If a classic JRPG was to be reimagined today, how would it look, and more importantly, how would it play? That seems to be the question the guys over at Pixelated Milk Studios have decided to answer, and with the backing of over 2700 crowdfunding backers, have released Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs – Royal Edition as their response. It seems it would also make a good entry in the “Longest Video Game Title” category, so from here on out I’m just going to call it Regalia. Think of my poor typing fingers!
So, the game then. Have they made a decent fist of capturing the spirit of those classic JRPGs, or is it another also-ran?
Our hero, and the character we play in the cutscenes, is Kay of House Loren. Living an ordinary pampered life, his existence is turned upside down when, on his deathbed, his father reveals that he is the Heir to the Kingdom of Ascalia, and that he would like Kay to reclaim his birthright. Being a dutiful son, Kay and his two sisters, Gwn and Ellie, and his faithful retainer Griffith set off to journey to the new seat of his power. When they get there, Ascalia is in ruins, with very few inhabitants left. There is however another, rather more pressing problem. In an unfortunate accident of timing, Kay and his retinue arrive in Ascalia at the exact same time as Mr Crucey, an unpleasant individual who takes great pleasure in advising Kay that his ancestors have run an enormous debt – since Kay is the last of his line, the debt now belongs to him! Thus the story arc is set for the game: Can Kay work hard enough and restore the kingdom in such a way that Crucey will be satisfied, or will he default and be introduced to the enforcers? The future of the kingdom is in your hands!
This translates into gameplay in three different ways. There is the construction part, where you have to build and upgrade Ascalia in reaction to the needs of your subjects, the social side, seeing you spend time with the members of your party in the hope of getting to know them better and raise their feelings towards you, and finally the exploration and battle, which is the meat and drink of any good JRPG. Pixelated Milk have done a very good job of marrying up these features, and they all feed into each other in an intricate web. Winning battles gets resources to enable you to build, and the social links make winning battles easier, which rolls back to the building side again and so on. In addition to those who can be recruited to fight alongside your party, there are also merchants and craftspeople to manage, keep happy and raise your friendliness with. For instance, it’s only by increasing your relationship level with Gunther the Blacksmith that you gain access to being able to craft better quality weapons. The same goes for the Alchemist and the shopkeeper – spending time with these characters is in your long term interests.
And speaking of time, this is the most important commodity that Kay has at his disposal. At the start of every chapter, your ghostly grandfather (don’t ask) gives a number of tasks that have to be completed in the next two in-game months. These tasks are listed in the inventory screen, and divided up into sections, with tasks relating to clearing dungeons, building and upgrading in Ascalia and even social relationships, amongst others. And this is where the time management bit comes in.
Spending time with a character costs one in-game day. Moving to a dungeon costs more, with each dungeon having a set number of days that it will take to fully explore, based on the number of nodes in the dungeon. There are three types of these nodes to explore; battles that have to be won, text based adventures, and the campsite node which allows you to save mid dungeon, chat to members of your party and also rest to revive any fallen characters. Yes, that’s right, there’s no healing or reviving of characters in battle in this game, which adds a whole new layer of difficulty to the fights.
The battle screen will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever played a Fire Emblem game, with the battlefield divided into a grid. At the beginning of any round, you can choose where to deploy up to four of the six characters you have brought along on your little jaunt. Anyway, onto the battle proper and each character has a set number of squares and series of attacks that they can move and use. Interestingly, you can mix and match the attack and movement phases, with there being no set order in which you can use them – move, attack, move some more, attack again and then run away. This flexibility really helps with your battle planning, as hit and run is a very good tactic, preventing the enemies from attacking you, particularly if you can inflict a status condition on them.
There are ranged and melee characters to choose from, and Kay himself is a mixture of both, being armed with a gun and a short sword. However, the characters cannot move past each other, through the same square, or able to attack enemies if your characters are in front of them. This can lead to problems, especially if you are using attacks that have an area of effect, as friendly fire is very firmly on. Luckily, this applies to the enemies as well, as more than once the skeleton archers took out members of their own team in an attempt to hit my guys.
The last thing you need to worry about is the use of Authority Points. These are earnt with each turn, and can be expended either in a blitz move, which can allow a character to attack twice, or to access each character’s ultimate move, which can turn the tide of battle. Each ultimate is different, ranging from a teleporting slash attack on every character in range, to summoning a giant fire elemental to fight on your side. The battles are always challenging, with some truly devious special conditions that can be attempted, ranging from never missing (which is pretty tough on the later levels) to using no Authority Points, to my personal least favourite, killing each bad guy with the same character.
The building side of things is achieved through a simple interface of a town map, and is simply a matter of highlighting a building and pressing A to build or upgrade, assuming you have enough resources. The social relationship screens are pretty simple too, usually just depicting Kay talking, or in the chase of Signy, running around after your friend. When the relationship is strong, with sufficient Relationship Points (RP) accrued, you can level up the friendship, with a cutscene that involves making choices. As mentioned earlier, each level you reach with a character unlocks a new perk, and this is a good way to empower your team. These perks can range from getting more RP per chat, right the way up to Skill Morphs, which allow you to change the way character signature moves work. For instance, Griffith’s Signature move is called Precision Strike, and when the Skill Morph is applied it loses the ability to inflict Sundered on an enemy, but gains 100% accuracy and never misses. Each character has these morphs to unlock, and they can have a profound effect on the course of battles.
The graphics in Regalia are really beautiful, with a great anime style to the characters; all big eyes and floppy hair. The backdrops are all hand drawn and add to the beauty of the game, with well animated characters adding to the look. The soundtrack is similarly impressive, with very well acted voiceovers in some of the cutscenes, and very amusing, very professional writing helping to make the story go with a zing. It is also hugely fun spotting all the little nods to other games and films in the dialogue. From Aliss’s cry of “C’mon baby, light my fire!” when she moves in battle, to a cheeky reference to the squat competition that you have to win in Final Fantasy 7, these are always amusing. It’s little touches like these that help to raise this game above the run of the mill RPGs, as there is obviously a lot of love that’s gone into the finished product.
Sadly, all is not well in the Kingdom of Ascalia. First up are the loading screens and every time you move to a new location in the town, choose to spend time with someone or even come out of the building screen, there’s a loading screen. Between every node in the dungeons you explore? Yep, more loading screens. On Xbox One X they don’t usually last more than 10 seconds, but there are a lot of them, and they can be obtrusive.
Another issue I have is with the save menu. See, when you select a slot you want to save into, a normal reaction is to press A to select the slot and overwrite. Well, not in this game. You have to press X to save, as if you press A, the game will load the slot you selected instead, with no warning or confirmation screen. When this causes you to lose an hour’s progress, it is pad-bitingly frustrating. A further small niggle is in regards to the main town screen – as you level up, or update the quests you have available, the milestones you cross are listed on the right hand side of the screen. This works well, except it covers up the Pathfinders House and so you can’t see when Miri, the Pathfinder, wants to talk to you.
Aside from those little niggles, and all in all then, Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs Royal Edition just works. Apart from the loading and the saving, the game is very entertaining, and plays like a love letter to earlier JRPGs. The story is very entertaining, the voice acting of the characters makes you care about the story, and the hook of trying to complete all the quests in the available time leads you to some tense moments, all as you try to work out if you can afford to go and clear a dungeon or whether you need to concentrate on building or social interactions. Add to this a great fishing mini game and this is one that can be recommended to any RPG fan.