The first non-Kingturn RPG from Mangobile feels a lot like the previous titles but scratching the surface of the games narrative will reveal a very different world beneath the hood. Tactics Maiden sits in its own little niche that perfectly marries short sharp skirmishes and intense console-level battles that can absorb your attention for longer sessions.
Mangobile is a developer that knows its RPGs, especially those of a tactical nature. Tactics Maiden as a game stands on the shoulders of three previous games of a similar genre in order to implement all of the various lessons Mangobile learned in their production as well as throwing in a few advancements of its own for good measure. There’s an almost table-top wargame-like element to the way that the game works that gives everything a logic to it that some more famous examples of the Tactical RPG brand can sometimes lack. That what you take into battle with you is what you have to work with, with levels earned being implemented in the aftermath, means that planning and strategic thinking will go a lot further than grinding ever could.
Graphically, Tactics Maiden is a pretty game but not a visually outstanding one. This isn’t to say that the game is ugly, far from it as the 2D illustrations are clean and crisp when zoomed in or out of the screen and hold up extremely well against a growing indie market for anime-inspired visuals and 3D rendered environments. These illustrations do have limited animations however and sometimes characters shuffle side to side as they switch between them. Played in the landscape position, the world has a hand-painted look to it that inspires a more western take on the genre and avoids attempting a faux retro-aesthetic in favour of being its own thing. Indeed, there is very little available on the mobile market that looks quite like Tactics Maiden. Menus are incredibly well implemented with one side of the screen in combat displaying your options at any given time in easily finger-sized boxes, and tapping characters displaying their attack and movement ranges precisely. Special mention of the title screen, which features multiple different painted images that differ each time you load the game, should be made as this feature gives an exceptionally polished feel and enables some of the games better graphical touches to shine.
Music has an excellent flow to it that compliments the way that the games plot flows in what appears to be an active manner. Start a battle and the music can seem serene and calm until you strike an opponent and they leap upon you, at which point it changes up to a more confrontational sound. This cross-fades seamlessly and works wonders for immersion in-game. The soundtrack uses a variety of synth sounds to conjure up a small orchestra (largely strings and brass) the games title screen presents a fairy-tale inspired melody. It’s a shame that there aren’t more tracks to listen to however, with the game making do with no more than a handful. There’s no ‘button click’ when using the interface, which takes a little getting used to at times because you’ll wonder if you successfully triggered one or not at times. Attacks of different kinds each have sound effects that match up nicely however and magical spells have a slight echo to them that makes them otherworldly.
The story falls onto the shoulders of two main characters, of which Catelyn takes the fore for the bulk of the game as the Tactics Maiden of the title. She and her friend Vance are members of the lower class in this fantasy setting, living on the fringe and occasionally stealing to survive. After a series of unfortunate events they become involved with a local uprising that is quickly squashed, leading to Vance’s capture, however a chance encounter between her mercenary band and the South Nuvanyian rebels changes everybody’s fate forever. Whilst the game quickly sets itself to work differentiating the down-trodden and the gentry, with the latter largely falling into the category of arrogant and vindictive, there are some moments that add a depth not found in such tales. When the uprising is squashed early on for example, a noble promises that the rest of the mercenary band will be released if the leader gives his or herself up. A promise that is made good upon. We also see knights and people of learning who possess a depth of character past their station in life. Julien, the first wizard to be added to the party, is a childhood friend of Catelyn but balances their friendship with his misgivings over her plans. In the wrong hands he’d be seen as a moping, whiny character with little going for him, but Mangobile present him as a man of learning who though relatively young is probably thinking several steps ahead of the lead character. As a linking device for multiple battles and character gathering mechanics it works very nicely, and brings to mind the narrative complexity of ‘War of the Lions’ without needing to present such a dense amount of dialogue. Each mission, even those that are optional, are given a plot-relevant reason to happen and fit into the world that the game builds seamlessly.
Gameplay is the real strength of the title and shows a love for crafting Tactical RPGs that I’ve not seen outside Nippon Ichi Software. Mangobile present a battle system where each side has a set number of characters they can have out on the field at any one time, these are drawn from tents that act as spawn points on the map. Capturing a pillar will reduce the opponent’s maximum number of characters by one and add one more unit to your side, increasing your chances, whilst taking a base will allow you to prevent more of the enemy generating in the area as well as giving you an advanced outpost to spawn your own. In this manner the game feels a little like Valkyria Chronicles, with taking and holding these points a critical tactic in winning a battle. The game cleverly does away with death, with knocked out characters returned to the base for a set amount of turns and you having to deploy a new character in the meantime. This runs the balance between having too many characters in your force and so not having any at a significant level to be helpful, and having too few and being caught unaware when the enemy crush your forces in one big push. Character classes (of which there are a huge amount) each have special attacks and advantages/disadvantages to their use, with archers having brilliant range but no ability to attack a closer target for example. Each character you enlist from a growing pool of types (some of which are encountered as neutral NPCs and must survive the battle to be added to the group) has multiple facets of their stat sheet that can be levelled up. These include movement, attacking, HP/MP regeneration, special moves and more. Gaining a level adds points to spend on levelling these stats, but they cannot be implemented until after the battle is complete, meaning that what you take with you into a battle is what you’ve got, and holding out for a last second level up to even the odds isn’t a viable tactic. Grinding is possible, as there are sub-quests galore and leaving a fight to re-enter only loses you loot, but never strictly necessary if you play well and make smart choices, breaking down battles into smaller skirmishes one base at a time. Items can be found, won, bought and sold and outfitting your team can easily become an obsession with a slowly evolving store of goods to peruse. In terms of functionality, the game is single-finger tap friendly and turn based, so perfect for mobile play.
Overall, Tactics Maiden is a brilliant package. Better, it’s served to your free for the first few missions for you to decide if you like it or not and then dishes up a one-time purchase for the full game (and there is a LOT of game to be played here). Tactics Maiden deserves to be recognised as one of the best examples of its genre, and possibly the best Indie Tactical RPG experience to be had anywhere. If you’ve not tried it, I strongly recommend that you do so immediately.