In the world of Tahnra, the Empire of Veridia is a powerful nation in a volatile position. After a bloody Game of Thrones-style civil war of succession between the noble houses following the death of the emperor, a truce was brokered but the devastation was already wrought. Like most conflicts, it is the commoners who suffer while the wealthy go about their business as usual. Dissatisfied with the state of things, former war hero General Antares revolts against the new Empress and raises an army. As a promising new graduate from the military academy (I know: it’s a bit of a common trope) you are sent to put down the Antares Rebellion. Every time you think you know where the story is going, a sweet plot twist fires it off in another direction. Without giving anything away, it was definitely one of the better stories I’ve seen in a while. I’m going to dive in a bit deeper so here is your spoiler warning!
The main thing I appreciate about the story is how it isn’t afraid to take its time but doesn’t drag things out to the point where it gets boring. After spending a few chapters putting down the rebellion, Lindly (the default name for the player’s character) is promptly framed for the murder of the Empress and thrown in jail for treason by the power-hungry prime minister who has dreams of becoming the emperor himself. This is where the plot thickens. After being rescued by a roguish thief Stefan and the leader of the Donari temple paladins, Diana, you realize there is a deeper shadow spreading across the land. Donari is a religion long fading from eminence. A thousand years ago, a demonic figure named Zanatus nearly conquered the world until the Avatar of Donar and four other heroes imbued with the power of the Nephilim managed to strike him through the heart with the holy sword Lightfury in a climactic final battle. Fast forward to now: these events are forgotten by most and regarded as a myth. Donar still has faithful practitioners but they are few. It turns out that Zanatus has a secret cult operating from the shadows and its membership is comprised of powerful and influential people, including the shady prime minister. After jail-breaking Lindly, Diana gives her a crash course in this secret shadow war and while she is skeptical about the whole thing, Lindly agrees that the prime minister must be stopped before the whole country is ravaged by war once again. Pegged as a traitor, Lindly and the gang spend the next chunk of chapters engaging in warfare and seeking alliances with the other nobles until she eventually holds off a massive attack while Diana and her friends escape. In a crazy scene, Lindly is then publicly executed, the prime minister consolidates his power to become emperor, and then there is a two-year time jump and you spend the next few chapters playing as the forces of evil subjugating the remaining opposition and Donar worshippers. Cool as hell, right? It’s a gutsy move that I don’t recall many games trying to pull off, and believe it or not: it gets cooler. Years after the execution you play as Diana, the last remaining templar as she is trying to find a way to save everyone and fight back against the empire and the cult. You spend the next bleak chapters of the game fighting a losing battle while chasing down clues found in the lost hidden pages of the prophecy. After fighting through imperial forces to get to the cold mountaintop where Donar struck the last blow against Zanatus, Diana succumbs to the cold and her injuries while a heartbroken Stefan sits down beside her as they are surrounded by imperials. That’s when Lindly blasts down from the heavens, strikes down the soldiers and revives Diana. Lindly has become the Avatar of Donar and bestows up Stefan and Diana the powers of the old Nephilim heroes. I don’t want to give the entire story away, even here in a spoiler section so you’ll have to see for yourself. As if the combat wasn’t good enough, the story managed to keep me fully engaged every step of the way and that isn’t something I can say too often these days.
When people see a retro-looking turn-based SRPG like Symphony of War, the incoming Fire Emblem comparisons are inevitable. While they are quite similar, one main difference is the use of squads instead of individual units, which makes the battles feel much more epic in scope. A leader forms a squad with up to a maximum of eight other units. The leader stat of your squad’s leader determines their total capacity, so the higher the capacity, the more units you can assign to the squad. Most characters that join your army come with their own squad but you can change out the individual units as you please. Some battles allow you to deploy up to fifteen squads and the game allows you to keep a roster of up to two hundred units, so it’s a good idea to fill up your ranks by hiring units at the marketplace between chapters. Squad makeup is an important factor. When squads face off against each other, you don’t get to target specific units: the type and area of attacks depend on the class of the unit. The giant sword-wielding Zweihander class hits the whole front row of units, while archers shoot a volley of arrows at random targets. The thief/assassin types initiate a stealth attack on back row units unless the enemy squad is the one who initiated the battle. When organizing a squad typically you would want to place your most vulnerable units away from the front row. Certain classes provide cover for the squad members behind them when placed up front, providing them with a defensive bonus if any attacks manage to slip by them. When picking a fight you also need to consider your unit’s weaknesses. Crossbowmen and gunners bypass a large amount of armor, making your heavily-armored classes a prime target, but sentinels come with special protection against gunners, so they’re a good counter. Mounted units can speed around the map but they are especially weak against pike users. You get the idea.
