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Redemption Reapers Review: As Beautiful As It Is Frustrating

EDITORS' RATING : 6 / 10
Pros
  • Strong art direction
  • Entertaining cutscenes
  • Large scale battles
Cons
  • Frustrating camera
  • Sloppy AI companions

A PC code was provided to Zaaz for this review. "Redemption Reapers" is available now for PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.

In the world of "Redemption Reapers," monstrous creatures called the Mort are slaughtering civilians, burning towns, and crushing the hope of humanity everywhere. The only people who seem to have any luck in their battles against the Mort are a group of warriors known as the Ashen Hawk Brigade, but no matter how hard they try, they seem to be fighting a losing battle.

"Redemption Reapers" perfectly captures the sense of hopelessness its characters feel, and every moment of gameplay feels like a tense struggle for survival. The Mort's overwhelming presence is always crashing down on the Ashen Hawk Brigade, and the slightest misstep by any one member spells danger for the entire group. Unfortunately, that sense of constantly teetering on the brink of destruction often translates to a frustrating gameplay experience.

A mission might drag on for twenty-five minutes only for a lucky enemy blow — or worse, a simple misclick –- to knock out a single party member. At that point, new Mort run onto the battlefield, and the enemy outnumbers the party three to one. Their forces prove too strong for the Brigade's archer, and a team of four becomes three. Do you play on for another fifteen minutes, watching the party slowly dwindle away, or do you pull up the pause menu and press that dreaded restart button?

The battles in "Redemption Reapers" are long, brutal, and unforgiving. The Ashen Hawk Brigade are always at a disadvantage, even more so when they're teamed up with an AI-controlled companion. As a consequence, snatching a victory from the claws of the Mort can feel incredibly rewarding, but the outcome often seems a bit out of the player's control.

Always on the backfoot

Anyone who's played a tactical RPG before will come to "Redemption Reapers" with a fairly comprehensive understanding of how combat in the game works. The members of the Ashen Hawk Brigade can take their turns in any order, and each character can move a certain amount of tiles and spend whatever AP they've built up to use an ability, attack, or defend against incoming damage. By surrounding enemies with multiple characters, players can initiate combo attacks that function like single-button quicktime events.

Playing defensively is almost always the best strategy, but it's not always the most enjoyable. There's no way around saying it: the game's earliest battles are a drag. Enemies can typically kill any given party member in two or three hits, and basically every enemy gets a free counter attack when they're struck. Party members start out with access to one single-use healing item, and there may be an additional source of healing guarded by enemies on the map.

Slow and steady wins the race, but the game sometimes seems to work against the defensive play. In theory, it's possible to see an enemies movement range and plan accordingly, but sometimes the fixed camera angle blocks a full view. A few early missions also give the team a companion who has no problem wandering away from an objective to aggro another group of enemies the rest of the team isn't prepared to handle. The good news is that battles get a bit easier as the Ashen Hawk Brigade hits higher levels, but not everyone will have the patience to slog through the early game.

Preparing for battle

Most battles conclude with some dialogue between characters and a small advancement in the story. There's nothing spectacular or groundbreaking happening in the narrative. Every character amounts to an amalgamation of tropes, and the mystery surrounding the origin of the Mort and the Ashen Hawk Brigade's shady past isn't exactly compelling. But, the story is serviceable, and the voice actors do their best to add some life to the characters.

In between battles and story segments, players will spend a bit of time allocating skills points, trading with a merchant, repairing weapons, and equipping new gear. This all boils down to simple menu navigation. A hub area or the opportunity to talk with the other party members during a bit of downtime might work better, but what's here is effective enough.

One particularly nice feature for building up characters is the shared experience pool. In battles, characters earn XP for every Mort that they manage to slay, but in addition to individual experience, the party as a whole earns collective points. These can be spent between missions to finish grinding out a level or two for any characters who are lacking in experience. Level ups always come with a small HP boost, which is very welcome, but stat boosts are randomized, meaning the actual usefulness of any given level up will vary.

An impressive presentation

The real highlight of "Redemption Reapers" is the art. On launching the game, a cutscene rolls before giving way to the main menu, and it serves as a great introduction to the visual style. Everything is dark, moody, and lightly blood-splattered. Mort slowly creep out of the shadows before catching sight of a human and charging them head on. Watching cutscene skirmishes unfold is surprisingly entertaining, and just about every mission includes one good scene for your eyes to feast upon.

The art direction completely holds up in the game as well. Every map is gorgeous, and many contain multiple levels, not to mention small tucked away corners and hulking wooden chests to kick open. Every Mort enemy is a grotesque abomination, and none of them fit into any one creature category. It always makes sense to scan the battlefield before engaging, but it's easy to get completely lost in examining the visual details of any given encounter.

The combat animations are also a joy to watch, and none of them overstay their welcome. Seeing Sarah backflip after using Butterfly Swing, or watching Karren nail a shot from halfway across a crowded room is always entertaining. The Mort attacks are fittingly brutal, and even when a particular strike completely destroys your game plan, it's hard not to appreciate the way it all comes together.

To fight or flee?

"Redemption Reapers" isn't a great game, and it's hard to imagine anyone but the most diehard tactical RPG fans having the patience to stick with the game through its frustrating opening levels. Quicktime event combos and satisfying animations can probably keep a fan of the genre engaged through the lengthy battles, and there's definitely some satisfaction to be found in overcoming a massive flood of enemies and a less-than-cooperative camera to secure a victory. There are better tactical RPGs out there, but if you're looking for a big challenge with a distinctly grim visual style, "Redemption Reapers" might just fit the bill.

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