Review: Redemption Reapers
Sometimes, it can be hard to decide how to approach a review, oneself having multiple perspectives on the subject of said review. A game might play well, but is that enough to call it good? It is this sort of internal struggle I find myself dealing with in today’s title, Redemption Reapers, released on February 22nd, 2023 for Switch, PS4/5 and PC, and developed by Adglobe and published by Binary Haze Interactive. It is a turn-based strategy RPG along the lines of the Fire Emblem series. Acutaly, it’s more than just along the lines of Fire Emblem, but… we’ll get to that in a bit (Be prepared, we’re going to be referencing this a lot). Now, let me take you on a little journey!
Redemption Reapers places you in command of a group of mercinaries known as the Ashen Hawk Brigade. In its dark fantasy world setting, an evil force of undead-like beings known as the Mort have been sweeping through the land, brutally decimating entire nations as they go. The Ashen Hawk Brigade makes it its mission to hold the Mort at bay and save as many lives as they can.
And really, that’s about it. Over the course of many missions from the start of the game, you visit a number of locations that all get wiped out with few or no survivors, and no matter how many Mort you eliminate, it doesn’t seem like the machine can be stopped. The story takes a long time to develop. Early on, for instance, the main party members often reference an incident that occurred two years before the events of this game, but provide no details on it, despite it seemingly being important. After nearly a dozen stages, you still know next to nothing about what happened and how it relates to the current situation. It often takes multiple missions in the same place before the story really advances at all.
After five levels or so, I was ready to write the story off as being more or less an excuse plot non-story. But a number of relatively decent cutscenes, which bookend each mission, prodded me to keep at it. Things got a little more interesting as I progressed, but with few other characters besides the party for quite some time, none of them really having a lot of personality or development, and the fact that the story develops at a snail’s pace makes it hard for me to say that it really contributes to the experience. And this is a rather significant problem in any sort of RPG type game. Across the Fire Emblem series strategy, the story, character development, and relationships are central to the experience and a big part of what many players of those games find to be enjoyable. Here though, it really leaves something to be desired.
Give me more information! While you can collect items along the way that provide quite a bit of lore, you can’t even read or see this information during the gameplay; you actually have to go back to the main menu to review the details on the “relics” you’ve collected. I shouldn’t still be wondering what’s going on 10+ hours in to a 20+ hour story based game.
Another, smaller-but-still-noticeable problem is the occasional dialogue choices. The game makes you think they’re going to matter, but they don’t. Should we stay, or should we run? Go for the enemy commander or wipe them all out? Regardless of your choice, Glenn, who is basically the party leader, makes the decision he’s going to make regardless of your input, meaning those choices may as well not exist.
The gameplay. It can literally be summed up in two words: Fire Emblem. More than just a tactical RPG, it straight up IS a Fire Emblem game without the Fire Emblem IP/brand. This is what I was talking about at the beginning when I said I was facing an internal struggle. It is almost too much like Fire Emblem.
The control. The gameplay loop. The overall design. The combat system. The AI behaviors. The item and inventory system. The progression system with its random stats on level-up (and the EXP system). The tactical grid (other than being rotated 45 degrees). The treasure chests on the map. Probably at least a dozen other things, all virtually identical to the Fire Emblem games.
Redemption Reapers has very little new or unique, or even slightly varied that you could say distinguishes itself or at least advances the genre. So I’m torn between reviewing it as a new game in the genre, and simply branding it as a straight rip-off to be avoided as potential plagiarism. Heck, even the pre-action screen which shows the stat comparisons between the player’s unit and the target and the likely damage results is 100% completely and perfectly copied from Fire Emblem. One of the few things that isn’t is defeated characters always return after a battle, which is something that later FE games offered as an option, but wasn’t standard for the series until recently.
If you pretend that the Fire Emblem franchise doesn’t exist, well, all the gameplay systems function and come together nicely. The production values on all of it are pretty good with some minor rough edges (like the super generic Times-esque font used for much of the text in the game). It is pretty fun to play, as long as you like tactical RPGs. Unlike that game series I keep bringing up, the cast you are in control of is relatively small so variety in your force (as well as the enemy forces) is relatively limited, but each character is distinct enough that you need to consider how each one will fit into your strategy.
The game does have a few mechanics that it can somewhat call its own, though even these still bear some similarity to other games. Every party member carries a healing draught item they can self-heal with. These are consumed, but automatically restocked for every battle, so you don’t need to buy or find them, or manage inventory space much. You can also find spirit veins on the map which. when used, will heal the user and grant them an additional use of their healing draught. When multiple characters are in range of an enemy, after one attacks, a quick-time action prompt appears giving you a chance to push a button to have the other characters join in the attack for free. It is still somewhat reminiscent of similar team-up mechanics in recent Fire Emblem titles, but I’ll give this one a pass since its execution is at least a bit different.
Looking at the game in a vacuum, my biggest gameplay gripe is the lack of mouse utilization in the game on PC. You would expect grid-based tactical RPGs to play really nicely with the mouse, but in Redemption Reapers the mouse is little more than the A and B buttons on a controller, though if you double click it will jump the game cursor to your location. You actually still use the WASD keys to move units and various other actions require key commands as well. What mouse input is available is shoe-horned in; it is 100% designed to be played with a controller.
Grit and Gloom
Anyone remember the brown age of gaming? The mid-to-late 2000s era when post-processing became a thing and lots of games were really over-using things like desaturation? It’s baaaaaack. This is one of the brownest games I’ve played in a while with few non-earthy colors to be seen. Granted, it does contribute well to the gloomy world the game takes place in, but I honestly don’t miss that era much.
Brown aside, the overall look of the visuals is good, with plenty of detail to the graphics and modeling. The game uses the actual character models in the dialog scenes instead of 2D graphics, which works better than I thought it would. The cutscenes are one of the better components of the game, at least in terms of the quality of the visuals and the execution. It’s just too bad the game is trying to tell a weak story in them.
On the audio front, the game offers a good experience with some enjoyable music tracks and sound, but there could definitely be more variety. You won’t have to play very far before you hear the same music repeated on a different mission, and the overall style of the different tracks could be more distinct. They all have that ‘battle against all odds’ vibe to them. While it makes sense, there really just needs to be more.
The cutscenes and characters in game are fully voiced, and the voice acting is… decent. The actors sound believable for the most part, but at times you really get that reading-from-a-script vibe because the level of emotion in the voices, while there, is kind of weak.
I really just can’t get past the sense that the team behind this game just ripped off the Fire Emblem franchise, except for all the charm and polish that made the series so good. It just feels like they looked at those games, took an Unreal Engine grid-based game template, and copied everything other than the characters and story.
The game itself is competently executed, and if I try really hard to ignore the rip-off side of things, I would call it a decent game. But even then it has some pretty significant flaws. So while I did derive some enjoyment from it, due to its rough edges (among other things) it’s really hard to recommend to anyone unless you’re a die-hard tactical RPG fan who doesn’t want to own a Nintendo system and/or doesn’t like the Fire Emblem or even the Final Fantasy Tactics IPs. Which is unfortunate, because I really wanted to be able to; there are not a lot of good games in this genre that are available on PC that I can simply name offhand.
~ Final Score: 5/10 ~
Review copy provided by Binary Haze Interactive for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Binary Haze Interactive.
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