Born to Rule
With my first steps in to adulthood, I did what any red-blooded geek would do. I spent my hard-earned money on video games, and felt pride that it was my own purchase. One of the first games I grabbed was Final Fantasy Tactics. At the time, I didn’t realize a tactical combat game could have such an in-depth story and well developed characters.
When it comes to tactical RPG games, there is a high bar for both quality and nostalgia that has been set. I always approach new games of this beloved genre with skepticism and suspicion, and they inevitably get compared with Final Fantasy Tactics. So when Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs came up for me to review, I already had some preexisting notions in mind. There are some places this game stumbles; some places it excels; and some places that it’s just okay. But one place where it stands out and can’t be matched is in its capacity to remain engaging without taking itself too seriously.
The creation of developer Pixilated Milk and published by Klabater it was released on Steam after a successful Kickstarter on May 18th, 2017. Retailing at the time of this review for $24.99 USD, this game is a comical romp through a world of high fantasy and twisted tropes. Be ready for lots of story and some really interesting choices on how characters gain in power. What ever I had expected going in, it was not the game that Regalia wound up being.
A Character Study
It has been a long time since I really felt empathy for a protagonist like I have for Kay. The reluctant head of his household, Kay inherits a crumbled ruin of an old great kingdom. He really has reservations about it, and at first flat out refuses – not in a typical whiny petulant way, but in the realistic way an ill-prepared person would react to having a great amount of responsibility thrust on them. Unfortunately, circumstances crop up forcing him to take over the kingdom, regardless of his own desires, and Kay, his two sisters, and his loyal bodyguard are forced to stick around and rebuild.
So, it honestly was the voice acting that grabbed me first. Having blown past their initial goal of 40k, the 70k stretch goal of professional English voice actors was met handily. The characters you meet are all really obvious send-ups to the standard caricatures you’ll find in fantasy games. There are a few interesting twists and turns, but if it wasn’t for the fact the voice acting really helps them stand out from their generic roots, some people may never have gotten to see the hidden depths of so many of the characters here.
Although there is a traditional level system, a big part of this game is learning about our ever growing band of misfits and the strange world they live in – and doing so is key to increasing the power of your characters. The really powerful upgraded abilities of your party are only available as you increase your friendships with them. Sometimes this is just spending a day with them, sometimes you need to carefully navigate a conversation and not offend them (or anyone else around you), and sometimes there is a quest involved.
As you level up your relationships with them, more skills and perks will unlock. The unlocked skills can then be applied to your characters and you can blithely drag your beloved friend into danger showing off the fruits of your recently forged bonds. What else are friends for? But it isn’t just your combat savvy companions that make use of this system. Everyone in town – from the local drunk to exotic merchant prince – make use of this mechanic. As you improve your relationship with them, rather than combat perks specific to one brave adventurer, you get new skills that are open to all your party, and you will unlock better quality goods and other interesting passive abilities.
The game is a comedy, no bones about it. So, if you are looking for a serious game – you may choose to give this one a pass. If you’re deathly allergic to fun or something, that is. But it’s humorous in a natural way – it’s not trying to hard to make the funny. When a game tries too hard you end up with offerings like Grotesque Tactics, so I appreciate the quality of the humour here.
But the humour sometimes gets paired with earnest sentimental moments, a dash of existential crisis, and some curious mystery and drama. A sizable amount which you can react to in your own idiom for Kay. While generally a decent – yet exhausted young lord – Kay has some rather harsh conversation options. But with time being of the essence, can you blame the guy if he is a bit testy?
A Date with Destiny
Time, that is the next big topic. And I run the risk of contradicting myself. In previous reviews, I’ve spoken poorly in regards to timers placed on a game. In general I feel they hamper my ability to explore, have fun, and really get to know a game’s characters. And I still stand by that – at first, I was remarkably apprehensive about the timer.
It was a strange bit of nostalgia that made me accept the timer, actually. I used to play my fair share of visual novels back in the day, and in the ones I played there was always a calendar or a reminder system that helped you keep track of what characters were where and who would be doing what so you could ultimately forge tighter bonds with them. [Editor’s Note: “Tighter bonds.” Right.] You had a set time limit, usually something like “Before the festival” or “By the end of your fourth year of school,” and before that time ran out you had to build up a proper level of friendship with people to get the ending you wanted.
It wasn’t long into Regalia that I noticed a calendar.
There it was, every single character you had in your social sphere and their week-long schedules. I instantly mellowed and fell in the familiar feeling of building friendships while managing other improvements to my character. Instead of GPA and social skills, I was focused on building a kingdom infrastructure, exploring the land around me, and honing my group with gear and new skills.
