The Protagonist Ex-1 is a sci-fi turn-based tactical RPG. Angel, the protagonist, wakes up on an alien spaceship, unable to recall anything that has happened before. Now, she must find a way to escape it, while rescuing her team members on the way. While the early access version came out in February – the game has now been fully released. Let’s review The Protagonist Ex-1 core features.
An enormous alien spaceship to explore
The stage, where the entire game takes place, is an alien spaceship. As you explore it, you will learn more about the aliens’ background and their relationship with humans, plus some dark secrets, among other stuff. Your journey will be full of fights, puzzles, rewards and collectables.
The game gives you an option to automatically select your next destination. The rooms of the spaceship are very similar, and it’s not unlikely that you’ll end up losing yourself trying to navigate these. Also, there are several places that aren’t connected to the main storyline. There you can get extra rewards, or even new characters.
The puzzles are easy, for the most part, and some can be solved in multiple ways. But beware, you can accidentally trigger a trap and will have to reload your game. There are multiple rewards you can get for solving these: healing items, scrap, the in-game currency, blueprints to craft new items or weapons, and some collectables. The latter are often related to the game’s lore and include info about the characters, the enemies or the different types of units.
Fights take place in enclosed “arenas” of sorts, and combat is definitely one of the core features of the game. You are given several options on how best to defeat your opponents, including the combo system.
Fighting the unknown in The Protagonist Ex-1
One way or another, you’ll have to fight if you want to survive on the alien spaceship. Battles are turn-based and tactical. The turn order is determined by your and your enemies’ initiative. Aside from moving and attacking with your weapons, there are also additional skills: healing, buffing, using items, doing combos and hacking. One of the new things The Protagonist Ex-1 adds to the genre is hacking the enemies – specifically the various robots. By using the hacking skill you can significantly reduce their stats or even infect them, which works, basically, like poisoning. You can even hack them in such a way so that they’ll join your side. Albeit only temporarily.
The other new thing you’ll see during the battles is the combo system. Every character can use combos to attack the enemies. You’ll have a specific number of combo points (MACS), and each action has a cost. There are three types of attacks: light, medium and heavy. Light hits are the ones that deal minor damage, but they have the least cost. Heavy attacks deal the most damage, but they do require more points. Also, you can select which body part you want to hit with, like fists or knees, among others. It varies for some characters, like Buddy, because he is a dog – he will bite instead of punching, though he also has different kinds of attacks.
The main characters have unique combos. By using enough regular combos during a battle, you can unlock the special ones. These are impressive and very deadly.
Customizing your team
In The Protagonist Ex-1, you will recruit several characters. There are two kinds of these – the main ones, like Angel, Radical or Bypass, and the secondary ones. The former will have more or less defined battle profiles, but you can personalize their equipment, skills or stats when levelling up. Also, the main characters are mandatory to recruit, but you can skip some of the other ones.
Secondary characters come in two types. For some of them, the game gives you an option to select their class. Others, though, already have one, which you cannot change. In both cases, you will receive stats and skill points to distribute however you want. Still, the secondary characters will always remain weaker than the main ones, and they won’t have special combos either. Also, your team size will depend on the main character’s leadership skill, with the maximum of 6 members.
Customizing your characters’ stats, skills, and equipment is one of the strong points of The Protagonist Ex-1. The main characters have a more defined role – for example, Bypass will always be the healer. Still, you can select how to use the skill points, as you upgrade your team. The combat experience is team-based; when you level up, all your troops level up with you. The game offers a truly great variety of skills for the main characters to specialize in.
Crafting the equipment
Crafting in this game is very well implemented and is definitely engaging. You require a blueprint and a damaging effect to craft a new weapon. Well, if it’s only a piece of equipment or an item, you can just use a blueprint, on its own. You can also level up your gear and weapons. These operations – crafting and upgrading your equipment – will consume scrap, which you can get by exploring or by defeating enemies. You will find blueprints as well during your journey. However, in some cases, you’ll first find a weapon, which you’ll then dismantle for its blueprint. Dismantling can give you some scrap too, but not always.
For example, to craft an electric grenade, you’ll need the grenade blueprint and the electric damage. There are other kinds of damage, too. These, along with blueprints, have unlimited uses, so you can employ them whenever you want. You’ll certainly need a variety of damage types, as some enemies have very specific weaknesses.
The first time I played The Protagonist Ex-1 was in February 2021, and, to be honest, it didn’t seem that different compared to the Early Access version. Some of the in-game decisions do seem to have a somewhat larger impact. Yet, they still don’t change the overall experience that much. Also, I felt like there are now more secondary characters available. However, you probably won’t use them; the few occasions when you’ll have to create two teams are limited, and these additional characters are noticeably weaker than the protagonists. Also, the absence of permadeath, and the fact that you recover health after battles, won’t make the game any more challenging.
The devs did fix some of the bugs, but others are still there, making the game feel somewhat unpolished. I encountered several of these, which forced me to restart the game to the last save point. This backtracking will certainly annoy you. It’s a good game to play, but you will have to be more patient than usual. Also, if you save your game after the auto-save at the checkpoints, it seems to help with some of the issues.
The graphics’ style is great – it definitely reminded me of Mass Effect. The soundtrack is also amazing, as it accompanies you on your journey. The protagonists have meaningful differences. While the additional mechanics added to the battle system, like the combos or the hacking skills, make for a varied and interesting gameplay. Also, the crafting system and the character progression are well implemented.
I’ve got mixed feelings about this game. The premise is very good, and the core features are great, but the bugs really annoyed me – although their number seems to decrease in the later sections. The game’s final version was released in July, but there are no news, so far, about any updates. However, if you like sci-fi inspired tactical RPGs, you’ll probably like this one.