Life in the pandemic has had one notable bright spot for me, which was coming across the Korean boy band BTS via their first English language single and becoming a fan. I'm not ashamed to admit that the group's carefully manufactured pop music, slick choreography and dance moves, and endearing personalities have won me over and their videos and music, of which there seems to be an endless supply, have helped while away some otherwise dull hours stuck at home.

Pretty soon after I started getting into them, the group released their second smartphone video game, so of course I had to check out their first one, released about a year and half ago and entitled BTS World. As I've come to expect from the band, the game isn't just a quick cash grab. It definitely has all the trapping of a mobile game, including a stamina system and a core gacha system (where you spend gems to roll for character cards ranging from 1 to 5 stars in value), but the story mode is extensive.

In the story mode you travel back in time and take on the role of the burgeoning group's manager, and although it's easy to blow through the early chapters, it doesn't take too long to get into the real gameplay loop. The chapters have stages that alternate between a bit of story and a part where you select cards to fulfill a minimum score in some combination of the four color-coded attribute categories (passion, heart, mind, and something green, I forget what it stands for, but it doesn't really matter). Each card you get from a gacha roll has some maximum upgradeable value of all four categories, so there is some minor strategy involved in choosing which of your cards to level up and upgrade, and you can also take on "agency" training to try to cover some of your gaps in your roster of cards. Padding out the experience are an in-game mobile phone where you have cute interactions where the group members "text you" or "call you" (complete with audio recordings) and respond to your social media posts or make their own posts, and you can also earn, roll for, or buy using real currency clothes to dress the band members up in. It's surprising how much game-specific content the group has recorded and photographed, including quite a lot of fully acted video sequences, and it really does enhance the experience. On top of all of this, for die-hard fans who have already played through all of the main story mode, there are additional side stories for each character that limit you to only using the cards of that specific character, and you also have to have levelled up your relationship with that character high enough.

It doesn't take much time to run through the daily missions every day, and after a few months of logging in every day I've built up a decent range of cards without too much effort, although I still don't have that many 5* (the highest rarity). I haven't dropped a dime (or a won) on the game, and I don't really plan to, but I haven't hit a brick wall yet in terms of making progress. There are regular special events that involve new cards and outfits, but I haven't really paid much attention to them. I don't feel any need to "collect 'em all" when it comes to all the cards, so I'm pretty safe from any potential dangers of spending too much real money on the game. At this point it's definitely going to take me a long time to get through the rest of the story mode at the snail's pace that I'm going, but I'm not really in any rush. Overall this is a solid mobile title for fans of the band, although it's not going to set the rest of the world on fire in terms of any gaming innovations.


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