By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), The Unexpected, Unqualified, Unrefined Lord
Kickstarter has gotten a bad rap lately in the gaming community. Too many broken promises. Too many under delivered projects. Yet with the triple A corporate world following closer and closer in tow to the same philosophy of the film industry, high quality titles outside the usual finely defined and monetarily successful genres are fast becoming legends of old. Thus crowd funded indie devs push on to bring their offbeat brand of magic to those dying for a change. And every once in a great while… that magic gets realized. Allow me to tell you of one such success story called Regalia: of Men and Monarchs, launching today on Steam.
Regalia: of Men and Monarchs is an odd bird. Grab a melting pot and throw in Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, Harvest Moon, League of Legends, The Banner Saga, mix thoroughly, and then serve chilled by an experienced D&D dungeon master and you just might end up with Regalia. It’s got just enough town and relationship building to keep you pushing for one more turn, and just enough mind meltingly difficult tactics gameplay to keep you up at night pondering how better you could utilize your squad. With an intense and never dull narrative to drag you into its whimsical world deep with lore and history without drowning you in a tidal wave of fictional facts.
Narrative and Visual Presentation
Kay, his sisters Gwendolyn and Elaine, and their forever loyal Retainer Griffin, are not your typical heroes. They’re more akin to gold diggers hoping to get rich off the discovery of their royal lineage. Yet when that same lineage finds them in a mountain of debt with a shady organization that’s all too happy to employ trolls a quarter the size of houses, Kay must rise to the occasion a Lord to rebuild his family’s tarnished name. Underdogs though they are, they still have a chance… mostly thanks to the fact that Griffin is one hell of a resilient bastard.
The narrative walks a fine line between satirical comedy and boy vs the world suspense drama. Utilizing an artstyle that feels like an improved Final Fantasy Tactics with a cultural theme that feels all too Ogre Battle in nature, they pull this presentation off flawlessly. Within a few hours of gameplay you will begin relating to the characters as you get sucked into a world that’s far more complex and nuanced than you imagined when first purchasing such a small time indie title.
As I hinted at in the melting pot analogy (which probably was lost on younger gamers that haven’t made their pilgrimage to the golden age of tactics gaming), Regalia gameplay is a bit all over the place. You find yourself under constant deadlines to get your ducks in a row before King “Duckling” Kay gets his head removed by debtors, angry citizens, and neighboring kingdoms. Your progress is tracked through a system of Kingdom Quests, benchmarks that mark your successes in a variety of gameplay areas.
This is a pretty cool system since it’s non-linear. You can rebuild Ascalia’s former glory through a variety of means from being a socialite to being a warlord. From being a master city planner to being a master crafter. Or hey, maybe fishing is the path to success? All seem to be valid routes to stave off Kay’s inevitable demise.
Dealing with Disgusting Peasants
Unwashed as the masses may be, the services they provide are paramount to your success. Learning their personalities is vital to building stronger relations with the huge cast of characters dwelling in your domain. These relations can net you sweet benefits from combat perks, to new purchasable equipment, and even a few other unexpected surprises. Granted, services rendered are often only as good as the facilities provided. A good king will recognize when his associates are held back by their town and sanction construction projects to remedy their plight. New buildings often unlock new stores or boons, while existing buildings can also be improved upon to strengthen these benefits. But like we’ve come to expect from so many years of browser city builders, the costs of construction aren’t cheap. That’s where exploration comes in.
Mapping the Great Unknown
All the elements of gameplay come together in a neat package once you leave the royal city walls. Kay and companions may set out in three directions leading to even more diverse paths as you explore each region and clear out the dangers that threaten them.
Dungeons and Dimwits
Exploration of a dungeon is a pretty lengthy process. Players are presented with a diagram containing nodes (instances) and locked connectors between them. Clearing nodes unlocks new paths within the dungeon, typically giving you freedom to choose the order of your adventure. Nodes consist of events, combat, and camps.
Events are D&D multiple choice scenarios that can play out in unpredictable ways based on your choices. Will you end up in a brawl, or talk your way to glory and gold? Read the context clues, expect the unexpected, and exercise a silver tongue and you just might walk away richer and stronger in no time.
Camps are rest stops that serve as both a save points and chances to improve relations with your crew.
Combat nodes are guaranteed tactics gameplay battles featuring a staggering variety of possible enemies, a plethora of victory conditions, and bonus masochistic challenges that… only offer you a chance at bonus treasure. Because if you are doing them to begin with, the designers already have you pegged as a person who likes mental trauma and disappointment. Even the base missions get pretty hairy at times. One particularly cool battle had me assassinating a Dwarven Officer deep within a base and then escaping with my whole squadron to an evac point before the legion of angry underlings could surround and dismantle me for it! Despite, being turn-based combat, Regalia battles are extremely fun and engaging. Let me explain why.
All the King’s Men
Each combat ally you recruit features a skillset akin to a moba character complete with longer cooldowns to balance stronger moves, character defining passives, and even an ultimate skill that costs Commander Points from a shared and highly limited team resource pool. Thankfully the characters all share the same experience bar so you don’t need to worry about utilizing characters in less than optimal situations just to keep them leveled up. As they level, you gain perk slots to assign boons you have unlocked through personal relationships, building construction, and even diplomacy! Stronger perk boons require multiple perk slots to assign, so there is quite a bit of strategy and personal flair involved in assigning perks to each unit of your squadron. For further customization, characters also have a weapon slot and two trinket slots to further define their roll in your team. Characters like Griffin and Levant can succeed as either tanks or melee wrecking balls depending on how you build them, so planning out your full team and synergy between them is key to success.
