May 20, 2024
Redemption Reapers offers a simple and focussed SRPG from the makers of Ender Lilies. Is it essential or lost in the thousands of fantasy titles out there? The Finger Guns review:

Redemption Reapers is a new strategy RPG from Adglobe involving Fire Emblem series director Masayuki Horikawa. It takes a more grimdark western fantasy genre approach than anything Fire Emblem’s ever done, but is very recognisable in its top-down isometric grid-based tactics presentation. The story keeps its ambitions in check – instead of a world-spanning epic, this is a tale of one team of jaded mercenaries trying to stop their nation being overrun by monstrous hordes.

This tight focus is everywhere; one small team of Ashen Hawks to command and engage with; no permadeath (although death takes a unit out of that battle), no random allies, only a small number of skills and moves to learn. What can often be a complex and tough genre to step into is made relatively welcoming to newcomers. But is it worth your time investment?

What starts off as a promising focussed story about a band of mercenaries quickly becomes lost in tired tropes and a dull generic campaign that squanders what it does well.

The Ashen Hawk Brigade of mercenaries were some of the only capable survivors when the relentless hordes of Mort (read, Orcs) descended on the realms of men. Known previously as the Faithless Reapers, they have a suitably horrendous past, as mercenaries often do, including a particular incident that earned them the name. Now they are all that stand between the hordes and the survival of the nation’s town and village folk. Can a motley brigade of jaded killers be redeemed by saving a nation?

The team consists of five mercs; Sarah, the naïve dagger wielder with guilt over her past, Glenn the rugged honorable swordsman, and Lugh, a spearman with a nonchalant attitude that boils down to just wanting to kill things. You’re soon joined by Urs, a huge burly tank-like man with a two-handed axe, and Karren, a feisty female archer. Having a small story about a squad’s movements should have allowed time for all five leads to shine. Instead, they are barely explored.

Redemption Reapers gives them names and some character and then barely explores or reveals anything about them. Even when there are small payoffs, such as eventually finding out what happened in the team’s past, it’s not all that interesting and barely makes any dent on their characters. They learn nothing, and it’s like the arc happened off-screen before the game began. The team don’t manage to exude the anti-hero vibe that it feels like the writers were going for.

Redemption Reapers has a bit of a Square Enix throwaway feel to it – like it’s the grid-based grimdark tactics experiment, where Diofield Chronicle was the political real-time tactics cousin. It has that same feel – somewhere between belts on costumes where no belts need to be, and the minutiae of reasons to move forces around a map. The trouble with the comparison is that Diofield had a complex political narrative, memorably unhinged characters, and machinations that Reapers never even attempts. You barely even get answers to simple things like where did the Mort come from, or what’s their purpose.

In between each skirmish is often a cinematic exposition sequence which is a little stilted but generally plays okay, and a few more visual-novel-type conversations placing characters on either side of the screen over the combat map. These feel even more stilted and only add to the forgettable feel of the campaign.

Turn-based tactics battles in Redemption Reapers take place on an isometric grid. You can move your characters freely within their movement range, before choosing a spot to stop and take action or end your turn. That probably sounds terribly ponderous, but Redemption Reapers is able to be pretty fast-paced and allow for quick movements.

As with many modern tactics games, there is an emphasis on counterattacking and placing your party members where they can get in a second hit. Last year, Triangle Strategy made this work incredibly well, and the same idea is presented here with a little extra timing-based prompt to execute your attacks. Your allies can attack from the left, right and behind if they are all positioned accordingly beforehand.

It allows for nice strategic play involving teasing out opponents and then double or triple hitting them before they can counterattack. Your squad also often gets chance to use up the last of their movement range after an attack, allowing for useful re-placement to get the next counter.

When attacking, you can mark enemies which highlights their full movement and attack range, allowing you to easily stay out of it without having to check constantly. You’ll receive useful information about how much damage you’ll do, but the HUD that comes up is not terribly easy to read or use.

Skills and attacks cost AP, of which you have a finite (usually one-attack) amount per turn. You can gain some back by doing nothing one turn, giving you the AP needed for one of the big moves next time. One hampering system is weapon durability – each weapon has some 20-50 attacks it can manage before it’s no longer useable, but this only really matters in battle – you can repair them outside of battle, and carry multiple weapons on each unit.

