It’s always great to see a new indie RPG come out. Typically they’re the preserve of big budget publishers with long-running franchises who tend to stick to similar gameplay ideas and story beats instead of risking doing something new and unheard of. Instead it’s usually independent teams that throw the rulebook out the window and challenge the industry. Titles like Undertale and Banner Saga tread unfamiliar territory that many big studios would never dare tread on. With Regalia, I had hoped to play another game as risky and unique as those, but while it certainly takes risks, they aren’t all very well executed.
Regalia doesn’t open with a world-ending prophecy or fictional nations on the brink of war. Instead our young and inexperienced protagonist finds himself inheriting the ruined and abandoned kingdom of his ancestors, and after running into a debtor that his ancestors owe a large sum to, he is forced to restore the kingdom to it’s former glory in order to pay off the debt that comes with it. While Kay begins his journey accompanied only by his two sisters and a dedicated personal guardsman, it isn’t long before he gathers an impressive array of men and women to live in his kingdom and, in some cases, fight alongside him in battle.
While the world and setting of Regalia are nothing too original, the narrative of the game is heavily seasoned with jokes and goofy humor. The contrast between the high fantasy setting and the brash sense of humor could be fun in portions, but unfortunately the game serves jokes to you by the gallon. When every other piece of dialogue, loading screen text and quest tooltip involves some kind of joke or random punch of humour, it begins to get a little grating. Even worse, most of the jokes aren’t even that funny. The game tries way too hard, way too often, and it elicited eye-rolls and groans out of me more often than genuine laughs. Most of these scenes are also fully voiced, but the quality of acting is disappointingly inconsistent.
The visuals, on the other hand, are much more consistent and enjoyable. Even though Regalia takes place in a world made up of various high fantasy tropes and staples, the portraits for characters and creatures are all illustrated in a sharp, colorful style that leans more into a fresh combination of JRPG and comic book. This style is mimicked somewhat in the 3D models that populate the game world, although their dulled colors and simpler faces make them less impressive than the sharp 2D portraits often on display right next to them.
For the hero Kay to rebuild his kingdom, he needs to travel the nation searching for citizens and aid. Exploring new places means encountering enemies, and encountering enemies leads to some tactical RPG battles. Fans of Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics will be all too familiar with the format here. Your squad and the enemies all occupy sqaure spaces on a grid battlefield. Each character takes a turn to move to a new space or perform a variety of combat actions until one side is left victorious. The basic foundation is familiar, but Regalia does a few things differently from the standard tactical RPG.
For one thing, your characters don’t have a regular attack option. Everyone simply has a set of special abilities, most with cool-downs on them, that act as your only palette of options in combat. It was a little off-putting at first, but after a while the mechanic clicked with me and I came to appreciate it. Some characters might not be able to attack every turn, so planning your moves in order to set them up for success whether their attack abilities are refreshed or not adds an interesting layer to the strategy of combat. Many skills also involve needing a line of sight to the target, but that line can be a bit finicky at times. In some maps, the field is littered with line-blocking obstacles, and that ends up leading to a few too many headaches.
Additionally, characters don’t heal or recover health in the traditional sense. Instead, characters have a separate shield bar that must be depleted before any health damage can be taken. Character abilities can restore ally shields or cripple enemy shields, and while the shield system isn’t a ground-breaking mechanic, it’s a small thing that helps add depth to an otherwise basic combat experience.
Unfortunately, that combat experience is hampered by clunky, unnatural menu navigation. Regalia started out as a PC release on Steam, and the keyboard & mouse roots are made evident by the obtuse way you have to navigate the UI on PS4. You’ll often need to hold down or tap shoulder buttons to cycle through on-screen options that, in the original game, were probably a simple mouse click away. The controller gymnastics I had to perform just to select a save point or open the quest journal drove me crazy, and while it never quite ruined the experience for me, it certainly made me wish I was playing on PC at times.
When you aren’t struggling to make moves in combat, you can also craft equipment, form social links, and even fish. You can’t get too invested with side activities, though. Much like Persona or Dead Rising, Regalia has timed deadlines, and failure to meet specific story goals before those deadlines means it’s game over. Most activities take up time from the clock, and your allowance of days is usually pretty tight, so it’s hard to lose yourself in hours of exploration when you need to make progress toward the main quest.
Regalia has some interesting things going for it. I was blown away by the gorgeous character designs and illustrated portraits and the tactical combat also impressed me with unique systems that made it a bit more than just a cookie cutter tactical RPG. Unfortunately, for as much as I loved those aspects, hamfisted humor and clunky menu navigation on console dampened what could have otherwise been a magical experience. It’s hard to get past those issues, but if you’re able to, there some truly special stuff here in Regalia.
Version tested: PS4 – Also available on XBO, Switch & PC