So when we left off I had just make the momentous decision to try out a free to play browser game #toteslikestoutcortez. This wasnt as straightforward as one might expect, as the game was not just Japanese only it also used region locking to prevent dirty gaijin like me from playing it. Though considering how easy it is to circumvent it feels more like a token effort than anything else. To play the game you have to sign up with DMM.com. Which you could do in English but you have to do in Japanese, after a little bit of cookie based jiggery pokerey.
Once you have a DMM account you can then sign up for the game, which is played on various servers. Most of which are closed, in the past you had to follow the games official twitter to find out when “Lottery time” was open and then refresh like a fucker to try and nab a place on a temporarily open server. Luckily, for the moment at least, the lottery system is no more and you can just sign right up and choose an open server. Assuming everything goes smoothly, which it wont, and which it didn’t for me. Googling phrases like “login error chan translation” in an attempt to figure out what’s wrong was not a highlight. I did however come across a more up to date guide on how to register than the out of date forum post I was using. Unsurprisingly it was on the game’s major English wiki. It’s a fairly complete guide on how to register. While I did run into some problems, and ended up switching from Firefox to IE to Chrome (and then back to IE), I got it done. I had my account the game files were caching, I was ready to go!
The only problem being I had no fucking idea what I was doing. I thought the game was just another click-click-ooh nice art exercise in time-wasting. I’d check it out, realise that pretty pictures don’t replace gameplay, feel superior and then move on. I was wrong. The game is a fairly vicious exercise in resource management which rewards optimisation while punishing those who are unprepared for what it’s about. As I was one of those unprepared I was in for some punishment (ooh er Matron).
The gameplay is focused on building squadrons composed of six individual ships/characters and sending them out on missions. You start with one squadron and you unlock the others through quests. You progress through the game by advancing through the available zones, each zone has four basic maps and then two advanced maps, each map is unlocked by beating the zones before it and the zones are unlocked more or less the same way. Each map consists of resource or combat nodes, sometimes your progress from node to node is random and in other maps its affected by your ship composition. The combat nodes consist of one of (generally three) enemy fleets. As you progress your ships gain experience and you acquire new ship girls via drops or crafting. Your ships need to be resupplied with Fuel and Ammo and if damaged they need to be repaired with Steel. Aircraft Carriers and the like require a further resource named Bauxite. It’s these four resources that are at the heart of the game.
Of course going into the game I had no idea about any of this, I thought it was just a simplistic saucy ship Pokemon. So I just sent ships out willy nilly and crafted whatever I felt like with no thoughts to enemy or my own fleet compositions. Things did not go well. I was always running out of resources or stuck waiting for ships to repair (repair takes a real world amount of time, though it can be skipped using a farmable resource). After a day or two without much real progress I sought advice online about why things were going so poorly. To boil the advice down to is core message, I was told not to underestimate the game. I suppose I should point out at this point that while I wasnt doing very well I did find the game fun, the collection aspect and the resource management aspect appealed to me, even if I was terrible at both. I’m a big fan of “grinding” these days it seems, Warframe, Diablo 3, FFXIV and various mobile games account for the majority of my play time in the last two years.
So I changed my approach, I did a bit of cursory research into the game and dove back in. Considering how popular it is there is an odd dearth of information about how to approach the game. There are guides for signing up and then guides for mid to late game activities but nothing really about the early game. I was left to forge my own path as it were, I suppose follow my own star would have been a more appropriate metaphor.
So getting back to the game I started paying more attention to resources, trying to use more efficient fleets to clear objectives (smaller classes of ship take less resources to resupply and repair). I also started paying attention to Expeditions. Expeditions are quests you can send your ships on which require a set formation, take a fixed amount of time and reward resources. They’re non-interactive but an important source of income. They only become available when you unlock your second squadron (and only your second – fourth squadron can be sent on them). So I set off to complete the quests to unlock my second through fourth squadrons. These mainly involve getting luck with crafting or drops in order to get specific ships. The second is easy to unlock and the third only took a day or two. I’m still working on getting the fourth unlocked.
However I still wasnt paying as much attention to how the game played and the core mechanics as I should have been. Worse I was still sloppy when it came to combat missions, which came to a head when I accidentally clicked on continue as opposed to retreat. Your ships are safe i.e. they can’t be sunk as long as they dont start battle in a critically damaged state. That mis-click cost me three ships. It was annoying but not particularly so, until I realised later that two of three ships sunk were a high priority for new players (and the second took me a good few days to replace).
One good thing to come out of the sinkings was that it caused me to take a good look at combat, which turned out to be a lot more involved than I thought. It involves multiple stages across both day and night and how your ships perform is affected by formation, morale and most importantly equipment. Equipment plays a very important role in the game adding to your ships stats, providing them with new abilities and affecting what they can do in combat. Ships come with equipment by default and you can craft it as well (via RNG recipes like all the crafting in the game). As ships gain experience they level up, when they reach a certain level you have the option to “remodel” them into more advanced versions, these new versions also come with (better) default equipment. So clearly I needed to “gear up” and beyond praying to RNGesus this was going to involve levelling up certain ships.
My approach to this was still driven by my guiding principle when it comes to collection (or really most) games, “What looks cool?” Shortly after starting the game I’d gone through a visual list of the ships in the game and made a short list of the ones I thought looked cool. Clearly I needed to revise that list, so I decided to focus on the ships with the best stats in their basic and then upgraded (Kai) forms. Which, with the help of my old friend the spreadsheet lead to this.
This worked for a while but it still felt like I was flailing, I couldn’t manage my resources well enough to progress nor could I seem to get the equipment or gear I needed. Still I pushed on and I’d like to say there weren’t more mis-steps along the way, but that would be a lie. I unlocked Large Scale Construction, which is a way to make the rarer ships in the game but is very expensive in terms of resources, it’s not recommended for starting players. Something I learned only after I used it. Still, all was not lost, I got Maruyu, one of the rare but handy submarines in the game.
