Honest, Independent Fae Tactics Review

fae tactics

This is an honest Fae Tactics Review by Ryan Night from the independent, RPG focused website Bright Rock Media.

Fae Tactics is the newest game from Endless Fluff Games, the same studio responsible for the excellent RPG metroidvania, Valdis Story: Abyssal City. Unlike Valdis Story, Fae Tactics is a strategy RPG in the same vein as games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, Fire Emblem and the recently released indie sRPG Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark.

Since Fae Tactics is so similar to Fell Seal in terms of its audience, its budget and its scope, it begs direct comparison with Fell Seal, which is sure to come up from time to time throughout this review.

I should begin by saying that I’m a tremendous fan of sRPGs, and I’ve played a lot of them. I love this genre, and I was predisposed towards enjoying Fae Tactics given how impressed I was by Valdis Story. I definitely gave it a fair shake:

fae tactics review play time
103 hours is over 4 full days

Unfortunately, despite how excited I was to get my hands on this game, I was underwhelmed by Fae Tactics overall.

Gameplay – Fae Tactics Review

Fae Tactics features grid-based tactical gameplay that you’ll probably be familiar with if you’ve played any other strategy RPGs. It has a huge emphasis on elemental relationships, so you want to be sure that if you’re facing a lot of fire enemies, for example, you outfit your party to mostly consist of water-type allies.

You can have 3 main party members, referred to by the game as ‘leaders’, and then up to 3 summoned monsters whose summon cost can’t exceed the maximum mana you have allotted for summoning. For instance, you might have 5 mana allowed for summoning. You can summon a rank 3 monster and a rank 2 monster, a single rank 5 monster, or two rank 2 monsters and a rank 1 monster.

Each of your leader units can be customized to a degree by selecting one of three unique weapons for each leader, as well as allocating points into one of three stats.

fae tactics review menu

On the surface, this sounds like it has a fair amount of customization, but it actually brings me to my first major criticism of Fae Tactics. Customization is actually very lacking.

While you can choose which stats to put points into when characters level up, eventually you will max out every branch, making each character identical to any other player using the same characters. While you can choose 1 of 3 weapons for each character, with few exceptions, these weapon choices amount to little more than changing the character’s element or slightly tweaking their playstyle.

In comparison to Fell Seal, which took influence (i.e. shamelessly copied) from Final Fantasy Tactics’ renowned job system, Fae Tactics takes influence from a wide variety of colorful 90s sRPGs you almost certainly have never heard of. It has Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth vibes in terms of its element system and scope and Disgaea vibes in terms of its special abilities.

More than anything else it reminds me of an obscure sRPG from the early 2000s called Saiyuki: Journey West, based on the famous Chinese fable The Journey West. Saiyuki: Journey West has tons of similarities with Fae Tactics, from its cast of characters that includes several animals and… mystical animals, to its fairly lackluster customization options, to its forgettable story, to its colorful color palette.

fae tactics review saiyuki journey west
This is Saiyuki: Journey West

Are you familiar with Saiyuki: Journey West? Chances are, you’re not. And there’s a good reason for that. Saiyuki: Journey West was mediocre, and the fact that the DNA of Fae Tactics is so similar to it doesn’t bode well for the staying power of Fae Tactics.

Gameplay-wise, the customization systems are shallow. They don’t encourage multiple play-throughs. Your Peony in your first play-through is going to be 100% identical to your Peony in play-through number 2. The only reason you have to replay the game a second time is to collect additional weapons and hidden characters that are irritatingly missable on a first play-through if you’re not using a guide.

In battle, the game suffers from feeling repetitive. The enemy variety is good, and the elemental weaknesses give you some amount of incentive to swap out your party members and utilize the full cast of characters that’s supplied to you, but battles take a long time, are frequently presented in sets of 2-4 battles and just overall inspire a chore-like feeling of tediousness.

The worst offender of the tediousness in Fae Tactics is the boss fights. The game routinely presents bosses that have extreme amounts of health and end up being a battle of attrition. Will the boss slowly win after 20+ rounds of killing the same character over and over again, whittling down their death counter, or will you eventually take down their 12,000 health dealing 40 damage at a time over 3 mind-numbing hours?

Win or lose, you’re going to spend a long time on these fights. The absolute worst feeling you’ll have in Fae Tactics is when you spend over an hour (more likely over 2 hours) slowly whittling down a boss’s health only to have it kill one of your characters (which results in a game over) right before you win.

There’s a fast-forward setting, which is nice, but it’s not enough. The game not only needs a faster fast-forward, but also needs to take a good, hard look at just how long these fights take in general.

So in a nutshell, with regard to gameplay, the progression systems are shallow, the battles are somewhat tedious, and the actual strategy RPG gameplay is very boilerplate.

Art & Design – Fae Tactics Review

Let’s do sort of a compliment sandwich here. I was underwhelmed by the gameplay, but I quite enjoyed the art and design. I thought the cast of characters was very charming. The party has a lighthearted whimsical, adventure feeling evocative of PS1-era jRPGs like Breath of Fire 3, Disgaea and the aforementioned Saiyuki: Journey West.

fae tactics review screenshot

There is a lot of variety in the levels, even among levels reusing the same assets. For example, there may be multiple volcano-themed levels, but they’re all well-differentiated and feel varied.

