This game could have been something special. I really think that. It feels like for every great decision that went into it, a poor one had to follow.

Let's start with combat. It's hard to hit the highs of the FFT series, and this game does a few things well. Characters feel distinct, and the TP system is really good, but character progression is barely existent. There are two systems ("promotions", which are linear and serve basically as a way to gate progress, and "weapon upgrades", which are resource sinks and allow a bit more agency) that pale in comparison to just leveling up your guys because the damage formulae are so reliant on level. That being said, the combat itself is pretty fun! There's a lot of emphasis on positioning and tactics that feels rewarding; the difficulty curve on Normal was wonderful for me and you never break the game over your knee. But the joy of these games to me is beating the engine at it's own game, and I never really felt like I got to do that: it didn't feel like any character customization mattered, since the overriding emphasis was just making sure folks were leveled up.

The plot and characters were solid. This game owes a lot to FFT and Tactics Ogre, and I think the bones of the setting are unimaginative but fun — you've got three nations with three different systems in a war over resources, hijinks ensue. Literally every single character in this game (besides a scant few, like Benedict) are stock stereotypes, and that doesn't hurt that much — you're never taken aback by the plot or the folks in it, but it feels competent and mature.

So, a good-not-great plot and fun-but-flawed combat. Why the low score?

Oh my god, the presentation. Even late into the game you are spending two hours in cutscenes for every hour playing the game. This would not be a problem if the plot was meaty and knotty and there was a lot to digest, but that's not the case — this is a pretty conventional situation. But for every single plot development, you are told the development five times — once in a cutscene, once in an epilogue to that cutscene, three times in optional cutscenes in other areas reacting to that development, etc. etc. It is unbearable.

I didn't touch on the game's main gimmick, which was the branching paths and various choices you had to make. I thought this worked well, even if it faded in terms of emphasis throughout the game (there weren't a lot of callbacks, though I did spend a good amount of time struggling over decisions I had to make.) It wasn't enough to carry the game, nor was it enough to get me excited about another playthrough to go through the paths that I missed.


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