It’s hard to put ‘The First Tactics’ into perspective, one the one hand it offers some fun tactical combat across a number of different scenarios, but on the other it may be the worst case of ‘Engrish’ I’ve ever encountered.
Developed by FiveFinger, who appear to be a one man team somewhere in China, the game made quite an initial dent in iTunes, shooting to the lists of popular apps for websites such as Touch Arcade before promptly vanishing again after word spread of its quality. Whilst the app-store description makes a lot of (badly translated) claims that obviously aren’t true, it does appear to have developed something of a cult following from the amount of 5-star reviews it’s been receiving.
Graphically the game uses painted water-colour backgrounds based on real-world locations (at least in part) and 2D anime-inspired artwork for characters that appear on top of these locations. Expect to see a lot of text boxes and the game burns through pages of dialogue, and a menu system that’s an arrangement of small circular icons at the bottom right hand corner of a portrait screen. The world map itself is just a series of dots linked by lines, but battles fair much better. Characters are reduced to icons and overlaid on a variety of battlefield locations with enemies appearing in similar icon form and movement/attack ranges clearly viable. Small battle animations pop up to detail what’s going on in the form of weaponry swinging or damage struck, keeping things interesting whilst reducing the tactical battles down to an almost ‘Terra Battle’-like form. Visually it’s reminiscent of a tabletop war game in this manner.
Musically the game has an immense amount of ‘cheese’, featuring heavily synth lounge music of the variety that’s not been used outside of the 80s porn industry, and this is the games choice of title screen melody. Loading the game immediately causes a tiny drum roll before resuming the track for the world map and confirming choices triggers a little ‘swoop’ sound effect that’s in the same spirit. Battles themselves feature a more over the top (but still synth) rap aesthetic that doesn’t build a sense of epic battle but does drive things at a better pace. I’m loathe to think that these choices are accidental, and assume that FiveFinger are deliberately putting a breezy-comedy vibe onto an overly dramatic (and usually overly-serious) game type in order to make it stand out among the crowd. There isn’t a wide range of music or sounds sampled here however, helping to keep the games file size small but causing most players to flip to mute almost immediately on booting up the app.
Story is where the game begins to fall apart, which is a shame because the game leans heavily on one and regularly has both comedy exchanges, meaningful plot sequences and even optional conversations between characters intended to better explain the world in which it takes place. The trouble is that all this dialogue has been run literally through an automatic translation script and the result is at times illegible. This is manageable in the early game but later can become something of a nightmare as the game will ask you to make decisions on subjects you’ve not fully grasped to decide if you recruit some characters or receive certain rewards. The basic premise is very sound too, played up as overly-dramatic as possible in order to drive the narrative to its extreme and interesting in concept. It boils down to the idea that one born on a certain world can’t kill that realm’s god, but a stranger from another world could conceivably do so, and in doing so would replace them. You play a self-named hero who wakes up after dying on his own world with amnesia in this one and is tasked with leading a slowly growing army of spirited individuals through a monster-ridden world. Luckily the game did see fit to add a ‘skip’ option to most scenes, though I recommend you try to take some of what’s happening in for each dialogue because you never know when the game will ask you to make a choice. Needless to say, the story is a complete write-off.
Gameplay then has to take up the slack and luckily the tactical system is well developed. It’s not to a ‘Tactics Maiden’ level of strategy, but you will find yourself leading a group in traditional turn-based tactical combat through a selection of well developed scenarios which often evolve while the fight takes place as reinforcements arrive or goals shift. Allied characters can serve as NPCs and fight for either side, characters all have unique classes and skills (with the player choosing their own after the tutorial) and everything in-battle is easy to quickly glance at and understand. The game is paid, but also uses an energy system that implies that this wasn’t always the plan. Luckily this refills at one hell of a rate, often maxing out before you finish a battle, but it does come in handy for stopping the auto-battle option, which has the ability to re-run scenarios over and over again until it depletes, grinding significantly. I’m not a massive fan of auto-battle systems, but in this game energy is earned through combat that can be used to level up any character except the hero (who does so through fighting) and these party members cant exceed the max level of the player character, meaning that grinding the hero is essential to victory in later levels. It’s gated behind having to ‘perfect’ a level before this option unlocks too, which means you have to actually play the game properly first. Characters can also be assigned jobs to earn money while you’re away from the game to receive when you return, and you can evolve characters and their skills by fusing multiple ‘hero stones’ together, these being multiple copies of the same character card. Several additional systems for abilities (both passive and combat based) are also in place, and you can reset areas of the map to re-grind them for their first-time completion rewards once a day, making for some interesting concepts that sadly never get explained too well in-game.
Ultimately this title won’t stay on your phone long after completing the main story once, let along the multiple difficulty levels the game wants you to try out past ‘normal’. The story isn’t memorable and has been butchered in translation, and the battle system has been bettered elsewhere. It does however have its charms and at times the combat can be deeply enthralling, earning it merits. For less than a pound I’d recommend this to people who LOVE Tactical RPGs only, and even then only after they’ve tried the best that the App store has to offer already.