All of the characters, summons and enemies are memorable, well-designed and expertly animated. While people may have stylistic preferences about their games (and, full disclosure, I prefer my games just slightly more ‘adult’ and I don’t particularly like pixel art style), I think anyone would be hardpressed to deny the sheer quality of the art and animation in Fae Tactics.

fae tactics review art

Music – Fae Tactics Review

The music, similarly, is pretty much bulletproof. If I have one single criticism of it, it takes a lot of influence from games like SaGa Frontier 2 and Wild ARMs, to the point where some tracks feel, uh, let’s charitably say remixed, but there are a hefty amount of wholly original tracks and, let’s face it, most people aren’t going to pick out those similarities and those that would most likely appreciate the homage.

FOR EXAMPLE, compare the SaGa Frontier 2 overworld song here to the Fae Tactics Smaragden area song here. Compare the Wild ARMs 3 Main Theme here to the Fae Tactics main theme here. Compare the Chrono Cross another world map theme here to the Fae Tactics wetlands map theme here.

I could probably do that with the entire soundtrack if I really wanted to. I mean, that said, though, if the soundtrack ultimately amounts to a very-similar-but-legally-distinct curation of some of the best OST tracks in jRPG history, I can get behind that.

Story – Fae Tactics Review

I feel bad about what I’m about to write in this section because the simplistic, barely-there, generic fantasy story in Valdis Story was one of my few complaints about that game and Endless Fluff certainly tried to address that criticism here.

Fae Tactics has copious amounts of story, in direct contrast to Valdis Story. Is that story particularly good? No. Can you skip it? No, you can’t. Is there an absolute fuckload of dialog? Yes.

I want to take a moment to reiterate what I said about Fell Seal’s story here, because I think Fae Tactics is a victim of exactly the same problem Fell Seal had in terms of story, which is game developers aren’t well-versed in good stories, they don’t invest in proper writers, assume there is no significant difference between amateur writing and writing from a dedicated specialist, and they, just generally, have bad taste.

So what you tend to get in terms of story if you get any story at all, especially in an indie game with limited development resources, is a story written by someone who doesn’t know how to write a good story, is not educated on good stories told throughout history, and is making something derivative of their own personal taste which is, in all likelihood, bad.

The analogy I’m going to make is that the story is like a first-time amateur home-cook trying to recreate a plate of eggs from Denny’s. What they’re trying to make is already not good, what they’re trying to make is not widely considered by real cooks to be difficult, and what they ultimately produce is not done well.

There are so many actual writers out there selling original fantasy eBooks in Amazon — can’t you guys just hire one of them, just to step up the game even a little bit?

I think the reason game developers are hesitant to do this is because writing is so heavily intertwined with the scenario and what the thing is and they consider writing to be less difficult than programming or art, so they don’t want to give a secondary team member so much control over what everyone’s doing. Which is understandable. Unfortunately, the engineer-specialist produced stories or the visual art-specialist produced stories are not good.

Anyhow, I won’t get too deeply into nitpicking the story. It’s not horrifically bad. It’s a real effort. The main problem with it is that the scenes demand more attention and time than they probably deserve. Suikoden it is not. Final Fantasy Tactics, it’s not. Dostoevsky, it’s not. But I applaud the effort. You can tell they really tried to focus on the story, and I think that deserves praise.

General Thoughts – Fae Tactics Review

I think my biggest criticism of Fae Tactics is how abusive it feels in terms of wasting your time. What should be about a 25 hour game experience took me 44 in-game hours and, more realistically, 50+ hours including game overs. I had to replay the game a second time to unlock the characters, weapons and summons I missed the first time, which didn’t go any faster.

It just feels like kind of a slog, which is surprising because Endless Fluff’s previous game, Valdis Story, very notably didn’t feel like that at all. I think I played through Valdis Story over 14 times and never felt for one second it was tedious or a slog.

One thing that I’m sure has been fixed in a patch by now, but definitely colored my impression of the game is bugs. When I played through at release, I ended up having to fight the final boss 5 times (a 2+ hour fight each time) because some move he’s scripted to cast when he’s on low health caused the game to crash. That was a real tough thing to look past.

Overall, I wish the game felt shorter, snappier and more streamlined. I can forgive the shallow progression systems, I can forgive the below average story, but just help me get from beginning to end faster. Make the fast forward faster and apply to story scenes, reduce some of these boss health totals. I feel like this game deserved maybe 40 hours of my time to fully complete and it took 100, which feels somewhat abusive.

Conclusion – Fae Tactics Review

Should you buy Fae Tactics? If you really like these kinds of PS1-era throwback strategy RPGs, absolutely. I also think Endless Fluff is worth supporting. For a studio that consists of only two people, what they’re able to accomplish with their games is nothing short of amazing. The price point is good. It’s only $19.99, which is probably a hair below what this game actually deserves (probably more like $24.99).

On the other hand, the game definitely has some significant issues that are difficult to look past and are going to limit the potential audience for the game quite a bit, and you should definitely take those into consideration. The game is niche, and if you’re not in the niche, I’m not sure it’s going to get you there.


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