Troubleshooter: Abandoned Children (Troubleshooter), a game by the small Korean studio Dandylion, is an ambitious game intended to be the first of a series of tactical Role-Playing Games (RPGs) set in the world of Troubleshooter. It is a game that has clearly been informed by X-Com with a heavy flavoring of Japanese RPGs (JRPGs) and with a dash of Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT): War of the Lion included in the mix.
Troubleshooter is the first game for the studio and when it was first released into early access, it was intended to include a huge story with multiple chapters, multiplayer support, and an extensive amount of content and customizability. After years in early access, it was given a full release in April, with the company honestly admitting that this was in part to generate money to allow for further development. Neither of these is a great sign for such a small studio and is frequently an indication that the game is likely to be some sort of failure. Yet despite these warning signs, Troubleshooter has very good reviews on Steam. As of right now, its overall positive review rate is categorized as “Very Positive” with a 93% rate, and its recent reviews are “Overwhelmingly Positive” with a 95% positive review rate. So the question is are these reviews accurate? Are they an indication of a good game or just a small, dedicated fan base who have found a game that fits their specific needs?
Before we get into that, let’s take a look at how the game is structured as it provides important context in examining what is good and bad about the game.
The story is a complex and multi-layered thing where the core focus is on a group of freelance special operatives who serve as super-powered riot police, reinforcing the regular police forces in situations involving very violent and organized gangs or super-powered beasts. The game has a chapter system that roughly represents the main story as well as a very large number of side missions, of varying levels of difficulty and length.
Troubleshooter’s rules system on a fundamental level most resembles X-Com 2’s. Each character gets two actions per turn, a movement action, and a full action that may be used to attack or to move again. It also takes advantage of X-Com 2’s cover system with full and half cover based on what a character is hiding behind and includes things such as overwatch (in the form of a mastery) and various grenades that should be familiar to any X-Com 2 fan. It does not take advantage of the destructible terrain found in X-Com, except for a few explosive terrain items that can be attacked, but in exchange, it layers on to it a rich system of additional options, terrain types, and ways that characters can impact the contours of the battlefield. Additionally, it adopts an FFT-style initiative system: each character has a speed stat and each action type has an additional modifier that determines how long it is until the character takes an additional turn.
On top of this X-Com-2 style core system, they layer on an in-depth character customization system. Each character, based on level and class, has a number of mastery slots and training points that can be assigned to special abilities and modifiers which are called masteries. Class, character element, character type and more all determine which masteries you are able to access, and combining certain sets of them together unlocks additional power or capabilities. The fact that you are unable to access all the masteries at once, and the different ways you can interlock them together in order to enable combos, means that there are a truly astounding number of different ways to build characters. I have spent hours upon hours of my Troubleshooter playtime fiddling with builds and seeing what I can and found the overall experience to be quite enjoyable.
There is honestly a lot more to the systems available in the game: crafting, pets (both mechanical and animal), relationships, jurisdictions, troublemaker info, and more are all things that are available to discover, but probably should not be part of this review. The game is so deep and extensive that detailing all the systems would either be so shallow as to be pointless or be so long as to make a review arduous to read. This may sound overwhelming, but luckily enough the game does a good job of slowly unrolling the layers of complexity, and by the time you reach the point where everything is unlocked and available you should have a good grasp of how the systems work with each other and how to use them to their best advantage.
Failures and Limitations
Troubleshooter: Abandoned Children is an ambitious game and feels very much like a first game effort. The designers threw a lot of stuff into the game, intending to weave them all together into some sort of bigger whole. Some of these, such as the previously mentioned mastery system, are successful, others work less well.
Ambition is intended to limit your ability to reuse characters, and to encourage you to take some time off, but it is so low-impact that it is mostly a non-entity. On-line components are also just kind of there. They don’t appreciably add to the game, so you essentially get full game functionality by playing offline, which makes the downsides negligible. Both of them indicate that perhaps having someone with a stronger ability to say no and cut less useful features would have been worthwhile.
The crafting system feels tedious and a bit unnecessary. It requires a tremendous amount of grinding or irritating shopping to craft station loops in order to build the chains of resources required to craft relevant items, suffers from the fact that you can randomly get bad modifiers on your gear, and on the whole is a very unpleasant experience. I do craft sometimes when I feel like my gear is not up to snuff but I always end up hating the entire experience and would be much happier if it was either not part of the game or was much more user-friendly.
This indicates a wider problem the game has, in the number of hoops that one has to jump through in order to develop characters. Besides crafting materials, you have to farm masteries from enemy minions and bosses or sometimes by recruiting a specific pet and raising them to a level where the mastery can be unlocked. Mostly, this is a pleasurable experience. I naturally like to explore builds and test them, so mostly it was a fun experience of crafting new masteries, going to test them out, and get new resources to do this again. You also don’t need to do extensive crafting to effectively win the game, rather this sort of crafting is really only needed if you want to be able to beat all the extra content at the highest level of difficulty.
