Title: Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix
Release Date: November 9, 2018
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Circle Entertainment
Genre: Strategy JRPG
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I can always get down with a good strategy JRPG. I enjoy how the genre doesn’t need to excel in graphics, instead, the developers can focus on creating deep unit job classes and gameplay mechanics. Most games attempt to do new things with the genre, which isn’t a bad thing, but there comes a time when I could use a nice straightforward strategy JRPG.
Well if you haven’t heard of the Mercenaries Saga Chronicles then developer Rideon has you covered with their latest installment in the series Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix. The game attempts to be an entry point for players interested in the series without needing to play the other titles. So I’ll be taking a look at how the developer is making this genre their own and whether or not it can stand out in the ocean of other titles trying to do the same thing.
As the name suggests, Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix follows the story of a small group of mercenaries who are capable of holding their own in battle. So much so that the kingdom heavily relies on them to fight in key battles against the enemy, for a price that is. I enjoyed how the story just throws the player into the action without too much opening story. This allowed me to first understand the character’s in-battle personalities and then learn about them each later.
The story mainly focuses on Jeremy, Cecil, and Francis, who make the group at the beginning of the game. The group has been together for some time and have a history that is told through story scenes during later chapters of the game. I liked how the developer didn’t use cliche backstories for the characters to describe the reasons they are fighting, instead, there was a bit of depth put into the “why” of each character, even if you have to go through a few chapters to get to it.
Interestingly, the story expands on the state of the war and how the mercenaries play a role in the direction of the kingdom. However, there are some expected twists that play out unexpectedly as the group grows and more perspectives are introduced to shed light on the actions of the kingdom and the rebels. The story sections are short and don’t overstay their welcome to get you straight into the battle. With a few text-related issues aside, I had a great time with this story and it kept me invested to see this through until the end.
Gameplay wise, the Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix has everything you’d expect to see present in a strategy JRPG. The player will place units on the map, with the first unit placed acting as a leader of the group. Certain characters add different buffs to the party like increased strength and the like. Turns are taken as the player makes their way to the enemy. There’s a nice variety of map designs, however, the camera is fixed so that does limit the amount of possible terrain design.
Characters are allowed a move action and a normal action each turn. However, strangely, if you use an attack action before a move action you can’t take your move action which I found weird. This ruins moments in the game where you’d want to attack an enemy next to your unit and then retreat in an alternate direction. Also, it’s possible for these battles to be difficult, but I found that the enemy units can be easily manipulated if I just kept my distance and took them out one by one. Also, I’m not sure why, but every character in this game has a counter attack, which just became annoying after a while when you’d think that counterattack would be a skill specific to a job class or skill.
The non-moving enemy AI does affect the flow of battle since every turn gives a unit a small amount of MP, which makes it possible to just burn some turns away from the enemy as you recoup your MP and buff/heal your party before moving on. While this is happening, the enemy will more often than not just stay where they are. Additionally, the game has a free battle mode with extra missions that can be played any number of times. This is actually needed to grind out some levels before taking on the more difficult story battles. As the game progresses, you’ll also want to spend some time leveling up new units. Thankfully, the game is on the Switch and you can spend any 20 minutes of free time to play a quick battle and gain some SP.
Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix does introduce some interesting mechanics that I actually found pretty innovative. Each unit has a job class with skills and abilities that can be leveled up individually using SP gained from battles. Similarly, when a unit reaches a certain level they can expend to a higher level of their job class. The choice is branched to fit the player’s preference and changes the stats of the character depending on which expanded job class you choose.
In battle, unit skills can also be changed based on the circumstances, which I thought was cool. For example, a Fire spell could be used at level 7 to use more MP and cause higher damage or be lowered to level 3 so that you can conserve MP and maybe take out a weaker enemy. The same can be done with healing spells and melee attacks.
Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix is a great way to start your journey into the strategy JRPG genre. The game keeps menus and mechanics basic with a unique leveling system that I haven’t really seen done before. Although the enemy AI could use some more depth and not be so easy to manipulate, which is a big part of the overall gameplay experience and does take away from using your mind to plan during battle and instead opt to fudge battles in your favor.
Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix brings me back to some of the classic systems that I enjoy about the genre as well as introduces some cool features. The game works perfectly on the Nintendo Switch by offering some quick and satisfying gameplay across a pretty long 20-hour campaign. Similarly, the story and characters offer more than a few reasons to stick with the game all the way through. I’ll happily continue to pay way more attention to this series because I know it has what it takes to be one of the best in the genre.
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