Himeko Sutori by Rockwell Studios LLC is a tactical turn-based RPG where the player combines an ever expanding roster of characters into units that fight it out on hexagonal battlefields. The story centers on the daughter of a noble family that seeks to do battle vs. hostile armies that seek to bring an end to her life after a surprise attack that destroys her home.
Himeko Sutori is set in a fantasy world where the protagonist, Aya, the youngest daughter of House Furukawa must fight across the world seeking to discover the dark secrets of the world and her family. It starts off with a simple bandit quest which introduces the world and the broad strokes of the game’s major systems. The game features an art style that is reminiscent of the paper equivalent of miniatures from some sort of retro game from the 80s or 90s.
Traveling through the world is pretty straightforward. Moving through towns and similar locations is very similar to wandering through a town on a Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG), with a mixture of shops, random individuals (who repeat informational text), and hidden items. Outside of towns, the world features a large hex map with locations to visit and wandering bands of enemies. Movement depletes two meters, rest and food. Rest is restored overtime and food must be purchased from shops.
Combat in Himeko Sutori is also set on a hex map, with individual squads being composed of individual units. Each of these units has its own set of capabilities and abilities. They move
as a set, with movement capabilities defined by whomever in the squad is slowest. Squad actions are defined by the capabilities of units that constitute them. Individual units can either melee attack, ranged attack, buff, or heal. On your turn you choose where to move your units and if you want them to make a melee attack, a ranged attack, or hold. If a squad is made up only of one type of unit they can only do that specific action. This can be very effective if you put a large number of ranged units in a single squad, for example, but it is a bit less effective to make an entire squad of buffers or healers.
Each individual unit can only do one main action per turn, though reactive actions break the rules on this somewhat allowing one reactive action per regular action used on that unit. Attacking a squad that did not take actions during or since its previous turn results in them taking retaliatory actions. As a result of this, it usually makes sense to focus fire on a single enemy squad, leading with whatever squad will either have the strongest destructive impact on the enemy squad or suffer the least retaliation. Stats, special abilities, and the overall role of the character can all add nuance to this decision making resulting in battles that are textured and deep despite the apparent simplicity of available actions on any given turn.
To fill out these squads you will need a steadily increasing number of units, all of which are managed from the unit screen. This only provides information about the unit’s current class and if they can be levelled up which makes managing them difficult once you get 30+ units. It does give access to the two most important character management screens: lance and individual characters.
Individual character screens feature the character’s stats, gear, and indicate whatever their attack action will do. Stats are broken up into attributes, elements, and skills, with each one impacting the attack stat of two different classes and some having secondary effects as well. No two classes share more than one stat with another class, and each element has an opposing element which is decreased when the main element is increased, resulting in a strong preference towards specializing in a small number of classes. The resulting interplay of all the abilities is that choosing which specific bonuses you want on level up is subject to a number of push and pulls, which is only further magnified by how picking these bonuses work.
Every time a character goes up in a level, up to the point where they hit the maximum level for a class and achieve Mastery, they are presented with one of three cards selected from a deck assigned to each class. There are a mix of things available. The most common are cards that improve one of the three stats associated with the class, though classes that are not at the bottom of the tree will also occasionally get access to stat increases for classes that are farther along the line. On top of that you can get reaction abilities, increases to defensive stats associated with the class, special leadership abilities, improved attack power with melee or ranged attacks, increased weapon attack power, allows for crafting more advanced items, and class unlocks lower in the tree.
Leadership is a special stat that both determines how big your squad (called a lance) can be, as well as providing buffs to units in the lance. Players can also acquire specific skills that give them a bonus when leading a class of units. So for example, clerics can get a skill which gives them a boost when leading undead, rangers when leading wolves, illusionists when leading rogues and so on. This naturally leads towards building comps around these leadership bonus skills, but the question remains open about whether these are more efficient than squads built around a specific purpose.
The game features a crafting system typical of RPGs. There is a crafting system that allows you to build various types of gear and also serves as an unlock method for monster recruits.The gear is pretty good for the point where you receive it, but the sheer quantity of units that you will have vs. the amount of available resources means that you will typically only be able to equip a few of your units unless you are engaged in some heavy grinding. Monster units typically do not offer much in the way of new capabilities, but instead offer a different combination of capabilities. Recruiting them does relieve some of the monetary pressure of constantly hiring other units, but whether you use them or not is entirely optional.
Failures and Limitations
Himeko Sutori feels a bit rough. While the core system is very solid, as I will discuss a bit more later, everything around it feels like it is just short of the level of polish and usability it could have. This holds the game back, unfortunately and makes the game a bit more frustrating to play than it would be ideally.
The first source usability failure is in the user interface (UI). There are a number of areas where the UI gets in your way – however, the most egregious is leveling up units. As mentioned previously, you end up with a lot of units as the game goes on, and while the management of any individual unit is not a chore, when you end up with 12+ units going up a level after a battle the amount of time you need to spend going through and levelling up each and every one of them is tedious. This is exacerbated by the inability to create summaries of character stats or quick information on individual characters without going into their character sheet. It can take a long time to determine how to level up each character, not because you are making interesting decisions but because the system is getting in the way of your ability to make these decisions. Furthermore, the way the game presents your level up bonuses do not provide nearly enough information about what the bonuses will do, and while you can look at your character sheet you are unable to see any of the tooltips which makes it difficult to keep track of whether raising a specific stat is going to have any sort of secondary effects. This can result in a bit of tedium and fatigue that takes you away from the cool stuff that the character management system is doing.
Himeko Sutori also fails at explaining how it’s mechanics work. In-game tutorials are exclusively focused on very simple things, and I did not develop an understanding of combat, for example, until I spoke to one of the playtesters and there are a number of subsystems and structures that I still do no quite grasp simply because they are not explained anywhere in the game. This feels like something that can and should be fixed. There is an in-game journal but currently it is lacking information on things that are vital to making educated decisions in the game.
Himeko Sutori’s core system is fun and engaging. Even with a relatively narrow range of available actions, battles are tense and filled with tough decisions. The action system makes the choice of whether to attack or hold back as far from trivial as you can get, and even with relatively straightforward hex maps the dynamism of how different squads can engage with each other leads to deep decision making that I find keeps bringing me back.
Similarly, the character development system has a lot to admire. The way the stat system is implemented results in few easy decisions for card choices, and even with classes being necessarily streamlined for combat there is still a lot of nuance in the form of passive and reactive abilities that makes it alluring to push into classes that may not even necessarily add much to the character’s stats. It is all just very well thought out and designed and fits together in a way that shows that it was both well thought out and iterated on extensively.
Himeko Sutori is a flawed but interesting game. The core design is very good, but the UI and clarity issues are such that some players may find the game to be more trouble than it is worth. Personally, I find myself still deeply interested in the game even after dozens of hours of play. The battles are deeply satisfying and dealing with the challenge of getting through them without casualties is something that keeps me coming back. I still have a lot of different squad and build configurations I want to investigate and this feels like the sort of thing that could potentially drive multiple playthroughs of exploration and investigation.