The Arena’s Battle Angel.
There’s no shortage of deck-building roguelikes available across various platforms today. Just earlier this month, we got the stellar Cobalt Core. Now, make way for another contender in November vying for the roguelike crown—Alina of the Arena, an arena-based roguelike developed by PINIX and published by DANGEN Entertainment. Does Alina come out ahead with a “flawless victory,” or is it another brutal “fatality” in the genre?
In Alina, your adventure begins with a very basic class—no weapons, mediocre health, and a few simple attack and defense cards. You’ll unlock more classes after attempting a certain number of runs, with a total of seven others: Warrior, Mercenary, Bandit, Hunter, Pyromancer, Samurai, and Deprived. Each class has its own signature cards and starting equipment. Your goal is to battle through different scenarios leading to a stage boss, encountering rest stations, chance rooms with random encounters, and stores along the way. Between these, you’ll face basic fight encounters and elite encounters—somewhat run-of-the-mill roguelike elements. However, where Alina stands out significantly from the pack is in its combat mechanics.
The team at PIXIS have crafted an absolutely engrossing turn-based combat system. Combat takes place in a grid-based arena where positioning and playing attack and defense cards strategically are crucial for victory. Each round starts you with three mana (which can be increased with the proper gear/cards). Blue and red cards can be either offensive or defensive, but they correlate to the equipped weapon in the blue and red player slots. Damage values for both you and your opponents are clearly displayed, enabling precise calculation of necessary damage mitigation. While attack and defense mechanics feel natural, movement can be tricky. Each turn you will have an initiative card that must be played first if you wish to use it, which grants one tile of movement for one mana. Should you use any card before it, your initiative will vanish. Depending on your class, you might have limited movement options, making early acquisition of movement ability cards advisable.
Battling in an arena involves an audience engaged in the action. Building a decent combo on an enemy prompts the crowd to cheer and shower the battlefield in gold to be used during shopping opportunities. They might even toss weapons or potions onto the field. These items can be swapped with your current equipment or thrown at enemies, with weapons breaking upon use. Consumables are free to cast and wield considerable power, often swaying the tide of battle. Some weapons possess a power move, indicated by a flame atop their strength value. Use these charges wisely by pressing ZL before using the associated attack card, as they are finite and need recharging from a shop since they don’t refresh between battles.
After clearing five combat stages, you face the zone’s boss, which involves a gruelling battle, even on the default veteran mode. Calculating damage mitigation becomes a vital task to survive the onslaught of attacks and status effects. Despite occasional frustration, defeating these bosses feels incredibly rewarding due to their unique mechanics. Bosses may freeze sections of the field or play a game of whack-a-mole as they perform “Kage Bunshin,” wooden clones and all. And to briefly mention statuses, they’re often an annoyance more so than anything too detrimental. Fatigue or stun statuses get placed in your hand as cards, they can be managed with abilities that offer discard effects. Otherwise, you need to play them and pay the associated mana cost or they will be shuffled into your deck, slowing down your desired card draw.
Alina does have its shortcomings, though. It often feels incredibly barebones, lacking storytelling and world-building elements. While the gameplay stands strong, the addition of more characters and story beats would enhance the experience. Performance-wise, it’s visually simplistic with no crashes—a positive note. Yet, the UI on a controller leaves much to be desired. Streamlining it for the Switch, especially for handheld mode with touchscreen controls, could significantly improve the experience. The audio is serviceable, with the crowd’s cheers adding to the excitement. This may be a game best enjoyed alongside a Spotify playlist or podcast.
Overall, I found Alina of the Arena to possess one of my favorite battle systems in a roguelike since Hades. I can’t understate how fun it can be when you’ve crafted a well functioning deck. It would benefit from improved production values, a story, and many quality-of-life enhancements, particularly to the user interface. If there were more depth and longevity to the core experience–with a complete run taking about an hour–this would be an easy recommendation. As it stands this is a game for fans of the genre who are dying for something new to try. Like making a delicious soup out of the bones of leftover thanksgiving turkey, this is an excellent experience, but it will have you hungry for more; Alina comes up just short in that regard.