*Disclaimer: Review key provided by developer.
The tactical RPG genre has been sadly underrepresented in recent years. Genre classics such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre haven’t since been matched. Pixelated Milk’s Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs aims to change that – and it’s a surprisingly characterful gem. The indie developer’s debut project deserves heaps of praise for so deftly balancing a charming and comical fairy-tale world with deep and challenging turn-based tactical RPG combat.
Regalia tells the story of Kay Loren, sole heir and recent inheritor to the once-glorious kingdom of Ascalia. Thrusting the player into a beautiful fantasy realm, there are ancient civilisations, knights, and all manner of monsters and creatures. So far, so RPG. But Regalia pays loving tribute to its genre by sending up and parodying countless narrative tropes, weaving a character-driven plot that is at once typically epic and endearingly jocular.
The story is based on typical RPG fare: reclaim your throne, become a hero. Yet from the very first beat, each scenario is played out by undercutting the melodrama with witty lines and quirky events. Nothing is taken too seriously, from a grand narrator misidentifying our hero to a profanity-slinging old ghost; situational humour and disbelieving characters are unafraid to point out the absurdity of the situations they encounter. Kay finds out that his ‘kingdom’ is in ruins, the inheritance came with years of debt to pay off, and the debt collectors are knocking. Cursing his ancestors for dropping him right in it, Kay’s now tasked with revitalising the kingdom.
This colourful and beautifully-drawn world is populated by a roster of truly interesting characters. Whilst most are based on well-used archetypes, each and every inhabitant has a distinct personality, back story and relationship to the world. Whether it’s Griffith, a knightly paragon of honour, or blacksmith Gunther and his tiny pink bow-wearing pug Heinrich, the ensemble is diverse and universally entertaining. This is conveyed through great dialogue writing that shines with wit and character, often playing upon the rapports or personality clashes between certain characters; complete with affectionate or insulting nick-names. If I had one complaint, it would be that the voice acting – while a nice addition to have – is hit-and-miss, ranging from enjoyable to unpleasant.
Experiencing this dialogue and the interplay between characters is reward in itself, but the game actively encourages the player to seek out interactions wherever possible through a Persona-style relationship system. Called Personal Bonds, each and every party member and town inhabitant can be interacted with at certain times to strengthen your relationship with them. By spending time with a character and choosing amongst (often wacky and entertaining) dialogue choices, you’ll be able to level up your friendship; and in doing so, unlock a variety of benefits relating to that character and their role.
Regalia offers an eclectic gameplay experience that sees the player moving between classic turn-based combat and dungeon crawling, aforementioned relationship building, and city management. You’ll spend your time fairly evenly between each of these. As a ruler, Kay has to conduct diplomacy with neighbouring kingdoms, allocate resources to repairing the town and attract new inhabitants for prosperity. Bringing new traders or craftsmen into town for example might unlock new buildings, bonuses and skills.
All this, and we haven’t even talked about the combat yet! Dungeons are made up of three types of nodes: Camp nodes where you can save your game at any time and rest to heal/revive your party members once per dungeon; Adventure nodes where you can play out enchanting mini choose-your-own-adventure stories; and Combat Nodes. Battles involve standard turn-based tactical RPG mechanics. Each basic turn consists of movement and a single action. Health is a rare commodity in Regalia, with limited opportunities to heal. Instead, the focus is upon building and maintaining shields which will absorb enemy damage and protect your health bar; and beyond the early stages of the game maintaining shields will become as crucial as healing might be in another RPG.
Each new turn awards an Authority point, which can be used to ‘Blitz’, allowing a character to take a second action in the same turn, or stored up to unleash ‘ultimate’ attacks. Choosing when and how to use AP adds an extra level of strategizing beyond the standard chess-like positional tactics which are vital for survival against everything from goblins and trolls to fauns and sorcerers.
Enemies aren’t just varied in terms of appearance – they’re armed to the teeth with skills, and know how to use them. The AI is surprisingly good, and mistakes are punished. You’ll encounter creatures that regenerate shields on every turn or those that deal huge area-of-effect damage to their immediate surroundings upon death. I did find that some enemies seemed a little unfairly balanced; with huge HP, constantly regenerating shields and high damage resistance. However, there are plenty of tools to utilise against such challenges. Each party member has a unique set of physical or magic-based skills and abilities, and as the game progresses a large number of members will be unlocked.
If the standard combat difficulty isn’t enough, each encounter comes with extra optional challenges. Completing these will award extra XP and treasure; however some challenges feel far too demanding and are only recommended for the most masochistic of players. If, on the other hand, combat is too challenging, players can opt for ‘Story Mode’ difficulty, whereby they can choose to skip battles altogether and focus solely upon the game’s narrative.
Framed within a calendar system that requires time management and prioritisation, the game still allows the freedom to pursue activities in pretty much any order. Each in-game Chapter consists of a 2-month cycle, within which you’ll have a target of ‘Kingdom Quests’ to complete. These encompass everything, meaning that you can happily achieve your targets by fishing and building Personal Bonds or by clearing dungeons, crafting weapons and rebuilding the kingdom.
Combining so my aspects into a single experience could potentially derail a lesser game, but Regalia ties it all together with its style. The art is crisp, and the soundtrack immediately stately and energetic, a Final Fantasy-style combination of orchestral scores and rock band punch. There’s just so much to see and do – and everything has its benefits and rewards, adding to a constant sense of progress no matter which activity you’re spending time with.
As a result, Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs provides a cohesive and pleasurable experience that never stagnates due to its wealth of options. It is tied together by a delightfully funny and colourful world; but never sacrifices gameplay depth, attention to detail or compelling storytelling in its successful quest to entertain.
Regalia is available on Steam.