Adventurers Of The World, Unite!
HIGH The long legal battle is extremely funny.
LOW Thinking about how scummy most casual game publishers are.
WTF Being the main character’s imaginary friend.
Guildmaster Story has an axe to grind, and it’s not subtle about doing it. In another title I might find myself criticizing the obviousness with which it hammers its points home, but the writing is so sharp and its characters so entertaining that I found myself happy to let it get away with obvious messaging. Simply put, Guildmaster Story has a problem with capitalism, and the fact that it’s going to charge players ten dollars to tell them is part of its argument.
Set in a fantasy world that’s also (somehow) present-day social media-dominated landscape, Guildmaster Story is the tale of Ganyo, a rich kid who loses all of his money due to his own incompetence and then spends the rest of the adventure trying to earn it back without expending any effort whatsoever. He’s from good capitalist stock, see, so why would anyone work for something when they can leech off of someone who’s willing to do the work for them?
Of course, since this is a satirical comedy, things don’t go smoothly for Ganyo — whenever he falls into a new moneymaking scheme, he finds himself surrounded by grifters and schemers slightly smarter than he is, ready to fleece him over and over again. If only Ganyo was capable of learning from his mistakes, or taking any initiative, or even accomplishing basic tasks, things would go a whole lot better for him… but no, he’s too busying playing on his phone to do anything for himself.
This is where the traditional ‘gameplay’ of Guildmaster Story comes in. Between each cutscene, players have to complete a single level of collapse-style gameplay. Collapse is the block-clearing variant in which strings of colored squares can be erased if more than three of them are connected, and the strategy lies in destroying the correct strings in the correct order to create the largest possible clump of blocks so that mass destruction can wipe them all out at once for a huge bonus. There are variations to keep the levels interesting as well, including differently-shaped stages, solid blocks that are cleared by breaking blocks next to them, and items that have to be dropped off the screen by removing blocks beneath them.
This is a fairly standard type of casual puzzler, and there’s a charming arbitrariness to it — the collapse sections have literally nothing to do with the story, it’s just what that Ganyo plays while things happen all around him. And really, it didn’t need to be collapse. Any type of casual puzzle game would have been just as effective because the gameplay isn’t as important as the metagame around it. Simply put, Guildmaster Story is a great satire because the gameplay at its core isn’t very good.
Everything works just fine, of course — there are no glitches or poor designs, but it’s just slightly unfair. Success in the levels is based largely on luck, and most have a move limit designed to run out just before the level is completed. Why? So that the player is encouraged to buy the handful of extra moves it will take to wrap up the level. This is exactly the kind of sleazy, chiseling game design that anyone with a smartphone has surely experienced, but in Guildmaster Story the unethical behavior of the developer serves a narrative purpose.
While the player is watching a story about exploitative capitalism playing out in front of them, they’re being manipulated into spending more and more (virtual, not real-world) money to unlock the next cutscene. Just as the characters in the game could act ethically and solve almost all of their problems immediately, the game’s developer could have built the levels so that they could be defeated with determination and care instead of a cash infusion. The fact that Guildmaster Story comes with near-unlimited money pre-loaded in its virtual bank doesn’t blunt the point that it’s making — every one of its systems has been designed to extract as much cash as possible from the player. The fact that it’s virtual in-game money transforms it from literal evil to impressive satire.
While the central gameplay of Guildmaster Story isn’t particularly satisfying, that’s part of the point. Each level ends with a flurry of fireworks to make players feel like they’ve accomplished something other than paying money to watch those visual effects. Then the next plot cutscene loads up, and the point is driven home again in a hilarious fashion.
Guildmaster Story doesn’t have a subtle bone in its body, but that’s for the best. Every part of this experience is crafted to get players to open their eyes and see the systems of exploitation all around them. Including — and especially — the one in their hands.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by WZOGI. It is currently available on PC, iOS, and Android. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game was not reviewed by the ESRB, but it contains Alcohol Use. This is basically fine for kids. There’s some slightly risque humour, but nothing a child over ten would likely be impacted by. And really, kids are never too young to start learning about the evils of capitalism, are they?
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played almost the entire game without audio, and had zero difficulties. All dialogue comes via as text (see above) but the font size cannot be changed. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. The game is controlled using just the mouse to click on various parts of the screen. There is no control diagram.