Fae Tactics, the latest from Valdis Story developer EndlessFluff Games, is for players who love delving into the systems of a tactical RPG. Inspired by the isometric, facing-based systems of the Tactics Ogre lineage, Fae Tactics wants to feel familiar and nostalgic to players, while layering its own ideas atop that base to feel very much its own.
It does it largely by making the “Fae” in the title as descriptive of its gameplay as “Tactics.” You’ll befriend creatures, summon magical allies, cast in-battle spells and lean heavily into the elemental advantages of its type system. Tactics games in the genre, like Final Fantasy Tactics, often lean into the “swords and sorcery” trope. This game is not very much about swords.
Fae Tactics also feels different by implementing what it calls a “menuless” approach. Rather than choosing a character’s action from a list, it’s contextual: each has one attack of varying range and one assist skill to aid allies, so your chosen target defines what you’ll do to it. In a move designed to make the “boring,” traversal-heavy turns feel more interesting, each unit has a “wait” ability, some sort of power you get when you can’t reach anyone else. These are often as powerful as an assist and usually align with the unit’s particular assist skill. But not always! And assists generate experience points, so it’s still best to work together when possible.
This streamlined combat works well with the game, mostly due to the sheer number of systems atop it. Leader units equip a loadout of three spells with varying power and cooldown time, and you can cast one each round. This system feels a lot like the classic Heroes of Might & Magic games, especially when fighting with one leader and a lot of magical beasts at your side. Some heal. Some target attacks. Since creatures are limited in what they can do, it makes choosing what you bring into a battle important. Is this the time that the guaranteed-hit spell is most useful? Or do the limited turn counts of the mission prioritize bringing in movement buffs?
The same is true of the summon system. These are essentially party members, but they can’t be revived and they don’t take up the same slots. And they don’t have ultras! Yep, another system: you attack or take hits to build up a unit’s ultra meter, and then it automatically uses its special move instead of a normal one on the next action. No menus means you can’t choose to save it, but in our experience, that did mean we used and enjoyed it more.
While Fae Tactics does allow for grinding in free battles, it offers an extra challenge when you feel you can handle a map’s foes: the subdue system. Leaders, rather than falling instantly, are instead “subdued,” or knocked out. You can execute them with extra strikes and they can be revived by their allies or after a few turns, but if you’re able to subdue all leaders on the map at once, you receive battle bonuses. Pushing for this, rather than taking the safe route, can make things a bit more complicated. And maybe you want that sometimes.
Outside of battle, there are… yep! More systems. You can use resources gathered in battle to build and upgrade devices, which are essentially passive upgrades. Bonus experience! Boosts to certain elements! Access to more towns for quests! These upgrades, like the story missions themselves, are able to be completed in a flexible order, giving players a sense of control. Also there’s cooking? It’s a matching game. Why not?
While “do whatever, whenever” games tend to have trouble maintaining a coherent narrative, Fae Tactics’ story sequences take a different approach. When there’s an important event the game wants to emphasize, it will chain together multiple maps in a row. You can change your loadout between maps for all the strategic reasons we talked about, but you can’t leave and do something else. This allows for some narrative immediacy, so you don’t talk to a side character and then forget about what they were doing for 20 hours.
One element of Fae Tactics’ release version is something of a disappointment, and that’s how its text choice undermines its classic pixel art aesthetic. So many animations, environments, transitions, menus and even button prompts are treated with loving care, and pre-launch screenshots and trailers showed typeface choices that matched this aim. Instead, the game now uses a high-resolution, bold serif that not only feels out of place but also doesn’t really fit in the areas it’s rendered. It’s worst in things like battle tooltips and stats screens, as text extends beyond its boxes and sits right next to, again, the gorgeous in-combat pixel work. We reached out to find out the reason for this change (and, well, to make sure it wasn’t a bug of some kind), and were told it was to allow a full suite of text characters for localization. And you can start to ignore these issues after you’ve played for a while! Still, we can’t help but think that there’s a better solution to this, and we hope one happens in the future.
Fae Tactics is built for players who love going all-in on learning and exploiting games’ systems. You can tell that the EndlessFluff team is proud of these different elements, and they’re balanced well enough that each feels essential without crowding the others.
Fae Tactics released July 31, 2020 on PC via Steam.