Fae Tactics is a brand new tactical turn-based role-playing game (RPG) game by Endless Fluff Games, a small studio with a couple of games under their belt, neither of which are in the genre. One of these games, Legend of Fae, is a story prequel to Fae Tactics; however, that is all they have in common. Fae Tactics itself has a very old school feel reminiscent of 90s and early 2000s-era Japanese tactical turn-based RPGs. I have seen some talk of it being similar to Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lion, but I find that comparison to be poor. They are both turn-based RPGs that care about height and have an initiative system based on character speed, but that is where the similarities end. Fae Tactics is its own thing and benefits from its uniqueness.
Fae Tactics core system is deceptively simple and straightforward. Each unit has a movement speed and a range determining how far they can move and how far they can attack. Each unit (after moving) can do one of three actions: attack an enemy in range, assist an ally, or take a wait action. This simplicity allows the game to avoid needing to use the plethora of combat menus and submenus that are common for games in this genre, keeping the focus on the game and the action on the field. There is complexity in the game, but it is built from the unit’s stats and configurations, and how you tackle the particular challenges with the units you have available.
Fae Tactics level design is effective; individual stages are varied enough to feel like each one of them is a new challenge of your tactical abilities and a new test of your ability to build an effective squad. They do this through a lot of the usual methods; special battlefield conditions based on environment, how the battlefield is shaped, the mix of enemies, and the special capabilities of enemy leader units and bosses. None of these items is particularly overused. Not all stages have a special condition and you do not fight bosses on every level, and while you always see a different variety of units and battlefield shape, the variety and challenge of these are slowly increased over the course of the game.
Units can be customized on three axes, the first one being their weapon. Weapons are found throughout the game, with each of them having a big impact on the characters capabilities and sometimes even their role. New weapons are frequently given as a quest reward. The second axis is scrolls. These are pieces of equipment that provide some sort of stat boost or benefit. Each of these can be used by all characters, but some characters will benefit more from specific ones.
For example, Peony (the main character of the story and the one shown below) has a bonus to her incoming healing and so would get more benefit from an HP regeneration scroll than other characters would. The third axis is trait points. Each character has three bars that trait points can be assigned to, with the first line always related to attack, the second line to hit points (hp) and shields (mb), and the last line to chance for reactive abilities to trigger. Each bar features an additional ability that varies based on the character. It is possible to customize these freely between battles and you will need to do so for specific stages
In addition the customizable leader units there are also minions you can acquire. Each minion is less powerful than a hero character, but additional units are useful for actions, and as the game progresses you gain the ability to recruit and use stronger minions. There still are some advantages to using the minions you acquire early on even with their reduced impact, but you can definitely feel the difference in power level between basic and more advanced minions.
Each character also has an element of some sort. This influences their passive, assist, and reaction (think counterattack) abilities and creates a web of elemental advantage which further impacts how useful a leader or minion will be on a stage. Minion types you encountered earlier in the game will also show up in different elemental versions. These are tied directly to the level of the minions you already have, but getting them offers a lot of opportunities for customizing your squad if you want to focus on a specific element. Time does pass and this apparently impacts your ability to access various quests and each day of the week has an element associated with it, giving bonuses to character types featuring that element.
Additionally there are spell cards, each with a cooldown, that allow you to impact the battlefield. Some heal, some hurt, others provide more esoteric impacts. You are not the only one who can use them, however. Any fight with a leader unit or boss unit will feature these cards as well, and playing around them (or being strong enough to ignore them) adds nuance to tactical encounters.
There is not a huge amount in the way of exploration or interaction with NPCs outside of the main story. I prefer this, as it lets me focus on the tactical battles at the game’s heart. There is a story which I found reminiscent of classics of the genre, but it had enough mysteries and interesting aspects that I found it to be rather engaging. It also helped that it was not overbearing. The designers are able to get their point across without walls of text and I appreciated that.
Failures and Limitations
The game starts very, very slowly. You will spend the first couple of hours in very basic tutorial stages, and some mechanics (such as the tech tree and certain types of abilities) do not open up until you are well into the game. While I understand why the developer did this, it also feels as though they lacked confidence in the player to understand the game, and it almost turned me off from the game entirely before I got far enough into the game to determine it was worthwhile. Based on my experience with the demo, I am not sure I would have stayed with the game, even though I ultimately ended up in a positive place.
