The Wind and Wilting Blossom, by Picklefeet Games, is a turn-based tactical RPG which combines a Faster Than Light (FTL) style of map exploration with low luck tactical combat in a reasonably short package. The game is set in a fantasy version of Heian-era Japan where the player assumes the role of a legendary historical figure trying to save the country in the face of a witch and her army of yokai covering the nation in darkness.
The game starts you off with a choice between several different characters, and one of three different layouts that provide you a different starting circumstance within the confines of the specific theme of the character. For example Taira no Kiyomori has team buffs, Benkei has self buffs that encourage you to use smaller parties, and Lady Nijo features bonuses related to status effects. Within each leader layout the character’s equipment, allies, starting resources and levels, and special bonuses all vary wildly resulting in different strategic decisions and ways you approach the game’s frequent tactical battles.
Equipment mostly takes the form of weapons, though there are a few non-weapon items worth using. Weapons fall into three categories: normal, ki, and ranged. Ki and ranged weapons both feature their own type of ammunition and the main differentiation between them seems to be their range. All ki weapons have a range of 1 or 2 and ranged weapons have a range of at least 3. Normal weapons are weaker than ki and range weapons but don’t have any ammunition cost to use them. This can be useful when dealing with hordes of weak enemies, but your income becomes such in the late game that you can use any but the most costly of weapons without much restraint.
Allies are the other members of your party. Each of them has a set of stats and generally one special ability that helps define their role on your team. These abilities vary wildly, though most fall into the overall role of damage or support focused, as you would expect in a combat-based game. Each ally features a tier and a rarity, which indicates when you are likely to see them and how likely they are to appear.
Resources are money, food, scrolls, ki, and ammo. Money is used for purchases, both in events and shops. Food is consumed every space you move on the map, and running out will delay your ability to move forward and potentially cause you to lose based on being overrun by the darkness. Scrolls are used to level up characters and ki and ammo are consumed by the appropriate weapon types. Money tends mostly to be claimed from defeated monsters, and the others can all be purchased, but you will get a fair bit of it from winning battles and collecting it on the map.
Your leader and all allies have the ability to level up which gives you more stats and, if the character features an ability, an improvement to said ability. There are no choices to be made in leveling, but there are choices as to who to level and whether to save your scrolls for a potential future character you could recruit in the next city or the next zone. Usually by the time you reach the last battles of the game your characters will be max level, but if you level up a lot of early characters that you later replace it is possible to not quite be able to get to that point.
The overmap of the world is set up as a network of nodes and connectors, which cost one food to move to. The first time you visit a specific node, one food is consumed, and each movement also moves the darkness one step closer to overtaking you. Each individual node can either have a combat encounter or some sort of story event (which could very well lead to a combat encounter). You can also sometimes get quests that encourage you to go to a spot you may or may not have actually been intending and some maps have story encounters you are required to complete before leaving the map. The connections between the news and where story and special encounters are located varies between runs, which provides a bit of handy interplay variance.
Combat is a hexagonal affair on small maps, where each unit gets a single move and a single action. Environmental effects, which are visible on the strategic map, can also come into play; however, most of them provide some sort of periodic effect, whether forced movement or global damage, lightning actually creates an interesting environmental consideration in regards to how and where your character should move and gives you the opportunity to manipulate the enemy’s AI to move into a location where it gets hit by the bolt. Battles have almost no luck, beyond initial unit placement and a chance that a unit will miss if it makes a ranged attack while adjacent to an enemy, which gives battles a bit of a puzzle feel. Still the variation in potential units, initial placements, and your situation when the battle begins prevents the game from feeling too deterministic.
The game features many unlocks. At the beginning of the game you have one layout of one character available, but as the game continues you will complete certain achievements and gain access to new leaders, allies, weapons, and charms. For people who are task motivated this provides some motivation to keep playing, as these unlocks give you a sweet taste of new options and variations in how to play the game. Some of them are simply things you will get inevitable whereas others take a bit more work or specific ways of playing.