It’s an RPG and you will earn EXP in battle, but you also build up an extra pooled EXP pot. I like to think of this as the top-up. When I reached the prep screen in between skirmishes, perhaps I’d find a character only needed a few more points to reach the next level – I’d use the pooled EXP for this purpose, never using it up completely, just bringing characters I could up another level. It’s a very small pot most of the time, but just an interesting system you don’t see often.

Redemption Reapers tries to solve the age-old tactics game issue of grinding levels by having a Skirmish mode, effectively replaying any map and combat encounter you’ve already beaten. However, skirmishes are rendered useless for farming EXP and levelling as defeating any enemy lower than you gains you barely any EXP. Skirmishes are more useful to earn items to sell for money to pay to repair your weapons. Even as I write this out you can see the issue – why not just have neither system? Without the weapon durability problem, the skirmishes would be pointless. Either make it possible to earn EXP at a good enough rate, or take away weapon repairing – don’t pad out the game with weapon durability, that then needs constant secondary battles to mitigate, artificially extending the game. There are already some 30 story missions, it’s not necessary.

It feels restrictive in a modern tactics title not to have control of the camera at all. There is one single angle and that is it – not even four compass points, just the one. On the other hand, some systems are superfluous; There’s a basically pointless system of item management between characters – if one opened a chest and got a weapon, they are now holding that weapon. Each type can only be equipped by one squad member, so there’s just a whole extra step of trading it to that character, instead of just having pooled item screens.

You are joined by a few ancillary characters on some missions – these are uncontrollable AI ally units, moving independently on their own ancillary phase or turn, something you rarely see in tactics games where placement is so crucial. They either drive you into conflict, running straight into enemy groups, screwing with slow tactical gameplay where you might try to coax enemies towards you one at a time, or they hide behind you, making them completely pointless.

When things are still, graphics can look satisfactory. Detailed character models with nice costumes, they’re certainly passable for the last generation. However the animation, especially in areas where close-up detail is needed, is just not there. Lip-syncing is non-existent, same with any real facial expression to go with the angsty voice work. You won’t be finding nuanced facial motion capture here – they look closer to Thunderbird puppets moving their lower lip and nothing else.

The music in Redemption Reapers is surprisingly good – like the quality of it will catch you off guard. It’s used to great effect in cinematics, over titles and menus and even in incidentals, or repeating during play. It’s full of nice resonant bells, strings, and wind instruments and gives Redemption Reapers a bit of identity.

Voice work is also really great throughout. Despite the aforementioned awful lip-syncing, the actual dialogue is delivered as convincingly as I can imagine it could be, with a bit of nuance and drama thrown in. There’s voice talent from 13 Sentinels, Nier Automata, Persona 5, Fire Emblem and Trails games, which are all from the top tier of JRPG quality. It’s a shame that they have so little to work with here.

I think simplicity and focus are Redemption Reapers strengths, but also its weaknesses. It is not an overly bloated or complex SRPG to sink a hundred hours into; it’s more focused than that. It follows a single squad in a single fight against a simple enemy, and it still manages to get bogged down in dull generic narrative. Its systems have a visible limit to them rather than sighting off towards some nebulous end-game, but the maps can feel overly simple and graphics at least a generation behind.

But I also appreciated some of the focus on simpler systems. It allowed me to enjoy playing, rather than having to work to understand a dozen systems. Where I felt less satisfied with the focus was the story. With the thousands of fantasy titles out there, Redemption Reapers hasn’t done near enough to differentiate itself from the hordes. It starts out with the right intentions – named characters and a real plight – but then never explores them or gives them an interesting plot to show their flaws.

I would have liked a hub area like in Midnight Suns, somewhere to talk to my team, learn more about the characters, the Mort, and a deeper story, and to do all the prep work that’s done on a few dull menu screens.

Redemption Reapers is a passable strategy RPG with a focus on tight squad-based tactics that’s probably too simple for genre veterans. Its campaign is disappointingly dull and does nothing to pull your attention away from its forgettable squad and stilted animations.

Redemption Reapers is out now on PlayStation 4 (review platform), Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.

Developer: Adglobe
Publisher: Binary Haze Interactive

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.

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