It also feels like the characters, and to a lesser extent the spells, minions, and scrolls are not well balanced. During the early game, even after acquiring more characters, it is difficult to justify anyone except for your original three during the toughest of fights, and later on, in the game, there are characters who feel like direct upgrades on earlier ones. This is not to say you never use these earlier ones, as specific elemental characteristics and abilities will encourage you to use characters suited for a specific fight, but you end up with three characters who can be built as long-ranged DPS specialists and the specific capabilities of one clearly outshine the others in that area.
Similarly, your early game tank will eventually be exceeded by other options. I acknowledge and hope that this may be due to my playstyle or because I did not find the right equipment for these characters, but I would be (pleasantly!) surprised to find if my opinions change in future playthroughs. I also found there were very few situations where I wanted to change up the three spells I was using, and while I ended up using a lot of the available minions for different stages, some of them proved themselves to be too weak and I rarely used them after acquisition. Even with this, the differences are sometimes small and I actually enjoyed figuring out and building my opinion on what leaders and minions were good or not.
It is annoyingly difficult to keep characters equally leveled without pretty heavy and artificial grinding. At first, I found that the tank character kept getting far ahead of the rest of the team, while later after the roster expanded, this switched to the main character being pretty far ahead. This artificially increases the difficulty as stages appear to be balanced around the level of the main character, and it felt like there should be something in the game to help with this, particularly with minions who ended up farther behind on level than the leaders. As the game progresses and certain leaders, and especially minions, get farther and farther behind it becomes increasingly less justifiable to use them. This is disappointing as it decreases one of the strengths of the game, the variety provided by the extended roster, forcing you into a subset of minions, making stages more difficult, or both.
This is a bit more personal, but I genuinely dislike the lack of keyboard shortcuts. There are many times where I want to be able to delay a number of units in a row and having to physically move my mouse down to do so over and over again is tedious.
Considering that the bulk of your time is spent in the various battle maps, level design is very important for a game like Fae Tactics, and they are very well done. With the constant unveiling of new enemy types and goals, you are frequently forced to come up with a new way to tackle a stage either strategically or develop new tactics in order to be successful. This is also helped by the game being difficult. I found Hard to be too difficult, as a seasoned tactical RPG player, and even on Normal, there were some stages and bosses I had to try a bunch of different strategies against until I could figure out a way to win.
Now even with this variety in stages, it is quite possible to become bored if your capabilities and characters remain static, but that is not the case. Each stage usually unlocks some sort of new toy to play with, whether it is a leader, a minion, a spell, or one of the two types of gear. There is so much stuff thrown at you, in fact, that I felt like I did not get to explore all of the options available to me. This is good for replay value though and even with a complete play under my belt, I am looking forward to trying it again in order to see what sort of new strategies might end up being successful.
As the sheer variety may indicate, I found the character mechanical development arc vs. the game length arc to be very good. Even up to the end of the game there was the potential to develop characters further. There are grinding opportunities available and while they are not as fun and interesting as the designed stages they do give a potential for build exploration at the cost of your main character getting even farther in levels away from the rest of your squad. These stages can sometimes even have special hidden events so some grinding may be necessary if you want as complete of an experience as possible.
There are various smaller systems implemented in the game that I think has just the right level of complexity and unobtrusiveness. There is a little matching mini-game which I am not quite sure why it is in the game, but it is fast enough and a slight change of pace that I do not really mind it. The tech system is the right mix of being relevant without being tedious. Once the game introduces it, you are able to use it to unlock various capabilities and elemental-focused stat upgrades, but actually researching the techs is a simple matter of gathering the right sets of materials. You will do this normally through regular stage clearing, and special effort is rarely required as long as you are sensible about prioritization. I do find one of the techs to be generally useless, but since nothing permanent is lost it is not much of a trap to select them.
Fae Tactics is enjoyable. I actually came into the game only slightly more positive than neutral. I expected it to be competent but I did not expect to be enraptured, and yet I was. I kept finding myself wanting to do one more stage and even now, with the game finished, I am finding myself going through stages trying to hunt the items I missed hoping to extract a little bit more of the joy I got from playing it out. I want more and I will play it again soon, and that alone is usually enough for me to recommend it to people who enjoy the genre.
What makes Fae Tactics different is that I want to recommend it to most everyone who has the slightest bit of inclination to play a tactical turn-based RPG due to how effectively it manages to balance simplicity with depth. Even if you have a low degree of tolerance for convoluted rules systems you should be able to get into Fae Tactics. If you are someone who likes lots of crunchiness with a variety of options to explore then Fae Tactics should satisfy you. It is a crowd-pleaser and frankly exceptional. Get it. Play it. Enjoy it.