3/25/2023 0 Comments
Redemption Reapers Review
The strategy genre has been busy as hell lately, hasn't it?
I love these types of games so my release calendar has been PACKING the past 6 months.
Classics games Front Mission and Ogre Battle Tactics have just been re-released, Marvel Midnight Suns released to much acclaim, the Fire Emblem series just got a new entry in the form of Engage. We also got a sequel to the surprisingly amazing Mario+Rabbids. Not to mention the announcements of new Disgaea and Wargroove games coming too. With all these big well known titles dropping, you'd be forgiven for missing some of the smaller indie additions to the genre…
One of which is Redemption Reapers.
Set in a dark and dreary land, we join the story as a monstrous murderous horde sweeps through the countryside. Called the Mort by the locals, these creatures relentlessly slaughter the civilians, burn down every building they find, destroy food and water sources and then march on the next population centre to start again. No army or organization has been able to stand up to them so far, with all resistance being instantly crushed.
Until now that is…
A small group of mercenaries known as the Ashen Hawk Brigade have been having limited success, holding their own despite overwhelming odds, but even they think that unless something changes soon, they'll be fighting a losing battle.
This depressing and dark setting is a major theme in Redemption Reapers and its washed out dark visuals are mirrored by the sense of hopelessness expressed by the characters on their journey. You're always outnumbered in battle and the Mort are constantly trying to overwhelm your tiny team. One misstep, traveling one square too far, will aggro a whole horde and losing one member can easily mean losing the whole team.
It's a common occurrence to slowly pick your way across the map, successfully taking out single or pairs of enemies, only for a bad RNG outcome (or even worse, accidentally moving too far and attracting a huge group) to result in a team member getting surrounded. With that warrior gone, you're at a severe disadvantage and faced with a choice. Do you try to slog on, perhaps spending 20 minutes only to have your remaining members whittled down to nothing?
Or do you quit now and start over from the very beginning again?
With long missions, and opponents that are unforgiving and constant, you get a real sense of dread during battles (especially early into the game) and a feeling of accomplishment on victory. However this is balanced by a deep frustration when one simple missed move, a surprise critical attack or something else outside your control causes the whole battle to go sideways. With no ability to save during a mission, and no checkpoints or mid stage saves, the price of failure means a huge chunk of progress lost as you restart a 30 minute mission from the beginning again and again.
Which brings its own problems, as I found that Redemption Reapers didn't reward trying different tactics, and this goes double during the opening third of the experience. Instead it punished you severely if you didn't play extremely defensively. Now anyone who's even slightly familiar with the Tactical RPG genre will have a good grasp on the mechanics of combat with only a few details being slightly different. Like usual the members of your Ashen Hawk Brigade can take turns in any order, move a certain distance and use AP they've stored to attack, use special skills or defend themselves.
What's slightly different though, is the games reliance on counterattacks and combo moves. When the attacker does damage, the opponent then counterattacks automatically. This means any attack that doesn't kill the opponent will result in you also taking damage in return which, when you can only survive 2 or 3 hits in total, is not ideal.
The way to get around this?
Set up combo attacks.
By having your team members within striking range of an opponent when you attack, you can initiate an attack from them as well (via a quicktime event style button press) and do enough damage to hopefully finish the opponent off before they get their chance to counterattack.
Which is where playing defensively comes in. Enemies are spread across the maps, usually in groups of one or two, and won't move until you step into their movement range. This leads to you walking as close to a group as possible so they move towards you, but not close enough that they can reach you for an attack, before quickly moving your team into position around them to set up a combo move. Aggro too many enemies at once and you'll easily be overwhelmed.
In the early game this can, quite frankly, become a bit monotonous as your only option is to check each enemy’s movement range and to position one square further than they can move in a turn. It feels like this is the "way you're supposed to play" in these early sections but even with this in mind the design seems to work against you on occasion by doing things like teaming you up with an AI companion who runs around the map attracting attention and getting themselves killed.
The situation improves as the game progresses however. Life becomes less difficult and brutal as characters gain special skills, increase their stats and get better equipment. They can survive more attacks and things become a bit more forgiving but I fear that many would quit before getting through that initial opening slog.
At the conclusion of each battle we get a cutscene that advances forward the story however the narrative isn't particularly groundbreaking. The characters of the Ashen Hawk Brigade fall into the usual tropes, the gruff one, the snarky one, the wisecracker and the warrior with a heart of gold are all represented but, while decently done, won't break any new ground with veterans. The VAs do a reasonable job at breathing life into their roles though, the origin of the Mort and the dodgy past of the Brigade are slightly more interesting and serviceable but overall it's a predictable fantasy affair.
One area I really felt let down though was the after battle sections. Playing Three Houses, the recent Midnight Suns, the new Mario+ Rabbids game and more recently have really made me appreciate the downtime sections between combat levels and how they help split up the focus. It's where you can get side quests, build relationships and expand the story… But Redemption Reapers has none of that.
In between battles you get a simple menu screen where you can allocate skill points, equip weapons, trade with the merchant and read lore collected from the battlefield. Having this displayed as a hub area or camp, with the team spread around to talk too, would have felt like the bare minimum but would have been an improvement on the simple menu screen we actually get. Although, that said, if you ARE a combat only purist, here for the fights and the fights only, you might actually prefer to have no distractions between battles… So maybe it's a matter of taste?
The standout element, the thing most impressive about Redemption Reapers, is it's art. The opening cutscene is a great introduction to the games overall feel where everything is dark, moody, rain soaked and blood spattered. We see the Mort, whos orc style appearance looks ripped straight from Peter Jackson's Middle Earth movies, as they come across a group of humans and attack like a feral pack of dogs. Almost every mission begins or ends with a cutscene and it's hard not to be wowed by the overall style. It truly looked like a LOTRs experience in places and I found myself enjoying these scenes for the aesthetic, even when the story details were a little bit predictable.
This excellent art direction carries over into the game itself with character models, animations, backgrounds and interactive objects all coming together to create a cohesive dark depressing and oppressive aesthetic.
So as a turn based strategy title, Redemption Reapers is a pretty middling affair. The genre has been filled lately, with much more impressive AAA games releasing, so it's actually rather hard to imagine anyone but the diehard fans picking this up instead of going for one of them. The opening levels can be a brutal and frustrating experience but the combat, with it's focus on counters and placement, is different enough to perhaps carry players through till the game opens up and becomes more accessible. There is definitely satisfaction to be found in picking off enemies in small groups, eventually taking out a whole army, but it's equal to the frustration felt when you have to start over a 30 minute mission again because of a lucky hit.
Basically there are better strategy games out there, especially now, but veterans looking for a grim, dark and difficult experience might find enough here to entertain them.
*Note: A copy of the title was provided for the purposes of the review
FINAL SCORE: 6.5/10
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