What’s more, you are limited to a set number of escorts on each exploration journey. Then this group can be further limited by a combat node’s requirement or optionally by the node’s challenges. Should a battle go poorly and a member of your team fall, they will be out of commission until you either enter a camp site, or crawl back home licking your wounds. Therefore, it takes repeated quality performances to completely clear all nodes in a dungeon before your team is too exhausted of escorts to continue further. Whether you get through one node or all of them, an exploration mission costs you a flat number of days, so it’s vital to make the most of each venture outside city walls. After all… time is ticking!
Legendary Combat Mechanics
While the entirety of the concept of Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs is novel, its the tactical combat system itself that sets it head and shoulders above really any competitors in the genre. Yes I’d say it even gives Fire Emblem a run for its money, so put your 3DS back in its drawer. Allow me to break down just why it’s so addicting, and challenging.
First off, the level designs are immaculate. Utilizing a variety of clutter, rivers, walls, and other obstacles, each providing line of sight blocks, you find yourself in an Xcom-esque environment. Characters can move, attack, and move again in any order so long as they have the movement points to do so, making it entirely possible to kite foes around corners or pop out of a fox hole to smack a fool before pulling your tank back to block key choke points. Oh did I say possible? I meant necessary. These are key tactics you will have to master VERY early in the game if you don’t want to put your ego on a shelf and settle for the “story” difficulty and tackle the game the way it’s meant to be played.
Every character gets one more per turn, and turn order is based on your initiation stat. That said, another important tactic is waiting. Having the highest initiation doesn’t force you to move first, it just gives you the option. Waiting will push your character one back in the turn order line, and you can literally have the fastest character on the map wait to move last should it fit your strategy, with no inherent penalty for doing so. Attacking costs no resources except for cooldowns, which are your most important resource of all…. with the exception of those Commander Points which can be spent to either allow a character to move twice in one turn, or to use an ultimate (all ultimates cost two points, and you roughly gain a Commander point every 3 or so turns, so learning when and how to use ultimates is key to success).
What brings this all together is the moba feel of not just your player heroes, but the widely diverse cast of opponents you run into. From sneaky Middle Eastern gnomes, to Japanese zealotic dwarves, to Praise the Sun spoofing evil hunting knights, to viking satyr amazonians… every character brings a truly unique and truly challenging mechanic with them to deal with that will force you to think very carefully how to approach any situation. This isn’t your simple surround and beat down tactics game. Moving your character into a bad situation, even at full health, can be the end of them in a single turn!
There’s no Healing! Pray to RNGesus for Salvation!
Perhaps the most interesting mechanic of all however is the complete lack of healing, outside of consumable and very pricey potions. Instead you are forced to use a variety of skills or the wait system to build up shields to protect your precious hit points as well as you can. And yes, your foes will be just as active if not more so than your own units building up their own shields as well. Plus… enemies tend to fight dirty! Many foes pack true damage attacks that completely ignore shields, so you can add that to your laundry list of concerns to worry about in combat! Of course little duckling Kay isn’t by any means the big bad that tears through enemy lines unflinching. He’s actually your primary source of shields, making him essentially a king piece you must protect on the chess board at all costs to survive. I can’t express how awesome all these mechanics come together, and you really have to try it for yourself to get just how good it all works.
Regalia does so much right, that it pains me to point out that there are many minor affronts to my enjoyment. Surprisingly it isn’t tough to tackle matters like say AI or overarching game mechanics either, but just simple decision choices that I will say up front: they’re bad design choices. Shame on you developers!
First up is the elephant in the room: limited save locations. I can see not allowing saving in mid battle to reset every time a turn goes wrong, but you are limited to only saving in dungeon camps and the hometown castle itself. This isn’t the early 90s. Why do you not allow saving on the freaking world map? Honestly, this should be fixed within a week or Steam reviews are going to be all over this complaint. Old ass gamers, aka your target audience, don’t often have 90 to 120 minutes to sit down and play games just to reach the next save point. Give us more frequent save options or we will riot harder than the concerned citizens collective Unity!
These is compounded by the fact that I did once experience a crash to desktop during a battle. Thankfully only once and very early on in the game. But believe me it has me playing in fear knowing that it could happen again, perhaps at a time when I’ve been playing for over an hour without having been able to save. Please let us save more often so I can lower my blood pressure here!
Other than that, I truly have very little I can complain about. Occasional UI can get funky, especially when there are so many units on a map that the unit list starts overlapping my character’s skill menu. Or when I can’t cast a spell because line of sight is blocking it, but the particular space blocking that line of sight is hard to tell. Maybe change the line of sight block indicator that’s actually hindering the attack to a different color so I’m aware of what space I need to avoid. That’s honestly pretty much it!
Conclusion: Great (4/5)
All in all, Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs is a true gem of the indie scene. Easily the most fun tactics game I’ve picked up in the past year, and at a fraction of the price of what the big shot developers would charge for such a masterpiece. The narrative, world building, character personalities, combat mechanics, and RPG progression system all come together in such a neatly woven fabric that it pains me knowing how little attention the game has received leading up to launch.
I honestly would recommend anyone that longs for the golden days of tactics gaming to grab this game and sit on it for a week or two. My experience with the review copy left me feeling like the game was maybe a month or two rushed to launch, with minor bugs like UI, double wording in text, or incomplete obscure dialog boxes popping up from time to time. The core of the game is absolutely amazing though, and I see with the pressure of reviews now coming in that these side issues will likely be addressed and patched before the end of May. Once those post-launch patches roll out though, Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs will absolutely be a game you want in your library. Your tactics gaming hipster cred depends on it!
Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs Review Gallery