After the free-to-play boom on the PC and mobile platforms, it's no wonder why major publishers want a slice of the pie. Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony have all tried their hand in the scheme, and some have been more successful than others.
Sony's latest attempt is Destiny of Spirits, a collection battle game of sorts that does a few things right, but mostly suffers from the same trappings as a lot of other games in the free-to-play market.
Destiny of Spirits (Vita)
Developer: SCE Japan Studio, Q Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: March 25, 2014
Destiny of Spirits has a decent setup for what is otherwise a standard collecting and battle game. All of the hatred and malice of Earth has filled up a parallel spirit realm with bad juju, and it's up to you, alongside of a host of goddesses, to stop it. You'll use a number of interesting spirits with varying elements to do the job, hence the collecting aspect. Most, if not all of the creatures are based on world mythology, so it's interesting to see what comes up next.
Gameplay is more like a classic JRPG with elements of Pokemon -- most notably elemental counters (water does more damage to fire, and so on) and the active time battle system. Up to six spirits can be equipped for battle, while three will actually show up at any given time on the battleground.
Combat isn't all that exciting because it's all done automatically, so it's not so much an action game as a strategic one -- forcing players to think about positioning, counters, and the occasional skill activation. All of this adds up to fights that are slightly above the boredom line. The stationary spirits kind of just sit there while all the action happens, and you don't really get the satisfaction of a cool-looking major ability like a summon spell in Final Fantasy.
But once you start kicking things off, things quickly get far too familiar. You'll engage in a standard battle loop, then eventually you'll get the chance to earn a new spirit -- rinse and repeat. While the same could be said about any collection/card game out there, the drip feed of content is particularly slow with Spirits. It doesn't help that outside of this continuous carrot-and-stick loop, there really isn't much to do in terms of ancillary projects. There's a minor mechanic that lets your friends use your spirits, but most of the time you don't need to.
This all plays into the microtransaction angle. While it is possible to earn the basic currency for standard spirits by playing, premium orbs are incredibly slow coming -- and if you want any special or unique spirit, you need to wait a long, long while or pony up some cash. If you want all of the Sony-themed characters, it's going to take you even more time/money than most free-to-play games to earn them.
The way the currency system works is threefold: there's spirit points (which are easily earned, and can "rent" spirits or fuse them), summoning stones (which can buy basic spirits), and Destiny Orbs (the premium currency). As you can tell, hardcore Shin Megami Tensei fans will get some satisfaction out of the art style and the fusion system.
There is an "energy" mechanic in some form or another (a F2P tactic that forces you to wait before playing occasionally) in that dead spirits will have to wait to regain health. While you can recharge them with premium orbs (yuck), the actual wait time isn't that bad at roughly five minutes to recover with some health, and since you're constantly renting, fusing, and buying new spirits it isn't nearly as noticeable as other games in the genre. Just note that every so often, a small wait is inevitable.
As is the case with any free-to-play game, you really have nothing to lose but time by trying out Destiny of Spirits. It helps if you're a hardcore Sony fan and strive for some of the more unique characters, but otherwise the pace is far too slow, and the rewards are far too little for the amount of time you need to invest in it.