From its first moments, Redemption Reapers adopts an aesthetic that’s a bit different from most other fantasy-themed strategy RPGs. Where the most visible examples of the genre focus on color, light and a grand, operatic narrative sweep, the most prominent color in the palette used by developer Adglobe is a dull, muddy gray. The game itself takes place in predominantly wintry, temperate forests, ruined cities, and on ash-choked battlefields. All of its major characters dress in variations of black and brown leather. In its way, it’s like if someone tried to translate the dark fantasy stylings of a manga like Berserk or Claymore to the conventions of a strategy RPG.
The narrative of Redemption Reapers is similarly bleak. A vicious orc-like race called the Mort are sweeping through the land, killing and devastating everything in their wake. From one of the fallen nations comes a group of mercenaries called the Ashen Hawk Brigade. Its members fight desperately to save what remains of their land, get revenge on the Mort, and rally allies to the cause of pushing back the beasts. It’s a fairly simple premise, but ironically, it’s almost hard to get a handle on because the storytelling is very low-key. Much of the focus of the narrative is on the momentary need of the party, the immediate task at hand. Yet the game takes quite a while to establish the Mort, or even the world the characters operate in beyond a simple “Bad guys are invading, we must fight”-level of motivation.
To some extent, this is fine: Redemption Reapers is clearly going for a gritty, “low-fantasy” style of storytelling, where most people – audience included – must work with limited information about their wider circumstances. In such stories, it’s advantageous to keep world details vague. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t quite succeed at counterbalancing this lack of context with character dynamics or development. The members of the Ashen Hawk brigade work as an ensemble team, but don’t get enough development to be interesting on their own. As a result, Redemption Reapers comes across as “generic”-feeling, with little to distinguish its setting or plot from the raw bullet points of its story. The story changes in the latter half of the game, but failing to grab the player in the earlier stages can make the developments feel weightless. In some ways the game’s story illustrates the issue with justifying a poor first impression with “It gets better later on.”
Luckily, if the narrative and setting don’t do enough to make the game feel genuinely unique, its approach to tactical combat is refreshingly uncommon. At a foundational level, Redemption Reapers is fairly similar to a Fire Emblem title. Players can highlight, at a glance, the “danger zone” of every enemy on the field, and moving your units around the map to minimize their risk from enemy attack is at the core of its gameplay. Units also carry out a familiar rhythm of attack and counterattack, and deplete “uses” of their weapons whenever they strike.
Unlike a Fire Emblem game, though, your actions are governed by action points rather than a simpler “move, then attack” pattern. A basic strike might cost 6 points while a character’s special skill might cost 10 points, forcing you to “save” AP from previous turns to belt it out. With careful spending, it’s even possible to attack or move multiple times in a single character’s turn. Redemption Reapers also distinguishes itself in its approach to risk and player economy. Even low-level Mort foot soldiers can knock significant chunks off a character’s health bar. However, early healing is limited to a single “spirit draught” potion that can only be refilled from limited-use points on the map. Further, money needed to repair, upgrade, and buy new weapons is hard to come by, forcing you to spend your between-battle resources sparingly and make tough choices about equipment. In fact, it’s not unusual to find at least some of your party fighting with broken weapons in some battles.
Not even the turn-by-turn tactics are spared from an unforgiving pressure curve. From the very first tutorial stage, players are constantly battling with odds stacked against them. You’ll find yourself with just a handful of characters tasked with clearing dozens of enemies from the map. The damage they can do to your characters centers tactics around keeping your party in tight quarters, to take advantage of bonuses and skills that benefit from being adjacent to team members.
You’ll also want tight formations to maximize the damage you deal by surrounding an enemy with your characters to trigger as many follow-up attacks as possible. This approach to combat forces an interesting level of consideration around both group cohesion. Combined with the consideration of AP costs and adjacency bonuses, the default tactical style of play in Redemption Reapers is a slow, conservative advance. You’ll constantly make considerations about which character is best to expose to harm at a given moment. For example, the twin dagger-wielding Sarah has many moves that allow her to avoid getting hit by a counter attack, so she’s great for making a first move or executing enemies close to to death. However, her armor is made of paper, meaning even stray hits have a chance of knocking her out or forcing her to quaff her precious potion.
Thankfully unlike Fire Emblem as well, the game doesn’t force a “permadeath” style of play, and any non-objective character eliminated from combat simply returns for the next stage.
Overall, there’s an interesting sense of tension in Redemption Reapers combat. Rather than the bold advances and wide sweeps of movement more common to newer strategy titles, your fights feel like slogging brawls, as your characters move together to methodically clear out threats. The game eases up somewhat in the back half. Money and weapons become easier to come by, and character skills unlock many more options to dispatch threats while minimizing exposure, but the crawling approach holds throughout a Redemption Reapers run.
There’s not much drama to it, and over time the rhythm of surround-kill-repeat can start to wear thin, but it’s an uncommon mood to go for a genre that typically strives make players feel like strategic geniuses instead of harried, tense tacticians. Whether that sense of grinding, hard-earned progress appeals to you is ultimately a matter of taste. But since there’s not as much in the way of narrative payoff, you’d have to enjoy that sense of desperate victory for its own sake.
In the end, Redemption Reapers is an engaging, if somewhat niche, tactical RPG experience. Its strong moment-to-moment battling emphasizes a sense of hard knocks and desperate victories, but a thin story and slogging early stages risk alienating potential fans before they get a taste for its atmosphere.
Redemption Reapers is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, and PS4. This review is based on a Nintendo Switch copy of the game provided by the publisher.