Title: Cross Tails
Release Date: July 19, 2023
Reviewed On: PC
I’ve been on a bit of an SRPG kick, playing through Tear Ring Saga and Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen while mulling on another Fire Emblem Engage replay. And then I spotted Cross Tails, a new release by Rideon, published by KEMCO. A strategy RPG with multiple protagonists. You could create a pretty gripping story with that kind of setup. It sounds perfectly up my alley, so I was sold from the get-go. But Cross Tails falls short of expectations.
Cross Tails follows a multi-route story with two main protagonists to choose from. Dogboy Felix Arens, the young soldier recently promoted to squad leader who feels he has a lot to live up to, and catgirl Shaimaa Jerbi, a clan leader’s daughter who lives by justice first and questions later. Your selection will throw you down a 35-odd chapter narrative with their own recruitable characters and story.
The two are from the opposing locales, the Kingdom of Ranverfurt and the clan-run Republic of Hidiq, who have been at war for some years. But no one quite recalls how it started, but there are no signs of it letting up, given the countries of cats and dogs are somewhat prejudiced towards each other. Your protagonist and their allies will become embroiled in the war themselves and fight to survive and end the conflict.
There are some similarities to games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre within the setup of the story, but they’re most overt within the gameplay. Your cast of characters can select from a collection of classes, each with their own skills and passives. These classes cover the whole ensemble of mages, both the offensive and defensive varieties or those specializing in throwing around buffs and debuffs.
Then on the physical side, you’ve got theming all around different weapons like swords, bows, spears, fists, etc., with some multitasking with magic every now and then. Passive skills learned can be used in different classes, and secondary classes can also be equipped to further flesh out your move pool. Leveling classes will also give further access to further classes to diversify your squad and abilities.
The gameplay is solid and quite fun; I spent hours carefully crafting and considering my squad loadouts and setting them up to find ways to cleave through my opposition. There’s a neat gameplay loop in taking out and clearing maps, gaining enough CP to unlock another class, and then playing around with it to see if there are any interesting or potentially worthwhile skills to add to a character’s repertoire.
I feel the gameplay eventually becomes something of an arms race to nuke your opponents in one hit before their inflated attack stats take your units out in a couple of hits, but this likely has something to do with the harder difficulty I was playing on. And making it to that stage is satisfying. The final boss was not ready for me to hack off 75% of their health in one hit.
While I enjoyed the gameplay immensely, the story and characters left much to be desired. The cast is flat, and while you can argue that the war situation makes it difficult for characters to have any downtime, that doesn’t really justify how dull and ultimately uninteresting the cast is. The plot just pushes the cast around from place to place. The multi-protagonist PoV is also entirely wasted.
You would expect these characters to foil each other and have numerous confrontations across the 35-odd-chapter story. Not to have fewer interactions than a person has fingers. Each story is basically the same, adding little to the world and cast. It would have been at least a little more interesting if you alternated between characters, but instead, it feels redundant.
What makes this worst, though, is the route system.
About 16 chapters into both routes, you get a chapter titled ‘A Decision, in which the main character gets a choice of two options, with one of them locked until you beat the game and then play it again. The choice locked is the one that leads to the true ending. I’m not sure why they decided on this. On the one hand, replaying the back half of the game with different maps is fun, but on the other hand, the so-called ‘true’ route for each character is actually a worse story and leaves the number of protagonist interactions at two.
If you left the story at just the initial route, then it would be an underwhelming but cohesive experience, but what we get here is just raw and uncooked concepts. To see everything, you’ll need to play this game four times, but you’ll get everything you need from just one playthrough.
If they wanted to incentivize a replay, then I would have thought the logical option would have been to unlock a ‘true’ route after you clear the story on each side. The decision-making that went into this story baffles me. I liked the visual style and the animations, but since the story is unimportant, and I had more figuring out how to make numbers go up, I spent much of the game with the animations turned off, though, as they’re just a bit too slow.
Cross Tails is a disappointing game because it has all the components of a masterpiece. However, between flat characters and nonsensical story planning decisions, it fails to leave an impact as anything more than a missed opportunity. Which is also a shame because of how finely the combat is crafted. I enjoyed that and hoped to see it in something with better furnishings.
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