Fae Tactics Review20 Aug 2020 0
Fae Tactics Review
Released 31 Jul 2020
Still images of Fae Tactics imply that it is looking to recapture the tactical charms of tactical RPGs of yore. Ogre Battle and Final Fantasy Tactics stalwarts should rest assured - the foundation of this game is the same shape and size of those classics. But the framework holds up a structure that cleverly reshapes some genre tropes without reinventing it.
As Peony, a human that can cast magic (read: a witch) your journey to find your lost mother is a pretty straightforward one, as far as protagonist storytelling is concerned. The overall story itself is pretty run-of-mill, but it is enhanced by a flavorful world full of bird people, spell-infused machinery, and a surprisingly deep, fairy-flavored take on the post-apocalypse.
I found that the many side characters, who often have their own problems that you can be recruited to help them with, were the strongest plot movers. They all served to better understand the world that Peony is navigating through, and how great, wide-spread disaster can put even the most morally well-adjusted people to the test.
For a game that looks so saccharine, Fae Tactics can get pretty dark. For every short story about cookie thieves, there's one about brutal racism or tribesmen selling out their kin to probably genocide just to survive. It’s not always done brilliantly or with much nuance, but it feels earnest and welcome. The dialogue doesn’t provide great poetic effect, but it's punchy and consistent and helps get the various personalities you meet over in an effective way.
You’ll spend the majority of your not talking time in combat. Battle plays out like most turn-based tactical affairs do, maneuvering units around a map, attacking enemies and supporting allies with the goal of killing everything that isn’t you. Fae Tactics is no different when you keep the description basic, but I can’t think of a game in the genre that has presented this tried and true formula in such a curious way.
Much of that is due to how unique the characters themselves feel. Every action you can take - waiting, assisting, or attacking - is a trigger for a particular ability. These are all different and specific to each character. Peony can turn people invisible with her assist, or can charge up her next attack so that it ricochets through multiple enemies on her next turn. Her trusty dog, Chico, can forgo attacking or assisting in order to mark a large zone where he’ll leap in front of any attacks attempting to target them.
Some of these abilities can be altered by various sorts of equipment that may add additional effects, but none of them can be outright changed. Each character often has a unique elemental profile as well, making them more or less effective against certain enemies. So the value of your units lies not only in their concrete stats, but the various mix of their relevant actions, passive abilities, and elemental advantages. They’re like Pokemon in that way.
Fae Tactics is also like Pokemon in that you will amass a catalogue of talismans from defeated enemies that will allow you to summon them as extra units in future combats. These units are less robust than your leader units, and their survival isn’t usually necessary to win any given challenge, but they add a sort of flexibility to party construction that becomes more and more necessary as you progress through the 30ish hours of main story and side missions. I really loved this feature, because it really helped me plug some obvious weaknesses in my early game squad. As I gained more leader units, these summoned monsters helped create alternative win conditions when I felt like my main squad wasn't going to be able to cut it alone.
I, of course, didn’t come to this breezy understanding of party dynamics the easy way. Most of my clever adjustments came after getting the crap beaten out of me by a new challenge with a factor I didn’t initially plan for. Many times, that was just a powerful enemy unit whose element I needed to respect, or whose attacks I needed to be better prepared to mitigate and defend against. Other times, it was adjusting my party make up to the best out of the terrain on the map. Luckily, at the beginning of every fight, you can scope out every bit of the battle ahead, from enemies to map layout, and adjust your party accordingly. No fog of war here. As map information is plentiful, I wish the many passive abilities and buffs told you what they did in a more accessible way. Giving allies Rage sounds good, but there's no way to learn what Rage does before just casting it on someone. I also very much wished I could place my units where I wanted them to go before the battle started.
I'd be remiss not to mention the maps themselves. Each one, for almost every battle, is unique and full of little elements that keep your tactical brain firing on all cylinders. They can be filled with passive things like mushrooms that expel poisonous spores every turn, or flip pads that launch anyone standing on them in a specific direction. Many have traps like bomb barrels or spikes that clever tacticians can use as weapons. One level later in the game is almost designed like a weird pinball table, complete with flippers that knock units around and bounce them off of things. These maps were so dynamic and lively that they often felt like a neutral combatant, and took some effort to out-think in their own right.
I found this focus on tactical choices in the face of lots of ambient threats to be pretty rewarding, but the customization options are extremely limited on a unit by unit basis. In fact, there aren't even many menus to sort through at all. Streamlining all of the book keeping that these games can get bogged down by really helped power me through the various challenges. Missions can take anywhere from 10 mins to a half an hour, and you don’t spend any of it digging to find the right ability or whatever. It’s that often mythical balance of being user friendly and approachable, while still being difficult and gratifying.
I can’t recommend Fae Tactics enough to those of you out there waiting for Square to take another longform stab at FFT. It may lack the abundance of micro managing you're used to, but the more straight on approach really puts the combat front and center, and I never missed upgrading menial unit equipment or cross classing or the like. Whether the trend catches or not, I can’t say, but don’t miss the truly fresh take on the classic formula.