As I was meeting my perspective colleagues for my first job in the enthusiast press, lo so many years ago (2006!), they of course asked me about my favorite games. I had three answers: X-Wing, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, and Final Fantasy Tactics.
Tactics came out in 1998 in the United States, and Square Enix hasn’t touched it since 2007. Meanwhile, we’ve had lots of fantastic strategy role-playing franchises, like Disgaea, Fire Emblem, and Tactics Ogre, along with a number of indie riffs on the concept (such as Fell Seal: Arbiter of Fate). But none of them have given me that same feeling (though Fell Seal comes close).
The most recent SRPG of this ilk is Fae Tactics, which is coming out July 31 on PC. It’s from developer Endlessfluff Games (love that name!), and Humble Bundle is publishing it. I’ve been playing it since Wednesday, and I’m digging its take on SRPGs — one that is giving me that good-ol’ Final Fantasy Tactics feeling.
You play as Peony, a young human mage. She’s cute and colorful, much like the rest of Fae Tactics’ cast. Her first companions are a faithful pooch (his specialty is protecting your units from attacks) and an adorable birdie (she heals and uses water-based attacks). The soundtrack is catchy, like what you’d find in a number of fun indies that riff off JRPGs.
A few features stand out about Fae Tactics so far:
- You don’t have menus in combat! Yes, this is a departure from other SRPGs. When it’s a characters turn, you can see their available actions on a field in the top-right of the screen. You then decide to move, and when you get to that spot, you can perform an available action (or you can stay put and cast a spell, make an attack, etc., too, if you’re in position to do so). You choose your facing after an action, and even the grid glows in a manner akin to Final Fantasy Tactics when showing your range of movement (or for attacks, their area-of-effect, if any). You units can also perform combos when attacking the same unit.
- Peony is a mage, and she can summon animals and monsters at the beginning of combat. You have points (little orbs, really) that you spend on them, and as you defeat enemies, you can pick up cards that they drop in their wake to add them to you roster. It didn’t take long before I had added a mischievous gremlin to my stable (they like to steal things). The summons give your more units on the battlefield.
- Spell cards open up more magic for you. They have timers, not mana or other resources, so you need to plan when you use them and how long they’re be unavailable after you cast the spell. So far, they’re all elemental attacks, like a fireball spell. Element attacks are part of the battle system, so you should factor these into account as well as your characters’ abilities when putting together your formation before a combat begins.
So far, combat has been stimulating, if not that challenging. I imagine battles will get harder as I delve deeper into the story and encounter stronger adversaries. The music is a breezy bop, and the visuals are retro-gorgeous. I found myself playing for about 2 hours one night, and the cute and positive tone revitalized me (I don’t know about y’all, but the pandemic has sure sapped my spirits).
Even the early quests are cute — you’re looking for bike parts, but the shopkeeper tells you they’re having problems because of bandits. I can’t remember the last time I was looking for bike parts in an SRPG (though the game’s description, noting the tension between humankind and the fae, is an omen for more ominous happenings).
This is a welcome time for a game like Fae Tactics, and I hope I keep digging its world as I keep playing it over the next few weeks.
I miss my Suezo
Monster Rancher made its debut 23 years ago yesterday (that’s Friday, July 23, for y’all reading this after its publication). Now, I have a maddening tendency to avoid the popular stuff while finding something similar-yet-different. So while y’all were going ga-ga over Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon in the late ’90s and early 2000s, I was into Monster Rancher (and Spellfire, but we won’t speak about Dungeons & Dragons‘ ill-fated Magic competitor here).
What made Monster Rancher special is how you found monsters. You didn’t just look for them in the tall grass and throw a ball to catch them. No, you put CDs into your PlayStation console, and it would turn them into monsters. I loved this sense of discovery — you weren’t sure what you’d get from an R.E.M. disc or a Beatles album. I was also partial to the Suezos, the one-eyed group of Monster Rancher critters that reminded me of Beholders from D&D. The combat isn’t all that deep, certainly nothing like Pokémon. But I enjoyed raising my monsters, searching dungeons for items, and training my monsters for tournaments before they died of old age.
Tecmo published four main Monster Rancher games, with several spinoffs, a TV series, and a truly horrid mobile title. I maintain that Monster Rancher would still work these days — it could read screenshots and other files on your console and turn them into monsters. As someone pointed out to me on Twitter, an AI can make images into sounds, so why not digital monsters?
Sadly, I doubt Tecmo will ever make another console Monster Rancher. So I guess I’ll stick to the Poké Balls for now.
- Blightbound has an open beta this weekend on Steam. This is a multiplayer action-RPG from Romino Games and publisher Devolver Digital, and it has the feel of Golden Axe or one of those fun Dungeons & Dragons arcade brawlers with more RPG elements. Sadly, I’ve only been able to play one run so far — I keep having problems finding players whenever I try. But it appears this weekend will be a good time to check it out. Blightbound launches July 29 on Steam as an Early Access project.
- We’re getting a Suikoden successor. You can read about Eiyuden Chronicle in this week’s RetroBeat. I’m excited about this, as Suikoden is one of the best JRPG franchises ever created, even if Konami has been too foolish to revisit it in any capacity (including just charging a license fee for someone else to make one and publish it). Every time I think about Konami, I reach for the antacid on my desk.
The D20 Beat is GamesBeat managing editor Jason Wilson’s column on role-playing games. It usually runs every other week. It covers video games, the digital components of traditional tabletop RPGs, and the rise of RPG streaming. Drop me a line if you have any RPG news, insights, or memories to share … or just want to roll a digital D20 with me.