Reverie Knights Tactics pushes all of our buttons. It’s a well-told fantasy fable (with a hint of upper-case Fable), wrapped around a Final Fantasy Tactics turn-based strategy game, and that’s exactly what we needed. It swallowed up a few of our dark January nights, and there’s a good chance it will do the same for you.
The story in Reverie Knights Tactics isn’t revolutionary, but it’s rock-solid and full of character. It’s a phrase that can apply to so much of Reverie Knights Tactics – rock-solid and full of character – from its gameplay to the graphics, and it’s not the backhanded compliment that it might seem.
It’s the story of Aurora, a scholar from the magitech land of Malpetrim. She’s summoned to the offices of Helladarion, a golem with what looks like a fish bowl for a head. He informs Aurora that her father’s diplomatic mission to the elven city of Lenorienn has failed, and he has gone missing. Aurora is drafted in to find him, leading an expedition with her best friend Brigandine. Together, they jump on a galleon and find that the elven land has been overrun, and the city of Lenorienn has become Rarnaak, city of hobgoblins.
It might all seem like weighty, dull fantasy, but Reverie Knights Tactics leans more into its characters, and that’s where it comes up trumps. Brigandine is happy-go-lucky and perennially hungry, while your elf guide, Fern, is one of those frosty characters that thaws out as the story goes on. They’re genuinely likable, and the plot generates enough fun scrapes for them to talk and argue about. Spending time with the characters in Reverie Knights Tactics is always a pocket joy.
There’s a lightweight morality system going on too, as you can make dialogue choices that make you ‘obedient’ or ‘chaotic’. It’s not all single-direction traffic, either – your choices do lead you down a few different paths, with characters reacting differently to you based on your current alignment. We went for ‘obedient’, which – refreshingly – didn’t mean that we were ‘good’. We unlocked some forced decisions that prioritised the mission over the other characters, which was a double-edged sword when we didn’t expect one. It’s decently done.
But hey, this is an X-COM-style strategy game, so narrative isn’t the priority. So, the question becomes: does it hold a candle to the best in the genre? The answer’s complicated, as it depends what you’re looking for. As a simple, easy-to-learn and easy-to-master strategy game, it definitely satisfies. But there are very few knobs or levers to twiddle, and there’s not much in the way of innovation. If you’re looking for something with a stratospheric skill ceiling, with extreme difficulty or refreshing gameplay, then you might want to look elsewhere.
Battles take place on a grid, with your team of up to four heroes on one side, and the enemies tucked away in the corners of the map. Things are action-point-based, so you’re choosing how to spend the two actions you have per turn. You can move and attack, move and move, or stay where you are and pull off a super-sized version of an attack, taking up both of your actions. It’s very traditional in the way that it’s your turn and then the enemies’ turn. You may well have played plenty of games like it. We certainly had.
Each character has a basic attack and three other attacks, chosen from a modest list before the action starts. Brigandine has a huge riot-shield-looking-thing, so it’s quickly clear that she’s the tank. We outfitted her with a taunt and a defensive ability, as well as an area-of-effect attack in case she got swamped. While there aren’t many abilities to choose from per character, they do have chunky, differentiated benefits, so they at least feel cool to pull off.
We struggle to make the combat sound particularly snazzy in Reverie Knights Tactics, but what it does, it does well. Everything is incredibly clear, for one. From the attack and movement range of the enemies, to the expected damage from your own attacks, it’s all well presented, simple and without an ounce of randomness. You know what will happen with a move before you make it. There’s a superb objective system for each level, where you get extra ‘cogni’ (a crafting resource to make equipment) if you satisfy a couple of criteria, which forces you to switch up your playstyles. It would have been all-too-easy to get into a rut without them. And there’s a nifty team-up mechanic, where you can combine your attacks in a kind of Mortal Kombat fatality sequence, just without the gore.
The flip is that there’s a nagging sameyness to proceedings. The levels may change up their backgrounds (the art on them is notably gorgeous, it should be said: a hybrid of cel-shading and comic book), but there’s no getting round how flat they all are, and there’s only so many ways you can present a single 2D plane. Reverie Knights Tactics is too conservative in offering you strategy, too: you only get four characters, and those characters will be present in every scenario, outside of the first few. There’s only a dozen abilities to choose from per character, and leveling up is purely a choice between Attack, Finesse and Defence. With a bit more focus and emphasis, Reverie Knights Tactics could have made managing your team so much more wrinkly and interesting.
We quickly found our optimal setup for each battle and stuck to it, with the objectives being the only prompt to change things up. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy the battles, as we definitely did: it has too many simple joys in satisfying of objectives, pulling off team-ups, and using the environment to your advantage: blowing up enemies with exploding barrels and bear traps. It’s just that, with such strong foundations for a real-time strategy game, not much is actually built on top. Anyone who thrives on the depth and nuance of an X-COM may feel starved here. And it’s not hugely difficult or long, as we finished the campaign in a reasonably abrupt ten hours. We would have paid good money to return to earlier missions to get a higher star rating on them, but the function was never supplied, so even repeat-play is out of the window.
But Reverie Knights Tactics breeds goodwill. From its likeable characters to its pulpy fantasy story, from its intuitive gameplay to its colourful art, there is always something to pull you onward. You might bemoan the lack of razzle-dazzle, something that might set it apart from the other turn-based games, but – hey – there’s a cliffhanger for a sequel, so maybe we will get that with Reverie Knights Tactics 2.
Reverie Knights Tactics is a distillation – and slight simplification – of everything that makes turn-based strategy games great. It doesn’t push the boundaries of the genre like your average X-COM, but sometimes a comfy bit of armchair warfare is exactly the cup of tea you need. As a bonus, you get a likeable fantasy romp as a side-biscuit.
You can buy Reverie Knights Tactics from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S