps of experience that is shared between all the T-Dolls on the map rather than just those who win battles; this is a great way of “boosting” low-level units, as all you have to do is deploy them, then get one of your higher-level echelons to go and do all the work.
There’s a limit to how much you can participate in combat simulations, however. I mentioned last time that there was no energy system in the game and while that’s true for the main game, your use of the combat simulator is throttled through a two-tier energy system. There’s a pool of points that gradually regenerates up to a maximum over time, and a pool of surplus energy that you can acquire from various sources (or, indeed, purchase using the game’s premium currency if you feel the need to). In other words, you can’t just endlessly use the simulator to grind your T-Dolls up to ridiculous power levels, though there are a number of ways the game incentivises you to make use of the simulator energy — including through the event that is running at the time of writing, which, among other things, awards you with points that can ultimately get you some quite significant rewards.
That event is worth mentioning in a bit more detail, actually, because it’s somewhat different to events I’ve typically seen in titles like Granblue Fantasy. If you’re unfamiliar, Granblue’s events typically require you to specifically choose to engage with them, either through completing a specific storyline, participating in multiplayer raid battles or various other means. With the presently running “Trimagic Square” events in Girls’ Frontline, however, rewards are earned simply through playing the game normally — through logging in for a particular number of days; through receiving “Likes” from other players for your T-Dolls’ dormitory; for consuming combat simulator energy; for spending tokens on the gacha; and even for deploying your friends’ support echelons.
This is a nice approach, as one thing I found with Granblue Fantasy is that the events often had a bit of dissonance with the main narrative, often assuming you’d got a lot further than you might perhaps have done by that point, particularly if you’re a newer player. Because events occurred so frequently, too, it’s easy to feel like there’s never really a good time to focus on the main story instead of those sweet event rewards, so I found myself utterly stalled in the main narrative for a long time. No such problem here… though that may change when we get to the second and third “phases” of the event in the coming weeks!
This isn’t to say Girls’ Frontline is strictly linear, either, mind you; after completing the first main chapter of the main story, you can either proceed directly to the next or take on what are called “Emergency” missions. These are typically more difficult versions of the story missions you previously completed, albeit often with a different narrative context. In the first chapter, for example, they take the form of training exercises based on the data you gathered in your initial skirmishes with the enemy forces, up to and including your fight against the “boss” enemy in the last stage. They can also provide a somewhat more gradual “stepping stone” before the difficulty escalates in subsequent chapters of the story, as well as having their own range of rewards on offer.
Then, as with most games like this, there is the loot and powering up aspect, which, much like I discussed with Granblue Fantasy a while back, is something worth engaging with from the outset of the game, rather than only concerning yourself with it at endgame as in a more conventional MMO or RPG. Missions can be replayed at any point for the possibility of acquiring new resources and T-Dolls — although most of the latter “drops” are low-rarity two-star dolls — and you can also make use of the game’s Factory to invest resources into constructing new T-Dolls. In this latter case, different combinations of the four available resources supposedly result in the enhanced likelihood of getting specific types of T-Doll, but the community appears to have settled on 430/430/430/230 as the ideal combination of resources to get higher-rarity members of your team.
This latter aspect is one of the more interesting components of the game to me, since it basically fulfils the function of a character gacha without requiring you to invest (or grind for) premium currency. You can get four- and five-star T-Dolls without ever paying a penny into the game — lucky, since you’ll probably want some duplicates to power up your girls when they reach the various “Dummy Link” level milestones — and, moreover, paying up doesn’t provide you with any real advantage, either. And while the game typically takes up to several hours of real time to construct a new T-Doll — another thing to leave it doing overnight — it’s also pretty generous with the various “contract” items you can use to immediately bypass these delays if you wish.
In fact, “generous” is a pretty good word to describe Girls’ Frontline as a whole. This is a game that primarily wants you to enjoy yourself and engage with it rather than squeeze money out of you at every opportunity. Even purchasing enough premium currency to do a 10-draw in the furniture gacha is considerably cheaper than rival titles — just under £5 compared to Granblue’s pushing £20 — and the game throws enough “stuff” at you, at least in its early hours, for the aspects that typically make mobile games incredibly frustrating to not be an issue.
So why are those aspects there in the first place, you might ask? Well, the game has to be monetised somehow, and in this implementation it means that those who play the game the most will find themselves most in “need” of having to pay up, which is probably the right way around for this sort of thing, because those players are more inclined to actually want to support the game and keep it going.
To put it another way, paying money into the game isn’t going to get you any sort of advantage, but it might allow you to play more, or do more things, or progress a little more quickly. And it’s worth noting that in quite a few hours of play to date I’m yet to reach anything that has felt like a “paywall” — through a combination of the game’s generosity and what appears to be quite a well-crafted difficulty curve, I feel like I’m making good progress, and the game is happy for me to be able to continue to do so.
So I’m still having fun with it so far. I’ll be interested to see what Night Battles offer, and what the second and third phases of the currently running event involve, but all that will have to wait for another day. For now, Girls’ Frontline remains a solid recommendation for any of you looking for yet another way to get your phone to distract you from things you’re supposed to be doing.
More about Girls’ Frontline
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