Failures and Limitations
There are some monsters that appear to largely compel tedium. One of these is a tree that has some interesting abilities but literally never moves. So it ends up being ignored during a battle and then slowly picked away by your units once the battle is over. Theoretically this can create some pressure and require interesting hit and run tactics if you did not bring any ranged units, but in reality you will probably have something to deal with by the time you get to the tree, which makes it just kind of dull. This is true of other slower monsters too. There is a very tanky one that is extremely slow and hit hards, and the correct strategy for dealing with it is usually just to kill it.
The gold collection system also enforces some game play choices that are tedious. Essentially in order to collect gold you have to explicitly move on to or use a merchant action to get a gold. Because of this you are frequently forced to either lose out on gold, or do other things to extend the battle length doing things besides actually engaging and interacting with the enemy units. When this is easy to fit into the overall structure of your battle plan it is not that big of a deal, but it will still happen enough to be noticeable.
This leads to what I think is the game’s biggest weakness: the relatively low level of complexity in battlefield environments. While I appreciate the presence of barriers and such items to create a different dynamic for battles, I find that the ones where the actual battlefield is most interesting are the lightning storms, where you are forced to react to what it is going on with the battlefield itself, and the rescue missions where you are forced to get to certain a certain spot or spots before the timer runs out. This dynamic shows what could be possible but is largely absent with other terrain effects and battles in general. Having a few more environmental effects like the lighting strikes would go a long way. I also cannot help but wonder if the reason for the gold hunting task during battle is to add something else to keep the player busy during battle.
While I don’t think that Wind and the Wilting Blossom is particularly innovative or breaks a lot of new ground (it is not even the first mixture of a FTL-style strategic max with turn based combat), what it does accomplish is creating a carefully crafted and fun experience. This extends through most aspects of it’s design but it particularly stands out in a few areas.
The designers clearly thought about how to roll out leaders in a way that allows for a good play experience. The first character you are likely to unlock, after dying or failing with the original character several times is also one of the strongest and should allow a player to get to later in the game and learn the lessons needed to progress. At that point the next leader you unlock will be one of two that show you alternative ways to play while also unlocking some of these capabilities to other leaders. At this point the unlock training wheels will be off and most of the remaining achievements will just either be the sort you will get over time or specific challenges, you will have reached a point of sufficient mastery and can just enjoy the game and what it throws your way. Using the unlock system as a way to onboard the player in how to play and enjoy the game is a great idea, and while I am sure it has been used this way before I feel like it is done particularly well with Wind and the Wilting Blossom. So well, in fact, that I find myself a little addicted to just playing through one more map, or one more unlock, or winning with one more configuration until I realize it is late and I have to get up in 4 hours for work.
The game is stylistic and evocative, providing a look and feel that is reminiscent of the art of the period and extends throughout the game experience. The available followers, leaders and weapons all fit the setting while providing interesting choices for squad development and tactical choices. The art has a wood-cut look to it, and it is clear that the designers considered the thematic basis of the setting when designing every aspect of the game.
The UI is also very good and it is easy to get access to information you need to make informed decisions about your moves and what sort of actions that the enemy can take. Rolling over enemies shows you the range they can move to, allowing you to quite effectively plan out your turn. If I feel like there is any one thing missing here, it would be some sort of static visual indication of enemy threat on the tactical board. Even with looking at the individual units it is still possible to make a mistake in movement, and with no feature to roll back movement, this can be particularly painful.
Wind and the Wilting Blossom is successful not because it pushes the genre in new and interesting directions, but because it is a fun, succinct and effective experience. It has become my new favorite “short game experience” and with a little over 40 hours in the game at the time of the review I am very much interested in laying it some more. After all I still have one more character and a bunch of layouts to unlock, there is a secret ally I have yet to uncover, and I want to see how pushing up the difficulty a level influences both strategic and tactical decisions as you make your way through the game.
The Wind and Wilting Blossom is the first FTL-like I have enjoyed. Part of it is the fact the I like the tactical turn-based combat, but there have been other games that combined FTL-like map interplay with turn-based tactical combat have been underwhelming. However, it’s the sum of the interlocking pieces fit together. The designers made great choices in deciding what they should include and what they left off, and it just works in a way that a lot of other games do not. If you are interested in the idea of the combination of FTL with tactical combat and some meta-progression at all than I can highly recommend it.