The Troubleshooter team is all-Korean, and it shows. While I find the story screens to be pretty understandable even with certain translation difficulties, this is a little less true on masteries and other in-game information. Luckily the fan community is pretty responsive, both on Discord and in guides on the steam forum, but it adds an additional barrier to enjoy the game that may be off-putting for more casual players. There is also a fan effort, working with the developers, to translate things more effectively so this issue is probably going to decrease over the course of time.
A similar wall may be the combination of the system’s complexity and how the game ends up introducing this complexity. The game eventually gives you nine main characters, each of which plays in a completely different way and two of which have pet-based subsystems and one that has its own crafting system. This is on top of a bunch of other systems, many of which are great; they add nuance and depth, but they also add a lot that you need to learn. The game slowly unrolls this, starting with a single character and basically nothing to do besides going on missions. Every so often it adds another character and some more systems, and this continues well into the game, with new things being added not too far from the end of the story. This is mostly fine, but can very easily lead some people who prefer to just be thrown into everything to feel like the game is feeding endless tutorials rather than letting the player actually run with things.
On a superficial level, it is easy to see Troubleshooters as a dense, over-designed mess, that is hindered by a level of complexity that would turn off any but the most dedicated gamer. Luckily, the things that are wrong with it are not a big part of the game’s experience. There is more to it than that, and there is a very good reason why Troubleshooter has the reviews it does.
Troubleshooter’s strength is the stage design: stages offer a wide array of battle types each presenting their own opportunities and challenges. This is not a game where you essentially bring your same team or have the same number of characters for each mission. In order to tell the story they want the game designers have you control the main characters, subsets of them, or sometimes even villains, allowing you to see how the story progresses and changing how encounters go down. Side battles are also good, though the best ones are the so-called “Violent Cases” which end up being these massive stages (expect to spend at least an hour on them if you play them through to the end) with multiple bosses but usually rewards to match the challenge.
The characters themselves are unique and distinct, with available classes and masteries ensuring that even if some of them fill similar roles they accomplish that role very differently. I have my own personal favorites from both a style and a mechanical perspective, but honestly I revel in their distinctness and have greatly enjoyed exploring them in the various stages in the game. The build options in both gear and mastery are extremely meaty, which in varying degrees makes up for some roadblocks in creation and customization that the game puts in the way.
A reflection of this enjoyment of these characters and how the stages intertwine with the story is an appreciation for the story and how they tell it. This is not to say that I feel that the story is particularly unique or distinctive, but it is clear the designers have thought a lot about how to tell stories in the video game medium and it shows. Many games either over serve the story or the game (and I prefer over serving the game if forced to pick between the two of those), but it is rare to find one that is able to maintain the razor edge of balance between the two, and I think that Troubleshooter: Abandoned Children is one of the rare ones that pulls this off, and I can’t help but appreciate this.
What I also appreciate is how well the game manages the character mechanical development arc vs. the game length arc. Some games will allow you to finish your build just as the game is ending, allowing builds to be relevant throughout the game, or well before the end of the game, allowing you to let your final builds run. I think both of these options have merit, though generally greatly prefer the first one, but Troubleshooter goes with a third option, having potential real development occur well after the game ends and more than enough post-end game and optional content to allow you to explore and iterate on builds. This is ideal, as it allows for those who want to to just finish the game, but for those who are enjoying what Troubleshooter has to offer and want to explore everything it has to offer can spend as many hours with it as they want.
I am a bit of a tactical turn-based RPG specialist. I play other games, of course, but this genre is my bread and butter and makes up the bulk of the sort of games I play and purchase. The main question I was looking to find an answer to was whether this game was very good or simply very good in its niche, and I honestly think the distinction ultimately doesn’t end up mattering very much. Someone who is not a fan of the tactical turn based RPG genre probably won’t play this game. Its inherent structure will prevent them from getting far into it, but for those who do like the genre then it is something well worth considering.
While the list of flaws for Troubleshooter: Abandoned Children exceeds the list of achievements, in the end the flaws are such a small part of the total Troubleshooter experience that they feel more like quibbles than true reflections of the quality of the game. This may simply be a reflection of the amount of time you spend on each. You are going to be spending the vast majority of the time you are playing Troubleshooter in battles, in reading the story, or in character customization screens that you may not even notice the flaws.
I can’t in good conscience recommend this game to someone who prefers more bite-sized experiences, prefers simpler games, or who may find the slow unveiling of features to be a turnoff, but if you do not fall into any of those categories, I can heartily recommend it.
This is one of my favorite games, and I have already spent hundreds of hours playing it and truly expect to add at least another hundred hours to it before I am done. It is a great game and one that I truly think any true turn-based RPG fan (who does not fall into the groups noted above) will greatly enjoy.