July was a stellar month for TRPGs. I've already reviewed Arcadian Atlas, one great little entry into the subgenre, but a second game dropped that same week - Crimson Tactics: Rise of the White Banner. It speaks to the enduring influence of Final Fantasy Tactics that two highly anticipated pretenders would enter the market within a few days of each other.
Crimson Tactics brings a few new things to the table while still maintaining the complex storytelling and mechanics that we've come to expect from such games. But will that be enough to stand out in a market full of excellent TRPGs?
As with any TRPG worth its salt, Crimson Tactics begins with a kingdom on the brink due to intrigue and factionalism.
The king of Wendalle is dead, killed during a siege led by one of his own subjects - a duke backed by a belligerent foreign domain. Duke Rolfe, the royal assassin, attempts to claim the throne for himself, but no one in the peerage views him as legitimate and the nobility resists his rule. With that, the kingdom descends into a brutal civil war as the other dukes make their own plays for power.
Into this chaos comes Arlys, a novice knight of the Duchy of Swozalta. Recruited into a high order of knights, Arlys is tasked with maintaining internal order by any means necessary. But as he witnesses the brutality employed by his superiors and the duplicity of his own lord Duke Duran, he finds himself pulled into the cause of the White Banner, a band of rebellious knights seeking to protect the people of Swozalta against the Duke's cruelty. This is where the story begins, but as you'd imagine, it's not going to end anywhere close to here.
Crimson Tactics is yet another game drawing on the legacy of Final Fantasy Tactics(FFT), but it's maybe more influenced by the games of the Ogre Battle Saga. The story contains traces of those titles as well, especially Tactics Ogre and Ogre Battle 64.
Mechanically, Crimson Tactics is closer to a Tactics Ogre game. The most immediate difference is the large battlefield population - each side will usually field around ten units, far more than the five or so typical for FFT and similar games.
Each character has both a melee and ranged attack as well as a selection of special abilities. Those abilities are grouped into two categories, each of which consumes a separate bar that starts empty and recovers slowly over the course of the fight. The MP bar is used to cast spells that must be equipped first and are locked based on element, while the TP bar is used for class-locked abilities. Add in the ability to make a double move by foregoing an attack, and the characters have a lot of options.
One of the more novel features in Crimson Tactics is the ability to give characters mounts. Mounted characters gain additional combat options based on the mount and must be dismounted before they can be attacked directly, effectively giving the character a second health bar. The drawback is that mounted characters take up several spaces, making them harder to position tactically.
Positioning counts for a lot in Crimson Tactics. Even your frontline fighters can be fairly vulnerable, and the computer is savvy enough to focus on and surround characters to bring them down in a hurry. There is permadeath in Crimson Tactics, and a sage commander should be prepared to lose a unit or two in some of the harder battles.
One welcome addition - or rather revival - is the use of rotatable 3D maps. Most TRPGs since the original Final Fantasy Tactics have used 2D maps that, by necessity, are fixed in place. Crimson Tactics, meanwhile, is based around 3D assets which means that the player can spin the camera around the field of play. This may seem like a minor point, but it is actually a very useful tool (the better to spot enemies hiding in awkward spots) and has been sorely missed.
Overall, Crimson Tactics is yet another solid TRPG in a market that's growing all the time. How it stacks up against similar games is going to come down to personal preference. Crimson Tactics is for people who appreciate the more purely strategic aspect of these games, whereas something like Arcadian Atlas is more for RPG fans who want something with a little more mechanical complexity. There's certainly room for both in this ever-growing subgenre.
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