As much as I like the idea of playing tactical role-playing games, the truth is I barely have enough time for them. Gone are the days when I could kick back with Final Fantasy Tactics or Advance Wars for hours on end, burning through set of AA batteries after another. They’re demanding games and require not only your undivided attention but a knowledge of how their myriad systems work. There isn’t that same instant gratification you get from multiplayer shooters or the sense of wonderment from open world epics. These games are slow burners, poised around tactical smarts and careful management. A decent palette cleanser, as long as you have the time and patience.
Funnily enough, the last tactical RPG I delved into was another Kadokawa release – 2014’s unusual yet flawed Natural Doctrine. While it shares a number of traits, God Wars: Future Past is much tighter and easier to approach even if it does have a few blemishes of its own.
Despite my aversion to Japanese tropes in video game storytelling, I initially found myself drawn in by God Wars: Future Past. The eponymous conflict is fought between three nations, though their hostility towards one another doesn’t go unnoticed. Through natural disasters, the ancestral spirits make their displeasure known, triggering one of the nation leaders, Lady Tsukuyomi, to sacrifice her young daughter to appease them. Fast forward thirteen years and we see another of her daughters, Kaguya, about to escape imprisonment, being rescued by Kintaro (a childhood friend) and his ursine companion, Kuma.
It’s an interesting set-up though one that quickly devolves into a wild goose chase as more characters are brought into the fold. Subplots come and go as new party members join your growing fellowship of misfits. As a result, I struggled to connect with any of them and soon lost interest in the game’s overarching narrative.
Kaguya’s journey is charted across a map of ancient Japan, with each waypoint signalling a new chapter in her story. Typically, as each one plays out, you’ll be treated to some dialogue between characters before plunging into battle. Staged upon miniature dioramas, these fights are where you’ll focus most of your attention, driving the story and fuelling your companions with new skills and equipment.
When it comes to fighting, God Wars does little to set itself apart from your run-of-the-mill tactical RPGs. Characters are deployed, then take it in turns moving from tile to tile, performing a variety of actions like attack or disabling an opponent. Naturally, this is all done by selecting options from a menu, then waiting for the corresponding animation to trigger. It’s slow, methodical, and aligns with what you’d expect from a traditional tactical RPG. While skirmishes can be dealt with in ten minutes or so, larger battles require more thought and commitment.
Victory comes through a knowledge of how the game works and optimising your squad as best you can. By tweaking the gear and abilities of party members, you can effectively assign each one a specific combat role. For example, spending a character’s skill points on support abilities can make them a great back row healer, while tough armour, defence buffs, and taunts all make for a versatile tank or defender, able to channel the enemy’s attention away from weaker teammates.
Exploring the nuances of each job class and combining them with a character’s own unique skills is where most of the game’s enjoyment stems from. It’s all about management and premeditation which can sound boring, but has a rewarding payoff.
That said, the moment you lose interest in tailoring your warband of misfits, God Wars begins to droop. The occasional battles you march into without fussing over your team loadouts are the ones you’ll likely lose, forcing players to think tactically both on and off the field. Although there’s always an element of luck at play, the setup, approach and ending of each fight tend to follow the same pattern.
One smart addition God Wars has is being able to assign behaviours to your party members. This effectively puts them on auto-pilot, strictly adhering to the combat role you’ve chosen, whether that be an opportunistic striker, healer, or long-ranged attacker. It helps remove some of the tedious legwork, but there is a trade-off. At times, the friendly AI can be atrocious, wasting precious MP on needless skills, exposing themselves, and generally running amok. With a toolset of more advanced options available, Kadokawa could have made this an invaluable feature, setting God Wars apart.
Visually, there isn’t much going on beyond the game’s artwork and animated cutscenes. Character models, environments, and animations are incredibly basic. Although their size and simplicity makes it easy to view the battlefield and manage units, the 3D visuals in God Wars lack any sort of punch or flare. At least the soundtrack is decent, as is the English dub, which is a rarity in most Japanese imports.
Fans of the genre will definitely find their fix here. God Wars may not push the envelope though adheres to what can make tactical RPGs so deep and rewarding. With a little more care given to the story, friendly AI, and graphics, this could easily have been a much-needed triumph for Kadokawa Games.
Version tested: PlayStation Vita