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Game Analysis: The evolution of idle RPG systems

Jakub Remiar goes under the hood of Lilith Games AFK journey to share the improvements it makes in the idle RPG genre
Game Analysis: The evolution of idle RPG systems
  • “AFK Journey launched with great commercial success this year already passing $30 million on mobile”
  • “AFK Journey pushes the Idle RPG genre into its next evolution by simplifying its core features and clearing a lot of UI management and choices to make space for new features”

Lilith Games, the creators of AFK Arena, expanded upon the game's universe this year with a new title, AFK Journey. The game launched on March 28th and got off to a flying start, hitting $2 million in its debut week. 

So, what makes AFK Journey stand out among the crowd? Game design expert Jakub Remiar examines the game's features and systems to explore what was improved upon from AFK Arena and how it pushes Idle RPG to the next level.


AFK Journey launched with great commercial success this year, already passing $30 million on mobile. It was the long-awaited successor to AFK Arena from Lilith Games. Looking at its systems and UI structure, we can see radical improvements in streamlining the standard Idle RPG designs by making them more approachable, intuitive, and error-proof.

Let’s dive into the inventory system, which is one of the bigger innovations here, now covering multiple features and screens at once.

In the AFK arena, the inventory system was the main base for your characters as the game worked on 'Merge Gacha' progression.

Players would get multiple instances of the same hero, which they would then merge together into higher rarities. Later, they could also consume other heroes in the process, which ultimately led to this big, overloaded inventory.

On top of it, there was another issue that later became obvious. Getting completely new characters later in the game was not that flexible as they would need to consume a lot of resources to catch up with your main 'levelled party', leading to focusing only on the original party.

This was later solved with the introduction of a resonating crystal. It enabled the player to 'permanently' transfer the current level of his lowest character from his five strongest characters, his levelled party, to other new characters, who could then immediately join the fight if needed. As you can see, this requires a plethora of UI screens.

AFK Journey, on the other hand, integrates and smoothes all of these systems in just one simple feature called resonating hall. It is both the main character inventory, and also a resonating feature. You automatically need to select five characters, then the lowest of them, as previously determined by the level of all your other characters. Simple as that, no additional screen hoping, upgrading, unlocking etc.

These can also be switched on the fly, which greatly encourages theory crafting and engaging with the game’s elemental and obstacle systems, as the push to have more functional teams is much stronger than in the previous game. This also greatly helps with monetisation. 

This is later even more simplified once you reach level 240 on your characters. The resonance synergy feature is unlocked, which now simultaneously upgrades all characters with each level up. Your maximum level is determined by the number of Supreme+ characters you have, which again greatly translates into monetisation, as you need a lot of your characters at max rarity to increase this. 

The game also simplified the rarity upgrade system. Each character now tracks its own instances and can only be upgraded through its own duplicates with some additional currencies, which resulted in more streamlining as there is no need now for inventory tetris of other duplicate characters. 

There is also this 'error' proof limit as you have five characters, which you can only level up now, and you can’t get ten levels from each other. The game prohibits you from levelling a character more than ten levels from your lowest five.

This may sound restrictive, but in the end, it smoothes the early player funnel of the game, helping more inexperienced players avoid making bad choices by focusing on just a few characters instead of building a cohesive party. 

You may ask yourself now, but what about the items for these characters? If you can switch them on the fly, how do you then switch their items? In the previous game, AFK Arena, every character had its own inventory of six slots, with an overall gear inventory of all the unused items.

Again, this system required heavy UI screen hopping and management, which lowered the incentive to try different characters, as you would need to switch the gear on them.

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In AFK Journey, this is again nicely streamlined, where characters don’t have item slots on themselves; rather, your item inventory is already separated into six character class archetypes. This means that every character from the same archetype (tank, warrior, mage, etc.) automatically uses the one combination of six items you constantly level up in your archetype inventory of every class in the game. 

This also thematically sits in the resonating hall, which visually is really a hall, with your five chosen characters around the table and the stained glass behind them representing your class archetypes inventory. This way, the game goes to great lengths to support different team combinations for the player and unlocks a lot of experimentation during its varied modes progression.

The other interesting simplification that AFK Journey made was the main saga progression map. Before, in AFK Arena, it took the main menu screen, with the current map segment in the centre and heroes constantly fighting at the bottom.

Now, it is just one of the more prominent popup menus that, if clicked, shows a direct segment of a line with a nice animation of your heroes fighting. A real-world map is currently the centre of the screen, where the player has to go around the world to explore the story, secrets, puzzles and encounters.

This simplification again smoothly kept the original Idle game’s core feature, but it moved it into the background as it is not the centre of the game anymore, as there are much more impactful “interactive” features that drive the experience of the game. 

AFK Journey pushes the Idle RPG genre into its next evolution by simplifying its core features and clearing a lot of UI management and choices to make space for new features that it adds on top.

Features such as the world map experience with a rich interactive environment, fully narrated story, world bosses, puzzles and tactical encounters. WIth its amazing cross platform strategy, especially the fleshed out PC client, it continues to follow the examples of Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail as a AAA mobile game.

Edited by Paige Cook