Which again would have been good to know in advance as then maybe I wouldn’t have mis-clicked while sleepy and ended up getting her sunk. I compounded this mistake a few days later by using LSC again, getting the battleship Ise, using her in a mission and then getting her as a drop from the self same mission. Needless to say I was not pleased.
Not that dupes are entirely useless, you can strip them of equipment, or in theory keep them around to level up if they give rare equipment. You can also sacrifice/consume them to level up the stats of other ships (though the stats are reset when you upgrade the ship to a new model so its possibly best to wait for that). I was chugging slowly along and I have to say that despite the gloomy picture I’m painting I was enjoying the game. I’d got some ships I wanted (again because I thought they looked cool). But my approach still felt unfocused.
Looking for some direction I trawled around online (I’ll never run out of ship based metaphors!) and came across a guide to an upcoming event. These events seem to be seasonal, offer rare or exclusive rewards but require good equipment as well as a diverse and well levelled fleet. So I didn’t hold out much hope for doing well in the event but that was honestly secondary as the guide had a breakdown on what ships to focus on, why you should focus on them, what equipment you might like and how to use it. In short while it was a guide to the event it would also serve to give some direction for what ships to prioritise for levelling or acquisition as well as what equipment to craft for the daily missions (there are various daily missions to do X,Y and Z, its most efficient to limit daily crafting to satisfying these). Looking around I found other guides to both the upcoming events as well as older events.
While the game is easily playable via the use of third-party tools and plugins (such as Kancolle Viewer! and the KC3 plugin) the text is still all in Japanese which means you generally only have a picture of the ship girls face to differentiate between them. So my new list needed to include more than just the English translation of the name. So compiling and combining the advice from the various event guides I put together a levelling priority guide which took into account the individual ships capabilities as well as what gear remodelling it would provide. I also focused on including a variety of ship classes to better aid in squadron composition. Which all boiled down to this
I have to say this really helped me, while I might not have initially been progressing any quicker having a goal made my time with the game feel a lot more focused. Sticking to the list I started making real progress, I was levelling up and remodelling ships (all the Kai ships here started out as their basic version) as well as opening up new areas.
My goal was to unlock Zone 3 as soon as I could as Zone 3 – Map 1 – Node A seems to be the premier spot for levelling up a variety of ships. Now this isn’t to say everything was smooth sailing. While I now had a goal and was working towards it my resource problems hadn’t gone away, in fact they arguably gotten worse.
The problem with levelling the bigger ships like Destroyers and Aircraft Carriers is that they take a lot more resources to resupply and repair. As I kept banging up against 2-4 and failing I was quite often down to zero fuel and was also running fairly low on steel. Clearly I needed to take another look at how I was earning and spending resources. What this ultimately meant was taking a hard look at Expeditions. I’d been using Expeditions on and off but hadn’t really paid a lot of attention to them. This changed. I read up on Expedition requirements, on which Expeditions gave the most resources per hour invested, on what ships had the lowest consumption and thus made the best expedition units. I also looked at morale again as having high morale can literally double your resource rewards. So starting three days ago I started doing Expeditions more thoroughly and things certainly improved. I was able to level up while doing a small bit of construction on the side and keeping my resources, if not accumulating, at least above zero. Finally yesterday I managed to beat 2-4 and unlock Zones 3 and 4. So now I have access to most of the good levelling zones I’m ready to focus on levelling up my fleet and hopefully transitioning out of the early game in a week or two.
You’ll note that up till now I havent mentioned anything about premium currencies or pay gates or what have you. That’s because for a free to play game Kancolle is very good about not forcing your wallet open. There are very few things you can’t earn in-game so most premium purchases are for large amounts of resources, to save time I suppose. There are a few things behind the paywall that are useful. You start with two repair and two construction berths and can unlock another two via real money. There’s next to no point to unlocking the construction ones but the repair ones do appeal. You also have a limit of 100 ships (which is being increased to 110 next month). There are currently around 150 available ships so if you want to “Catch em all!” you’ll need to pay to expand. The final thing you can buy are “marriage papers and ring” (yes, yes I know). Which allow a ship to break the level cap of 99 and go up to 150. So the majority of real money purchases are time-saving or quality of life. Its a good way to do it. After playing for over a week I decided to throw some money at it, I’d been enjoying it and felt that it was worth it. I expanded my ship collection by 10 and unlocked an extra repair berth, it cost around ten quid due to a bonus you get for your first purchase. That’s probably all I’m going to spend on the game though (and there’s no pressure to do otherwise).
Oh, there’s also “Furniture”, you can decorate the main screen of the game (your admiralty office) with a number of different patterns and items. You buy them with furniture coins, which you can buy via real money or earn in-game. Some of the items cost a lot of furniture points but you get a fair few from doing expeditions, certainly I’d enough to remodel the office to my liking (though I do look forward to the day I can buy the 50K dragon wall patterns.)
I also havent mentioned PvP, because it’s basically non-existent. You can do five PvP battles every twelve hours against random opponents and you dont fight them just an AI controlled “ghost fleet” of their ships. I suppose you could compete via scores as there’s an in-game ranking (with periodic prizes), but really the game is a single-player experience.
So that’s my experience with the game so far (eight days in). I enjoy it and while entertaining the real-time aspects of it mean that generally individual play sessions wont take so long. The struggle to maintain efficiency (it was tough not to say buoyancy) is appealing and I imagine I’ll be playing the game for a while to come. My plan for the next week is work on getting all the ships on my levelling priority list to at least their first stage (Kai) remodel and then move on to looking at getting some to their second stage (Kai Ni) remodel.