‘Reverie Knights Tactics’ review: comfort food for tactical RPG fans

Not quite a dream of a game

In 1998, comic book artist Joe Madureira – fresh off a still-respected run on Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men – launched the fantasy series Battle Chasers. Set in a world that merged swords and sorcery adventure with magically powered machinery, and fronted by a young female lead, it was a huge success (albeit plagued by delays and remaining unfinished to this day).

What’s this got to do with 40 Giants Entertainment’s Reverie Knights Tactics? Well, aside from it also being set in a world that merges swords and sorcery adventure with magically powered machinery and also being fronted by a young female lead, it adopts a visual style that draws heavily on comic book aesthetics. Character designs are reminiscent of Madureira’s own, and even the lettering fonts evoke a feel torn from the printed page. It’s also a turn-based tactical RPG – not a million miles away from 2017’s Battle Chasers: Nightwar, Madureira’s attempt at reviving the property in another medium. Whether coincidence or deliberate inspiration, the similarities are hard to overlook.

It’s not just the comic book world that’s being drawn on though – this is also an ode to the likes of Vandal Hearts and Disgaea, classic tactical RPGs that were formative moments for the genre. Thankfully though, the game isn’t just an exercise in cross-media nostalgia, as Reverie Knights Tactics provides just enough tweaks on the formula to carve out its own identity – but only just.

That’s in large part down to its characters, which will be recognisable to fantasy fans but have enough twists to be more than just genre-typical archetypes. Take main character Aurora – an ice-wielding cleric, devoted to the god of knowledge Tanna-Toh, rather than an overly-familiar fiery mage. She’s driven by intellect and curiosity rather than burning vengeance, balanced by an emotional drive to rescue her father Marius, lost in an expedition to a continent overrun with Goblinoids. Then there’s her best friend Brigandine – your classic ‘tank’ of a knight, specialising in close range melee attacks and defensive manoeuvres on the battlefield, but also serving as the game’s comic relief, dedicated to partying and good food at the expense of almost anything else. At every point, Reverie Knights Tactics‘ cast neatly dodges expectations.

Reverie Knights Tactics. Credit: 40 Giants Entertainment.
Reverie Knights Tactics. Credit: 40 Giants Entertainment.

It’s not just the characters that impress though, as the main story regularly subverts tropes. While Aurora and company set out to find Marius – meeting Fren along the way, the closest to a genre staple as the game offers, a haughty elf ranger-type who blends plant-manipulating attacks with mind tricks to control enemies and beasts alike – there are hints from the very beginning that the situation is far from a Tolkien-esque “goblins = bad” scenario.

While the team are advancing towards the Goblinoid city of Rarnaak – formerly the Elven capital Lenórienn – the game establishes early on that the territory was stolen by Elves in the first place. Similarly, Fren’s prejudices towards the Goblinoid enemy forces, presuming them too stupid to strategise or use magic, are regularly upended, as the story dips its toes into themes of colonialism and oppression. It’s not exactly a graduate thesis on these complex matters, but there’s more depth here than might be expected going in.

Mechanically, it’s all a little more formulaic though. Battles take place on a top-down, isometric grid, with moves issued to each member of your party before the opposing side enacts all of its units’ actions. Each character will have a basic attack that can be utilised on an enemy one square away, then three specials that drain MP, with varying ranges of effect. There are also powerful Focus Attacks – Limit Breaks, to borrow a Final Fantasy term – that can unleash splashy attacks, usually over a wide area.

Most impressive are team attacks, where between two and four party members can surround an enemy and combine abilities for significant damage, accompanied by unique attack animations for every possible character combination. As these combos replace the standard ‘free’ attack on the combat menu, they form one of the main tactical elements in the game, trying to arrange characters on the field to set up powerful attacks with no MP cost. However, while it’s a great system to incorporate into combat, neither it nor other tricks – such as setting off environmental traps to damage foes, or being able to shove enemies into hazards – are ultimately anything players won’t have seen in other TRPGs.