There are a lot of places to go and a lot of characters to interact with. It seemed like whenever I thought that I’d found the end of the colourful cast, a new zany misfit showed up on my doorstep. Each of them are well fleshed out, with interesting personalities, quirks, and stories. This is a game where the characters, including your protagonist, are the stars. Everything else really seems to take a back seat to them. Even the tactical combat, while solid, does not seem to have gotten the same in-depth treatment that the cast of the Regalia has.
Cogs in the Machine
The deadline focuses on Kingdom achievements, which are essentially ways to prove your legitimacy as a ruler. They’re gained by interacting with the various subsystems of the game, and you need to complete set amount of them before a particular calendar date, with the occasional chapter goal tossed in for good dramatic measure. These can range from the diplomatic system where you build a consensus between various parties to help them reach an agreement (which was woefully underused) to the fairly simple and standard fishing mini-game that helps you kill time while getting some usable gear for your party of violent thugs. While all these sub-systems affect gameplay, some affect it more than others.
The diplomacy system, which amounts to simply choosing to send a positive response to one faction or another, grants you items, perks, and eventually new characters. Each faction is paired with an opposing faction, so you will not be able to get all the diplomacy perks in one go. Achievement hunters may find this game consistently irritating given that choosing one path will block content. Irksome, but not a deal breaker for me.
Building your kingdom is much meatier and less restrictive. By the end of the game I was able to unlock all the buildings. That said, I did wind up skimping on spending money on gear. Being able to unlock all the buildings was mandatory for me, as some of the characters you meet are restricted in relationship growth unless you build an associated structure to a particular level.
Adventuring is the best way to get resources in Regalia. Resources are spent to improve buildings. These buildings in turn improve relationships with characters. These relationships allow for better powers and gear – which makes adventuring easier. All of these actions work together, and make you feel like you’re building toward something rather than being pulled in a million directions. The end goal is the same, but the way you got there was up to you.
And to laud it a bit more, if you’re over enthusiastic and accomplish more goals than you needed to before the deadline, the remainder carry over and count toward your next deadline. It’s nice to see a game not punish you for being ambitious or maybe just really wanting the barbarian feral lady and crazy rogue wizard to be your BFFs.
I absolutely love how exploring areas worked. Each area has several location nodes, which come in three varieties. Camping is the most straightforward; sometimes you’ll have a few random characters from the region at your camping area who you can talk with, and who can show you a bit more of the world’s lore. They also work as save points, and you can engage in fun conversations with your party members. I always love when games include interactions between various sidekick NPCs.
Combat is one of the other nodes, and while the combat is solid, the inability to rotate the battle map was continually frustrating. Sometimes landscape would make it hard to target a specific square, and I would often find myself guessing. This guesswork sometimes led to my defeat in a battle. Combat is varied; there are many victory conditions, and while it lacked elevation, the creatures were fun and the maps all suited the proper theme.
The best part of the dungeons is the most graphically lacking, however: Story points, where you have to flex your dusty brain and do some reading. These are interesting choose-your-own-adventure moments. You actually have to pay attention to who’s currently travelling with you, as sometimes your choices here can wind up making them mad and damaging your relationship with them. It’s a great system, and I wish there had been more moments like this. I mean, there were lots, I just was greedy for them by the end of the game.
One of the smallest issues I have is with the world map, which is colourful but hard to read. Even with a big exclamation mark sitting on important locations, it’s sometimes a pain to find out where you’re going – or even where you are, in some cases. An accidental click to the wrong node can seriously damage your carefully balanced time table.
And speaking of accidental clicks, I mistakenly skipped character development and plot scenes by mistake several times. It was frustrating, I always think there should be a confirmation to prevent the skipping of these important sequences. Particularly when you can’t save whenever you want.
Lord of All I Survey
In the end, Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs is a fun game, but it isn’t going to be for everyone. It is game that focuses on the plot rather than more in-depth combat or kingdom management systems. In my own opinion it allows a great deal of freedom of choice, play style, and would be worth at least a second play through to see some of the stuff you missed out on the first time. As I was putting together this review, the developers posted their intention to clean up a few things, including the map system. I really can not stress how obnoxious it was to be unable to clearly see where you were on the over world map. So, when they do some tweaks, I may revisit this one to spend some more time with the characters.
In the end, this game is a love letter to the fantasy RPG genre, one which, I will repeat, does not take itself seriously. And I loved it all the more for such irreverence.
Reviewed by Joshua Smith aka Old Man Mordaith
Edited by Jesse Roberts
This game was received free as a review copy.