Whenever developers CyberConnect2 are associated with a project, you know it’s in good hands; after all, they have a portfolio consisting of Asura’s Wrath, numerous Naruto Shippuden titles, and Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, to name but a few of their best known works. Their latest offering however, Fuga: Melodies of Steel, has arrived with very little fanfare. It’s a turn-based strategy RPG set in the Little Tail Bronx universe, which already includes the likes of Solatorobo: Red the Hunter and Little Tail Story. Could Fuga: Melodies of Steel be a sleeper hit that packs a punch, or is it flying under the radar for good reason?
Fuga: Melodies of Steel is a real blast that certainly hits pretty hard, and it’s not just because you’re going to be let loose in a tank for the duration. Oh no, for there is also a unique aspect which will target and successfully locate your feelings too.
The Fuga: Melodies of Steel adventure begins with the Berman Empire sending an army to the peaceful country of Gasco. We’ll bear witness to a devastating assault on the little village of Petit Mona, which ultimately sees members of the adult population abducted amid the carnage. Thanks to some quick thinking, a small selection of kids were able to escape the chaos and hide out of harm’s way in a cave. This group of six children stumble upon a massive tank, Taranis, before deciding to use it and take the fight to the brutal Berman army. It’s the only way to save their family from whatever terrible fate awaits them.
Having the main protagonists essentially orphaned in the opening gambit kicks things off on a dispirited note, but there are numerous reasons why it’s not all doom and gloom. Seeing these youngsters bond swiftly to confront the big bad Bermans makes you warm to them, and they soon manage to showcase their varying personalities. It helps that the antagonists are rather menacing and willing to eliminate children for the cause, so you’ve got extra incentive to despise them. There’s also a bit of a mysterious, and intriguing, element to proceedings in regards to the Taranis and the motives behind the Berman Empire’s actions.
What’s additionally fascinating about this narrative are the anthropomorphic characters within: either Caninu (dogs) or Felineko (cats) species. As such, each character is memorable in design as much as their personality; especially when depicted using a lovely watercolour art style. With that being said though, the limited amount of Japanese voiceover does hinder the character growth slightly and it would’ve been good to have less of the squeals accompanying the text-based, English dialogue.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, you’ll progress through 12 chapters and battle a variety of enemy vehicles along the way. Every encounter will play out as a turn-based affair, with the first major decision involving which of the children to place in the three available armament slots on the tank, and whom to put in support roles. Each kid is proficient at operating either a machine gun, grenade launcher, or a cannon. Machine guns are ideal for aerial threats, while the other two do the real damage on the ground.
Enemies have weaknesses to certain weaponry however, and this can be used to your advantage to delay their turns. Therefore it’s quite handy that you can mix and match the weapons to suit; if the situation requires a trio of cannons and you’ve got enough child-power, then so be it. Sometimes reinforcements arrive, which changes the threat entirely and means you’re always reacting to what’s occurring. Fortunately, at any point during the fight you can alter the setup/formation – albeit with a three turn cooldown – to ensure you’re prepared for anything that comes your way.
In order to give you a better chance of success, the kids possess unique skill sets which expand through levelling up, and these special abilities are activated using SP. Such skills include healing, speed increases, multiple hits, the chance to inflict ailments that could stun or cause burning, and more. Should morale be high, there’s a good chance of a character entering Hero mode, which could prove pivotal. Building up relationships between characters will also enable little bonus effects and allow the use of incredibly powerful link attacks. Even with the many options at your disposal, the war against the Berman army is seldom easy – especially not when the armor-laden bosses pop up at the climax of chapters. There is one other weapon to consider though, the Soul Cannon.
With the ability to wipe out the opposition in one hit, the Soul Cannon is perhaps the most overpowered move in gaming history – second only to a punch from One Punch Man’s Saitama. If you’re on the backfoot and the Taranis is on its last legs, the option is presented to you. Take the easy choice and live to fight another day, or risk failure as your health continues to deteriorate from the onslaught. I forgot to mention the cost of the Soul Cannon: a child.
It’s utterly grim, yet equally brilliant, to dangle the super weapon in front of you and test your morals. I did it once in desperation, then instantly regretted it as the other kids became sad and struggled to understand what had happened. Sure, another half a dozen of the little nuisances will join the adventure in time, but you never forget sacrificing a child. The concept really spices things up and provides additional impetus to overcome the toughest of opponents, while offering a last resort, but guaranteed solution to the problem at hand if required.
The tactical juggling of characters in different positions, in tandem with facing off against the unrelenting enemy forces and the many attacking options, makes for great battles time and time again. But there’s plenty going on outside of the action too. Intermissions occur at specific junctures and it’s here where you can use a set amount of Action Points to strengthen relationships, upgrade the Taranis, do a spot of fishing, whip up a boosting meal, or even dabble in farming. Granted, the farming, fishing and cooking activities don’t require much input, but assisting the children in making connections through chatting is definitely worthwhile as it can result in some pleasant cutscenes.
The most rewarding activity found in Fuga: Melodies of Steel though is partaking in a treasure hunting expedition, which sees you guiding a character from room to room within ancient ruins. You need to gather resources, find the key to open a chest, and collect bullets to fire at any threats awaiting you. Although it is the most fruitful task for garnering useful items, the simple nature does itself no favours and it feels like a novelty gimmick pretty swiftly. Hence, you’ll just be wanting to get it over with in order to return to battling.
Another minor downside is the actual setting, which appears to be inspired by World War II France. I expected the backgrounds for each environment to be gloomy and run-down, but whether it’s a village, forest, or a mining area, the visuals are fairly bland. And that’s a shame in comparison to the lovely designs elsewhere in Fuga: Melodies of Steel.
All in all though, Fuga: Melodies of Steel is the turn-based RPG that you didn’t know you needed, but most definitely do. Being able to chop and change your team of hearty children makes the action exciting, the harsh difficulty keeps things interesting as you plot a course towards bringing down the Berman Empire, while the ingenious Soul Cannon serves its purpose brilliantly as a last resort. Even the story has its quirks, with a diverse cast of characters, although more voiceovers would have helped in getting across their personalities. The only real drawbacks involve the expeditions, because they’re far too simplistic and repetitive on the whole.
As long as you don’t mind investing in the large price tag, Fuga: Melodies of Steel will soon show its worth and offers enough replayability to justify it with multiple endings to discover. So, what are you waiting for? Go help those poor kids save their families!
Pick up a copy of Fuga: Melodies of Steel from the Xbox Store