Reverie Knights Tactics. Credit: 40 Giants Entertainment.
Reverie Knights Tactics. Credit: 40 Giants Entertainment.

Where characters and combat intersect nicely though is in the game’s choice-based progress system. In between battles, Reverie Knights Tactics adopts an almost visual novel approach, with branching dialogue options. Often, these are just for flavour text, but pivotal decisions will have Aurora make a binary choice between actions that favour Chaos or Order. Occasionally, actions outside of dialogue screens, such as which battle to pursue next, will also tip the balance. Initially, these choices seem minor, affecting only how other characters perceive Aurora, but as the game progresses, alignment determines which skills might unlock, or key story moments. It adds a nice element of replayability for those who want to experiment with different combat applications, or see how the storyline alters.

That’s a good thing, as aside from replaying to see those divergences, Reverie Knights Tactics is extremely linear. There’s little in the way of random battles – the occasional interruption when moving from point A to point B on the world map, but even those encounters are scripted – meaning there’s also no real way to enhance or customise characters beyond where the game wants them to be at any given point. The only concession to customisation is in choosing between which three MP-devouring skills to have active, while Tomes and amulets can be equipped for a variety of stat-boosting or status effect-nullifying effects.

The closest the game offers to being able to level grind is offering bonus objectives for each battle, such as destroying a number of objects or ensuring certain characters survive. While failing to achieve these doesn’t lose the battle, completing them rewards bonus experience points and extra Cogni, a resource used to research the aforementioned Tomes. These bonuses are a nice target for perfectionists to pursue, but that’s about it. It’s also worth noting that battles can’t be replayed once the story has progressed, so those bonuses have to be completed at the time, if you want to collect them at all.

Reverie Knights Tactics. Credit: 40 Giants Entertainment.
Reverie Knights Tactics. Credit: 40 Giants Entertainment.

Sadly, while Reverie Knights Tactics proves a competent example of its genre, it’s also marred by a lack of polish. There’s only the slightest zoom feature in battles, frustratingly preventing players from scoping the whole field in order to plan moves, while also not even allowing the camera close enough to show off attack animations. There’s a half-hearted crafting system, whereby scavenged items can be traded to make healing items or bombs, but ingredients are scarce at best. With no money system or way of buying pre-made items, it makes the inventory frustratingly minimal, in turn reducing the tactical options available in battle.

There’s also evidence of mini-games and bonus objectives – lockpicking chests, for one – that feel underdeveloped, as if 40 Giants had planned for more elaborate implementation, didn’t quite finish them, then left what had been done in the game anyway. Worse, occasional animation errors mean characters will talk about having done something – Aurora seemingly freezing a hot spring that is attracting monsters, for instance – but nothing happens onscreen, while a glitch that sometimes makes the cursor disappear after battles can make it impossible to click on the “continue” option.

While Reverie Knights Tactics may surprise with the complexity of its story and characters, its familiar approach to turn-based combat and sometimes frustrating omissions and oversights mean it won’t ever impress. Even die-hard fans of the genre are unlikely to be blown away by what’s on offer here, but it is still a strangely satisfying ride – comfort gaming, even for anyone who’s seen this all before.

Reverie Knights Tactics launched on January 25 for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. We reviewed it on PC. 

The Verdict

Undeniably a love letter to old-school tactical RPGs, Reverie Knights Tactics packs in enough charm and replayability to please fans of the genre, but won’t be knocking the likes of Fire Emblem or Disgaea off their respective perches any time soon. Its comic book aesthetic also takes a while to get used to, but like the nuances of its story or its branching character development, its charm grows as you play. However, it doesn’t really offer anything that fans of TRPGs won’t have experienced elsewhere, and the lack of final polish undermines its aspirations.

Pros

  • Unique characters that avoid excessive genre tropes
  • Story packs in surprisingly complex themes
  • Chaos and Order choices offer replayability for story and character development

Cons

  • Half-baked crafting system
  • There’s a lot of one step forward, two steps back
  • Several elements that feel like unfinished or leftover ideas
  • Animation and progress glitches
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