Morale and threat levels are two intertwined mechanics that should be taken into account when planning your turns. The higher your threat level, the more likely an enemy will bypass you and go for an easier target. After squads exchange blows, the winner of the skirmish is determined by who dealt more damage (assuming there are survivors). The loser suffers a penalty to morale. If you come across a squad with low morale, you can engage them with the “force surrender” tactic. The higher your moral and threat level, the better chance you have to cause them to surrender, removing the squad from the field of battle without a struggle. As a nice bonus, your squad still gains experience points and you automatically ransom off surrendered units at the end of the chapter for gold. If you fail the surrender check, however, the enemy gets the first strike on your squad. The benefits of forcing surrender are huge so it’s something you will want to make a staple in your strategies.
The maps don’t serve as a simple background to fight your battles on; there is plenty of stuff to interact with and take into account when playing. First are the structures. A lot of maps feature a home base and an enemy base. You need to defeat the enemy defending the base and seize it to win, and if an enemy seizes your base, it’s game over. Simple stuff. There are also treasure chests lying about, just waiting for you to mercilessly plunder them. You will usually find stables and various mines dotting the map: seizing those grants you material required for advancing certain classes and are of the utmost importance, make sure you capture every single one. If you come across a Donari temple, you can plop a unit there and pay a fee to revive fallen units in their squad or refresh the amount of out-of-battle heals they can use. There are often random town buildings around that you can seize but they don’t offer much besides a little faction experience. Fancy a break from the heat of battle to do a bit of shopping? Sometimes you will see a bazaar tent. The items and mercs here are much rarer than the marketplace you visit between chapters so it is worth it to make a pit stop. If it’s a tactical advantage you want, then you will want to be on the lookout for special terrain. For example, forests can be used to pull off an ambush on the enemy squad, plus the forest offers a defense boost against archers. Conversely, if you’re an archer squad and you want to better put a pin in someone, walls are your best bet. Being on top of a wall grants you a bonus while making it impossible for melee units on the ground to attack you. Always take the high ground, Obi-Wan. Planning your advances is an integral part of staying alive.
In between each battle you will be able to organize your army, form new squads, and a few other things. At the market, you can snap up some new mercenaries in exchange for some cold, hard cash. You can also pick up some items and artifacts, which serve as an equipment type of deal to further bolster your squads with different bonuses. A squad can equip up to three artifacts at the cost of some capacity, with powerful artifacts taking on a higher cost. Leveling up your faction rank grants you valuable scrolls to spend in the tech tree. This is where you can get some serious buffs for your army. The benefits can range from granting bonus armor to your heavy units, increasing the potency of your dragon unit’s breath attacks, or even unlocking new classes like the powerful gunner and siege cannons. While all these things go a long way to customizing an army unique to you, they are nothing in comparison to the sheer amount of unit classes you have to play around with. There are around fifty different classes, give or take. Each base class has around three tiers and branches. It’s a bit hard to keep track of, to be honest. In addition to the experience they need to level up and increase their stats, each unit needs to max out their class points before being able to upgrade to a new class. The more advanced classes have other requirements before you can change into them, like needing certain materials or a specific stat value. If you manage to max out the class points of the final tier, you can use a special item called “proof of merit” to give them one final stat boost and give their armor a golden makeover. Being able to play around with squads and a huge variety of class customization is a huge selling point to me.
I’ve played a lot of tactical roleplaying games in my time and this one takes the cake. Sweet retro graphics; great soundtrack; awesome story beats; so much customization; and lastly, big battles that never feel long or clunky. What’s not to love? If you like tactical RPGS then slap this bad boy on the top of your priority list.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 9/10
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