Fuga: Melodies of Steel is a game filled with constant tension. Seeing all of those adorable children didn’t prepare me for how much fretting and consideration that would go into my every move. How a handful of bad tactical decisions can result in your tank getting blown to pieces or worse, seeing one of the main characters die permanently to save the others. This made for a game that was nearly impossible to put down and an experience where I felt like I needed to gasp for air whenever I managed to win.
Malt is a young shepherd. Twelve years old. His entire life is thrown into an uproar when the Berman Empire invades his village, burning buildings and capturing most of the population. He, along with his little sister and some friends, manage to flee the area, finding a massive tank nearby. This machine, called the Taranis, will let them fight back and rescue their families and loved ones. It’ll just cost them their innocence at best and their lives at worst.
Fuga: Melodies of Steel’s artistic direction really drives home that sense of innocence in the children. The warm colors and playful features of these kids burst from their designs, creating characters that instantly show a lot of personality. (You can get a feel for it in some of these screenshots.) The game’s story quickly establishes their moods and feelings in small moments between encounters, doing a wonderful job of making the player care for them quickly. This visual style (and the dialogue) also make you want to keep them safe. It’s not that it’s conveying a sense of helplessness, but rather stirs up this desire to protect them and keep them from harm. You sense a fragility in them within the art, yet you can feel their resilience as well. I know it sounds like I’m saying two things that don’t jive with one another, but the art style and character development create these conflicting feelings.
Keeping them safe is a constant uphill battle, though. You’d think piloting a monstrous tank with three possible cannons might make things easier, but it really doesn’t. The enemies are relentless, fight intelligently, and will push you with their defenses and weaknesses, constantly forcing you to juggle options and see what gives you the best chance to survive. It always feels like an endurance match, watching your health and options dwindle as you struggle to take out swaths of enemies before you have to make a terrible sacrifice.
Fuga: Melodies of Steel offers you three main guns. Those guns are controlled by the children you have running them, so you can swap between cannons, machine guns, and grenade launchers depending on what you need. Each has varying damage levels and accuracies, so you’ll need to figure out which will help you the most in a given situation. Also, enemies tend to be weak to one type and if you slam a foe with that correct damage, you’ll slow down their next turn. Choose wisely, and you’ll constantly have foes playing catch-up.
Except it’s not as easy as choosing the right weaknesses. Enemies come in varied groups, so weighing which weapon type will be most effective usually requires making a sacrifice. Maybe I want to slow a large foe that’s weak to the cannon, so I have cannons set up, but this leaves me open to fast-moving aerial foes. You can keep one of each weapon type ready for anything, but delaying turns doesn’t always slow a foe down that much. Especially if they’re armored, which requires a special ability to chip through or else it’ll take ages to kill them.
Fuga: Melodies of Steel lets you work through this by having a second kid connected to the child running the weapon. This co-pilot of sorts gives you some bonus abilities, like the above-mentioned ability that cuts through armor layers, that you may need. These are affected by which child they’re partnered with, so you may need to shuffle who’s shooting and who’s supporting to get the right tools you need. And you can only adjust this loadout once every few turns.
While you’re dealing with all that in combat, you also have to decide how to spend your time between battles. A single encounter runs through several stages of fighting and downtime, and you choose what to do in each period. During downtime, you can have the kids talk with one another and form stronger bonds (which gives new, better abilities), prepare food for them to increase stats, improve the Taranis, or fish for parts that will allow you to make those improvements. You only have a handful of things you can do during a break between battles, so you have to carefully decide how to make your crew or tank stronger. This made it so even the conversations felt tense, as I kept wondering if I was making the most of my time.
If you screw up on how you improve your tools or if you make a few bad calls in combat, you can always rely on the Soul Cannon to get you out of trouble. This tool is only available at certain times, but when it pops up, it will let you wipe out any enemy in front of you. You just have to permanently sacrifice one of your characters to use it. One of those cute, innocent kids I was talking about before.
The Soul Cannon is what ties Fuga: Melodies of Steel together. The story and characters make you feel like you never want to use its power. You want all these poor kids to survive. It’s always in the back of your mind as you weigh your options in combat and outside it, knowing that if you make a bad call, someone close to you will pay for it. In doing so, it loads every decision with fear and pressure.
All of Fuga: Melodies of Steel’s elements connect to make for an experience that gets its claws in you and won’t let go. You hang onto every decision, trying to improve your combat abilities and always make the right calls. You shift your crew and pray you’ve made the right decision regarding which weapons to use. You have them talk with friends, wondering if you should be diverting your attention elsewhere, always wondering if one of them will die from a single mistake. It’s an incredibly compelling experience in tactical combat.
Fuga: Melodies of Steel is available now on the Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC.