Imagine Fire Emblem went through kind of a moody, emo phase and started reading a lot of dark fantasy novels and you’ll have some idea what to expect from Redemption Reapers. This turn-based tactical RPG, from the developers of the excellent and unsung side-scrolling 2021 Soulslike Ender Lilies, puts you in command of the moody Ashen Hawk Brigade. Your task is to fight back against the Mort, an army of mysterious and murderous humanoid fiends who seem to care for nothing but the constant slaughter of innocent people. So, you know, you should probably do something about that.
Admittedly, I didn’t get too much of a sense for the shape of the world or what the larger arc of the story is going to be after playing through the first seven chapters. We still don’t know where the Mort came from or if there is any greater purpose to their terrifying rampage. That served as an interesting question that pushed me to seek answers, but it can also lead to the plot feeling a bit aimless. My band of beleaguered fighters was simply traveling from village to village trying to solve smaller problems in the wake of a seemingly all-consuming invasion, which left me asking if we were really making a difference at all. And maybe that’s intentional. But I longed for some clearer, long-term goals.
The characters mostly come across like anime archetypes who rarely showed any hidden facets or surprised me by playing against their surface-level traits. Lugh is an edgy spear-wielder who enjoys the thrill of battle and bloodshed. Urs is a beefy barbarian type with a stony demeanor. We do get a few hints that our protagonist, Sarah, blames herself for some past failure in the war against the Mort that still haunts her. But in this small slice, it’s merely alluded to.
All of these characters are elevated by a great English voice cast.
All of these characters are elevated, however, by a great English voice cast. Allegra Clark (aka Dorothea from Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Bloodhound from Apex Legends) voices the plucky archer Karren, and David Lodge (Three Houses’ Jeralt and Persona 5’s Igor) lends his gruff tone to the aforementioned big boi, Urs. The direction is pretty strong across the board as well. It sounds like a well-done, big budget anime dub, even when some of the lines are so tortured and melodramatic that they read as almost goofy.
Road to Redemption
The tactical combat takes a while to come together, but I ended up really enjoying it once the proper pieces were in place. Melee attacks, whether against you or an enemy, almost always provoke the risk of a counterattack. Thus, maximizing the chances you’ll be able to strike back and preventing your enemies from doing the same is a major concern. Party members in range of an enemy you just attacked also have a chance to perform a follow-up attack, which can be chained together if you have the foe completely surrounded. These are triggered by a timed button prompt, which adds just a dash of reflex-based tension to the normally methodical battles. I honestly enjoyed that.
In addition, characters can gain Determination from certain situations, such as taking damage, that gives them extra action points on their turn. Putting this all together, Redemption Reapers really rewards thinking carefully through each turn and figuring out how you can do the most damage while taking little or none yourself. Attacking with characters who are immune to counter attacks first, then finishing off the enemy with a chain of follow-up attacks is far more effective than simply trying to grind out a win. And all of the Ashen Hawks are quite fragile, so reckless tactics can lead to a full party wipe. This bleak world is somewhat forgiving in those situations, though. There is no perma-death, and as long as you can get to the end of a mission with one Reaper standing, it still counts as a win.
Art of War
In between missions, you can stock up on and upgrade gear, and spend skill points. The weapon system is fairly similar to Fire Emblem: every sword, bow, and spear has a durability rating, and repairs can get expensive, so you’ll feel the squeeze of keeping up your equipment even if you’re acing every mission. Starter weapons tend to have high accuracy and high durability, but low damage. The more advanced a weapon is, it will gain damage while losing accuracy and durability. So progression mainly follows a routine of upgrading someone’s weapon when they level up enough to use it without missing all the time. But even then, you’re signing up for higher repair costs if you want everyone wielding the deadliest gear available. It’s a simple but effective layer of strategic trade-offs that adds just the right amount of pressure.
Each character’s skill tree is specialized toward filling a specific role in combat, which often plays off one or more other characters to create deadly combos. Urs is an incredible tank who can shrug off blows and punish aggressive enemies, while Sarah’s talents focus on getting lots of hits in without risking counterattacks. It took me some time to really get a grasp on how all of these characters can be used together to overcome the most difficult challenges, but it felt awesome when I did.
Each character’s skill tree is specialized toward filling a specific role in combat, which often plays off one or more other characters to create deadly combos.
While I may not be entirely sold on Redemption Reapers’ fairly generic dark fantasy setting or brooding stock characters yet, the interesting and challenging tactical combat speaks for itself. I’ve only scratched the surface of the unfolding story, and I’m intrigued enough to want to know what else lies below the grimy surface. And the superb voice cast goes a long way toward selling the overall mood and vibe, when it would have been easy to slip into edgelord territory. We’ll all be able to catch up with the Ashen Hawks and continue their journey next month.