Friday, December 24, 2021

Tails of Iron: Crimson Knight Edition


Ratsylvania: War of the Vermin

Three students from the Norwich University of the Arts in Britain founded the Manchester, United Kingdom-based game development studio Odd Bug Studio, with its first title being the 2017-released PlayStation VR game The Lost Bear. Two years later, the developer, under the publishing moniker United Label, began development of the multiplatform RPG Tails of Iron, which would see its release in 2021. As has been a habit with most major videogame releases, United Label would unleash an upgraded version of the game with additional content, Tails of Iron: Crimson Knight Edition, and afterward release a patch with a more casual difficulty, certainly a decider in my decision to purchase and play the game, but was it worth it?

Animals with some semblance of intelligence form the cast of Tails of Iron, with the plot’s primary focus being on Redgi, heir to the Rat Throne, who must restore his shattered Kingdom by vanquishing the Frog Clan and their despotic leader, Greenwart, meeting many colorful characters during his quest. The game interestingly tells its story, with the animal characters not having actual dialogue, but rather pictographic speech bubbles that narrate various actions, locales, luminaries, and the like, with the common translation by the narrator, which is why I said the characters have “some semblance” of intellect. The narrative style works well for the most part, although there are occasional oddities such as alternate reference to one of Redgi’s brothers as “the Chef” or “Chef,” the latter bringing to mind the South Park character.

Fortunately, the gameplay serves Tails of Iron well, with plentiful inspiration from the Soulsborne subgenre of roleplaying games, although mercifully, especially on the easiest Fairy Tail difficulty, it doesn’t bequeath the negative elements of its brethren. That the action occurs in two rather than three dimensions certainly helps, with Redgi outfittable with a singlehanded weapon, a shield, armor, a two-handed weapon usable in combat and clearing away thick debris in environments, and different types of ranged weapons helpful to off aerial foes. Redgi executes his single-handed weapon attack with the R1 button, and can block with L2, with enemies luckily and most of the time giving indicators as to what kind of attacks they’re about to execute so that the rodent prince can react in kind.

Redgi also carries a bottle of bug juice that can restore his health, with plentiful dispensers of the beverage present throughout the various areas. He can also lace his equipped weapon with poison for heightened damage against enemies, with more venom initially available to purchase in shops, although later on there come vials where he can replenish his supply. At his castle, moreover, players can use ingredients to cook recipes that increase his maximum health or give the blacksmith blueprints for new weapons and armor, with the opportunity to equip what results or send it to storage, weight and resistance to certain adversarial types warranting consideration before outfitting Redgi with new gear.

The game mechanics work surprisingly well, with minimal wasted playtime given the frequent presence of benches where Redgi can sit to record the player’s progress, with the selectable difficulty levels certainly accommodating towards players of different skill levels, from more casual gamers to those looking for a challenge on par with those of the Soulsborne subgenre. Even the endgame of Tails of Iron is fair, with the final boss of the main storyline potentially being a quick affair, and genuinely cheap adversaries are minimal at best. There really isn’t much of which to complain in terms of the gameplay, which in the end is certain to please even the most unpleasable player.

Control serves the game just as well, one of the most useful features being the in-game maps of Tails of Iron that show where the player currently is and where they need to travel next to advance the primary storyline and even a few sidequests, some of which are necessary to continue the central plot. When finding new equipment, moreover, the player has the chance to equip it or send it to storage, with boxes containing excess gear luckily and magically connected and players needing not memorize where they sent certain gear and thus take forever to recover it. Given the sidescrolling exploration and combat, the game also has a bit of a Metroidvania flair, which definitely isn’t a bad thing. Pretty much the only major issues regard the in-game clock, which players can only see when loading a save, and which is also somewhat slow, but otherwise, interaction is well above average.

The aurals also have many things going for them, such as good music with strong instrumentation, great sound effects, and a general good ambience, although the reliance on ambience is perhaps and admittedly the weakest link of Tails of Iron. However, the character “voices” in the form of flat-tone flute sounds one can consider slightly adorable, and the coherent English narration definitely help the sound aspect, so things could have definitely been worse.

The visuals, however, are another high point in the game, with a gorgeous two-dimensional hand-drawn style consisting of pretty environments and beautiful character and enemy sprites, all with vibrant hues. There are some nice touches as well such as enemy sprites becoming more bloodied when close to death, and aside from some loading for the graphics, Tails of Iron is visual candy, very smooth even on a PlayStation 4.

Finally, the game isn’t a lengthy experience, with playtime ranging from four to eight hours depending upon whether the player wants to acquire every achievement or partake in post-game content.

Ultimately, coming from someone who doesn’t care much for games of the Soulsborne subgenre of RPGs, Tails of Iron was definitely a welcome surprise, given the accommodation of different gamer skill levels with its two-dimensional gameplay, the tight control, well-told storyline, nice ambience, superb graphics, and significant degree of lasting appeal. There are only a few negligible issues regarding the general lack of memorable music and nitpicks with the game clock, but the game is very easily one of the strongest releases of 2021, and is worth a purchase and/or download regardless of what platform the player desires.

This review is based on a playthrough of a copy purchased by the reviewer to the standard ending, with 72% of Trophies obtained.

The Good:
+Great sidescrolling combat with different difficulty settings.
+Clear direction on how to advance main plot and sidequests.
+Great story interestingly told.
+Superb two-dimensional visuals.
+Short and sweet with plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Game clock somewhat slow.
-Sound a bit reliant on ambience.

The Bottom Line:
One of the best releases of 2021.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 10/10
Controls: 9.5/10
Story: 9.5/10
Music/Sound: 9.0/10
Graphics: 9.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 4-8 Hours

Overall: 10/10

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