Not many people would disagree with me when I say that Steam has made access to smaller games easier than ever. At the same, though, it’s still very easy for those small games to fall off our radar. For example, hidden among enormous games like The Sims 4 and Hyrule Warriors this September was The Sacred Tears True, a mildly interesting RPG Maker game available on Steam for $10.
In fact, if pressed to describe it further, I would call it a game of milds. It has a mildly entertaining story, laced together with mildly engaging mechanics, both of which you should only play in mildly short bursts. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of Zeboyd’s humorous RPGs. I imagine if you like those, you’ll be keen on this game, as well.
Sacred Tears begins with two thieves (Seil and Seana) running away from a botched heist. This initial episode sets the tone for the following 30-odd episodes that make up Sacred Tears’ story. Rather than focusing on a grand plot or detailed exploration of character, it instead centers on two thieves working odd jobs to save up money. And the story’s all the better for this focus. It leads to several humorous moments in the story. Part of that humor comes from the game briefly engaging RPG tropes only that it might mock them a minute later.
However, just as much of it comes from the game using simple personalities. Seil, for example, is the story’s irresponsible man-child. Meanwhile, Seana balances him out as the story’s relative straight man. True, their personalities are a little more complex than that, but not by much. Moreover, they don’t need any more than that. Because the characters are so uncomplicated, their personalities bounce well off each other.
Yet there’s more to Sacred Tears’ narrative than its two main characters. There shouldn’t be, but there is. There’s also a grand overarching plot about two warring nations, an Empire, a Church, etc. But in my experience with Sacred Tears, the story didn’t offer many compelling reasons why I should care about any of that. The characters, as straightforward as they are, are all individual enough that I can imagine myself caring about them. Not so with the world beyond them. The Empire is just a generic fantasy Empire. The Church is just a generic fantasy Church. We don’t know anything about these institutions beyond their very broad, very vague functions. They don’t pull me into the world, tell me more about it. or even make me care more about the story. Fortunately, the game seems to agree with me. Remember: all of this is background detail to the character interactions that make up the story’s foreground.
Complementing the narrative is the game’s card-based battle system. Although it appears overly complex at first (because the game isn’t a very good teacher), its mechanics are actually quite simple. You and an enemy pick three cards per round. Each card is valued 1-4, and they all have their own unique function (dodge, special attack, magic, etc.). Cards are played War style, barring a few exceptions. Repeat for however many rounds it takes for one side to collapse dead. An uncomplicated system, yes, but it serves the game’s systems well enough. Sacred Tears doesn’t have battles for what they contribute to the world or the story, or because they complex mechanics demand our skills and attention. They’re only here to break up the narrative action, and they’re good at just that.
Most battles don’t demand much of your attention. In fact, you can usually finish them in less than a minute. As a result, they lend the game the exact kind of relaxing pace it needs. The story works up your attention with decent jokes, and the battles simmer it down, priming you for whatever other humorous moment the game has in store for you. It’s not a perfect system, though. For example, the boss battles expect a level of skill that the battle system can’t let you deliver. From what I can tell, the game expects you to beat bosses by predicting what cards they’ll play, and then strategically playing your own cards in response. Unfortunately, this being a luck-based system, you’re always working with very limited information. This means that your ability to predict enemy behavior is even more limited, and beating them often comes down to luck rather than skill. Well, either that or excessive grinding.
This nicely transitions into one of the greater problems with Sacred Tears’ battle system. About a third of the way through the experience, the game introduces frequent difficulty spikes that ruin the fun. What you could once eliminate in a reasonable amount of time now takes endless rounds of cherry taps to fell. Meanwhile, the enemies that once dealt modest amounts of damage can now eliminate 40% of your health with a single well-placed attack. If you’re not careful, you could reach the 7th Saga point, where enemies become so strong that you can’t fight them and become stronger yourself. True, the game lets you control Seil’s/Seana’s stats, but I could never find the perfect balance that let me withstand enemy attacks reasonably well. No wonder the game feels as frustrating as it does toward the end. How am I to respond to the game’s pleas for more skillful play when the mechanics won’t allow me to deliver that kind of play?
But perhaps more disappointing is what the game doesn’t focus on. Between the battles and the narrative, Sacred Tears also includes a buy/sell mechanic. You gather various objects in the world, seek out merchants in the city, and play them against each other to maximize profit. In theory, this should be the one game mechanic that most strongly defines the game. First, it ties very well into the narrative of two deadbeat thieves scrounging up whatever money they can find. Second, the buy/sell aspect encourages you to learn your environment and how the people in it fit in. It should lend the game’s world a sense of life that it can’t find anywhere else.
Unfortunately, it isn’t a system Sacred Tears sees fit to develop. In fact, the game barely acknowledges it after introducing the system early on. This leaves us with other systems that, while fun in their own right, aren’t as gripping as the buy/sell mechanic would have been. This isn’t to say that the game has no reason for hiding that mechanic. If I had to guess, it would be because the world isn’t strong enough to warrant exploration. It’s a small world, and one that doesn’t change with time. In addition, the people populating it have nothing interesting to say. They spout meaningless statements like, “I like to read old things.” Why explore a world that makes no effort to add to your understanding of it or its people? That said, I still wish the buy/sell mechanic was more significant to the game than it ended up being. It certainly feels more natural to the world than the card-based battle system.
This doesn’t mean that Sacred Tears is an inadequate game. For what it is, it’s fairly effective. Granted, that’s not much, but what’s there works well. You get a somewhat humorous story (with slightly interesting serious moments scattered about), and OK gameplay breaking up that story. It’s almost like a low rent Resonance of Fate, only not nearly as complex.