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VORTEX is a "competitive RPG", designed around player-vs-player combat with RPG gameplay and elements of the umbrella and fighting genre. Each player picks three characters from the roster to form a team, then goes head to head against another player over the internet or through local play.
Each playable character is unique, having a full set of skills exclusive to them. In addition, each character has three "Skills", passive effects with possibly tide-turning abilities. Only one of the three Skills can be equipped per character, so some strategy is required to figure out your ideal team.
True to the RPG genre, VORTEX contains a leveling system. However, due to the competitive nature of the game, levels are not actually saved to the character. Instead, a mechanic known as the Gain System is used. All characters begin a match at LV 1, and at the end of every turn, everyone alive earns a Token, which raises them to the next LV. When a character increases their LV, their stats increase; the amount by which a stat increases is referred to as their stat Gain. In addition, reaching a certain LV unlocks new parts of a character's moveset.
Various pick-ups known as Equipment can be discovered by playing various solo modes such as Dungeon Crawl and The Coliseum. Much like Super Smash Bros. 4, characters can be equipped with certain pieces of equipment that match their character (for instance, Phosphora is incapable of equipping Armor defensive equipment as she lack armor normally, but can equip Scarf defensive equipment), though it acts similarly to Xenoblade Chronicles or other RPGs, with specific slots for offensive, defensive, and accessory equipment.
Other forms of customization include Skills (which are only chosen before entering a mode or a battle in Vs. Mode), Trio Pieces (the effect of the character's attack in a Trio Attack), and Souls. Souls are spirits of other playable characters, which enable a character to use low-level abilities of another character.
The primary mode of the game, Battle is a player-on-player mode. Each player secretly selects three team members as well as one skill each, then duke it out in an arena based on one of the represented series. While characters are stationary like in a normal turn-based RPG, some environmental effects may occur depending on the arena and what the circumstances are.
Dungeon Crawl is the main 1-player mode, akin to the Classic mode of the Smash Bros. series. Players pick a three-person team, load them with equipment, and send them into a 5-layer 3D top-down dungeon, which is randomly generated.
Each floor is themed after a different franchise, and has enemies from each series on it. Unlike Battle mode, characters retain all gathered LV Tokens between battles, letting characters become far stronger than normal. At the end of the final floor, the party has to deal with a boss fight from the series that the final floor represents. If the boss is beaten, then the mode is cleared and the player is awarded with ALTs of the characters in the party.
Enemies and bosses drop equipment that can be applied to characters in the customization menu, and it can also be found in hidden chests around the dungeon.
Event mode lists a series of "events", which are scenarios from represented franchises. These pit predetermined characters against predetermined opponents or bosses, often with predetermined skills or other methods of altering the game for added challenge. The player must ensure that the event goes the same as the actual scenario, and follow the event's rules as opposed to simply beating the enemy normally.
Quest mode is the final main mode, acting as the game's Subspace Emissary-style story mode. It is played similarly to Dungeon Crawl, but is far, far longer, and characters, skills, and equipment can be swapped from a constantly increasing list of unlocked content. In addition, the dungeons are not randomized and are permanently stable, and saving is allowed so that the player may take breaks.
Quest mode is the primary place to unlock new content, including equipment, arenas, and even fighters. It is also the only mode to contain a large amount of original content.