Kemco has a history of releasing regular if not stellar RPGs onto mobile devices that dates all of the way back to the Game Boy (and has started to release onto the Nintendo 3DS as of late), but few of their games can be actually described as great. Their ‘Alphadia’ series is possibly their most successful long-running property and the studio behind it brings us Revenant Saga using the same engine as last seen in ‘Alphadia IV’.
At the time of writing there is already a sequel out for Revenant Saga that hints that perhaps this is an IP that Kemco wants to make a go of. The world presented here is generic fantasy with science fiction trappings in a manner similar to that of ‘Final Fantasy IV’, but significant time is spent setting up the games religious system, political balance and overall themes. As such there are times when this game can feel like a primer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (Final Fantasy XIII dropped all world building in favour of notes in a sub-menu!) but may not be to everyone’s tastes in a mobile title. It can also lead to cartoony characters being overly serious for long stretches of time. We intend to review ‘Revenant Dogma’ at a later date.
Graphically, Revenant Saga is split between high resolution 2D assets for exploration and conversation sequences, and 3D combat. The 3D models used are relative to late PlayStation examples and animate fluidly, though enemy repetition is common due to the complexity of incorporating a wider range of monsters that each require their own 3D models. The games 2D assets are strong, though many locations feel empty whilst exploring them and the games dungeon design is tediously drawn out because of it. Still, rounded corners and interesting visual touches in towns such as chalkboards outside shops do lend a visual flourish that breaks away from the square-grid concept many 2D titles still uphold. Menus work easily with finger pressing, though on-screen buttons during exploration and combat can be tiny on smaller screen devices, and interconnect fluidly to allow for quick access to anything you need. The world on display is fairly par for the course in RPG terms, and the characters do at times feel like Anime tropes, but small touches to their sprites and excellent larger artwork for conversations helps bring them to life.
The title screen for Revenant Saga features a mixture of electric guitar and piano mixed with French horns in a synth track that’s extremely upbeat and bright whilst featuring an extremely fast tempo. This track serves as your overworld theme in addition to welcoming you to the game and is perhaps the best example of the muddied message that Revenant Saga is trying to send. With a largly serious plot that features cartoon cut-out characters and an atmosphere of Saturday morning adventure to proceedings, things become tonally muddled, especially when you step out onto the world map after a harrowing sequence to be greeted by that tune. The battle theme is better, though short to the point of looping more than once in even a brief encounter, calling to mind the pace and frantic melody of a ‘Megaman’ stage. Sound effects get lost under the weight of this music, and there’s an odd split-second pause between pressing an attack and having the sound take place that can be jarring at first. Overall, sound design is not this games highlight.
The narrative in Revenant Saga handles some quite heavy material at times, lightening darker moments with typical anime interactions and tropes (the lead character likes to eat a LOT, but this too becomes worked into the plot later), following the character of Albert, whose entire village dies from the plague at the games outset. A childhood friend and semi-love interest has recently shown signs of Stigmata, which in this setting means that she’s been chosen by God to become a Valkyrie (holy warrior capable of killing demons) but in a bid to save their town the pair of them throw in their lot with a scientist named Moreau who promises a cure. Things take a turn for the worst from there and Albert finds himself the only survivor, and permanently bonded to a demon. This makes him the Revenant of the title, marking him as cursed but also allowing him Valkyrie-like powers to slay demons. It’s not until a chance encounter with a Valkyrie named Esther some years later that a bitter Albert finds a chance for redemption of revenge against Moreau, and it’s here that the story really begins to take shape. Albert is an angry protagonist, and in a world setting with a very strongly defined religious system he’s extremely anti-establishment. The addition to the team of a third character in the religious agent Bruno makes for some tense conversations, but a balance between ideologies does start to occur within the party itself, if not in the greater world. The quest the group take (rounded out later with a fourth member) takes them across the length and breadth of their world and of course, leads into far grander schemes. As a Kemco game it’s actually a rather strong narrative that doesn’t over-text the gamer with a dozen boxes where one would suffice. The characters do like to stop mid-exploration for a social chat on more than one occasion however and whilst this forwards character development it sometimes kills the flow of exploration. Clichés are also firmly in place, with narrative twists telegraphed early enough that everyone should spot them.
Gameplay is extremely traditional JRPG, with a turn based combat system and overhead exploration that doesn’t even try to make entering villages into a scavenger hunt for items hidden in barrels or behind conversations with NPCs. All your treasure comes in clearly marked chests or is purchased from the many stores dotted across the world. There are sub-quests dished out by NPCs in some towns that largely involve delivering an item to another NPC or gathering a certain amount of items from enemy kills in the immediate area and returning them to the quest-giver, these are completely optional and the prizes they reward are often not a necessity. The game introduces two systems with which it attempts to stand out from the crowd. The first is that in combat characters can shift into a second, more powerful form that grants access to higher level spells and buffs all stats in exchange for being immune to healing or restoration magic (which is a heavy cost) and the second is a weapon crafting system that allows for buffs and stat increases to be added using loot from various monsters you’ll encounter and a hefty cash pay-out. The combat does offer these new forms nifty armoured variants on character models that dish out a lot of punishment, but unless playing on the hard difficulty you’ll rarely need to do anything but hit the ‘auto’ button to win, and most gamers will save all crafting till the end-game when they are sure that the weapon they possess is the one they’ll be taking through the final dungeon and challenging the boss with. Variants on regular monsters exist in each area that come in giant form add some challenge to the game, acting as unexpected boss-level encounters to shake things up. These are usually glowing red in colour and huge on the screen, with large stat buffs over their smaller kin and more trouble to kill than your average plot-related boss. Everything is extremely solid in terms of mechanics, though it is still jarring to see 2D sprites jump into 3D for combat in a manner similar to ‘Wild Arms’ on the PlayStation some 10 years later. The game does allow for autobattles, healing at any time with a quick-press button and a re-tread of previous cutscene dialogue to make itself friendly to extreme casuals. The main let-down however is the dungeon designs, which are huge, uninspired and seemingly put together any-old-how with the idea that bigger is better rather than concentrating on tight design. This is especially a shame since the games systems are so polished around them.
Overall, Revenant Saga is a good game with some strange design choices. Exiting a village where literally the worst possible outcome for the lead character has come to pass and being welcomed with an upbeat ‘go get them’ piece of music feels at odds with what the game is trying to tell and show us. Worse, an otherwise tightly created world is let down by dungeons that have been thrown together by someone who was given a tile-set and just told to ‘make it big’. Revenant Saga has a good story at its core however and reliable systems that make it a solid play through. I recommend trying it out if you see the title on sale, but don’t fork out full price.