Some games are tailor-made to tickle our nostalgia. As an RPG fan growing up in the 90s, I have a soft spot for SNES and PlayStation-era RPGs, which makes me an easy target for indie games that mimic the look and feel of the old favorites. Revenant Saga uses this method to draw in gamers like me, and while there’s nothing here remotely on the level of a Squaresoft or Enix game from Way Back When, it’s competent enough for its price and platform.
The plot walks a narrow line between fanfiction-caliber drivel and moderately engaging, dark storytelling. Our main character is Albert, a young man who recently lost his parents to a plague sweeping the land. When his best friend Anna’s parents are similarly stricken, Albert is determined to do what he can to cure them and to keep Anna from getting sick. Things take a surprising turn (or not so surprising, depending upon how much you choose to trust a character literally named Dr. Moreau), and suddenly Albert finds himself the host of a sarcastic and very hungry demon. The story tackles, somewhat clumsily, themes of religion and human experimentation. Concepts like blind faith and dedication are called into question, with Albert functioning as the naysayer to some of the others’ commitment to the church. The game wants us to take its story seriously, for the most part, which unfortunately is a task the game’s graphics do nothing to help us with.
The town and dungeon graphics in and of themselves are fine, considering this is a port of a two-year-old mobile game. Sprites are large and colorful, and the character portraits that display for main characters during dialog sequences are detailed and expressive. However, every character aside from the most important are the sort of old-school walk-in-place sprites we used to see in the NES era. This wouldn’t be so bad, if not for the fact that these sprites are so big, and their animation is exactly two frames repeating over and over. When the game asks you to feel sad about Anna’s parents’ illness, and she’s doing what appears to be a bizarre dance in place during the whole conversation, well, it really drags you out of the moment.
The battle graphics go full 3D, which, while smooth and colorful, are not animated well and actually create a strange continuity break from the rest of the game. I’m not a fan of mixing styles like this. If you want to go 2D, take it all the way. There’s nothing really gained from 3D battles here. No sweeping cameras, no dramatic angles. 2D battles in the vein of the SNES Final Fantasies would have been more than sufficient and would have maintained visual consistency.
The battles themselves don’t require a ton of thought. Playing on Normal mode (you can choose between three difficulty levels at any time), I never had much of a problem, or really, a reason to use anything beyond standard attacks. Some bosses and bigger enemies go down quicker with the use of magic spells, but it’s not necessary. The confusing story gives shaky justification to the fact that each of your characters can “transform” during battle, which gives them access to additional abilities and more strength, the downside being it’s impossible to heal while in that state. That being said, as with magic spells, transformation never felt very necessary. The battle system is full of missed opportunities like that, where engaging combat could have happened.
Just as the battles are full of unmet potential, the localization seems to be constantly at odds with itself. For every witty, well-composed line, there are two or three that feel like Google translated them. On rare occasions, it’s difficult to even follow scenes because the dialog is so clunky. And then, on occasion, I’d experience a moment that made me laugh out loud, or made me genuinely feel something, and I’d wonder how a localization like this happened. It’s not good and bad in equal measures; the bad outweighs the good. But I think it lands, barely, on the side of competence.
The music, meanwhile, checks all the old-school RPG boxes — battle themes, town theme, dungeon themes — but none of the tracks is particularly interesting. Average. On the plus side, none are particularly grating, either, so you won’t need to play on mute.
It’s clear this game began its life on mobile. Moving your character around on the screen should not be difficult, but the game resists diagonal movement, even though it technically allows it. A menu option that seems to have been an outlet for microtransactions is readily accessible, though you can’t buy the requisite RS points to purchase upgrades there — instead, you find them during gameplay. A little more polish to make this feel more like a native console game would have been appreciated.
For the low-cost, I don’t want to be too hard on Revenant Saga. It’s a mostly fleshed-out RPG that will take you a dozen hours or so to play through. There’s enough competence on display that I’m hopeful a future game from these developers could supercede it. In the meantime, if you’re susceptible to nostalgia bait, this is a worthy time waster.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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