There are all sorts of tactical strategy games out there.  While the genre was originally quite niche, it has expanded radically over the last couple of decades and many games are practically mainstream now.  Just look at the response to Fire Emblem Engage (review here).  Gamers love strategy games.  But what we haven’t seen much of in the strategy genre is dark fantasy.

Most strategy games are heroic and uplifting, like a fantasy story where the good guys essentially ride in on white horses and slaughter the clearly evil bad guys.  Even those bad guys are fairly mellow for the most part.  Sure there’s the occasional deep political tale like Final Fantasy Tactics, but for the most part, storybook heroes and villains.  That’s all fine and good, but it means we haven’t really seen what the genre has to offer.  Redemption Reapers from developer Adglobe Games and publisher Binary Haze Interactive is looking to change that however!

You might remember Adglobe from the outstanding Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights (review here).  Much like Ender Lilies, Redemption Reapers takes the SRPG genre and refines it, moving in all new directions and making players reconsider their beliefs about a genre.  In the game, you play the Ashen Hawk Brigade, a small band of warriors struggling to survive on a continent plagued by the Mort, a strange monstrous race that has all but obliterated huge swaths of humanity.  Make no mistake, this is a dark fantasy dystopia with all the fixings. 

The Mort don’t really have much in terms of depth going on, but they make up for it in both numbers and the variety of types the appear in.  Mort are also pretty nasty characters and even the weakest ones can slaughter any member of the brigade pretty easily, especially at first.  This is a vintage-style tactical strategy game, so be prepared for old-school grid based combat with some outstanding twists.  You play Sarah a warrior with a traumatic past, and together with a few other ne’er-do-well friends, you’re the last bastion of hope for the human race.

While the plot isn’t deep, it carries the gameplay well enough.  Don’t expect things to get moving for a while though as the main story has to do with the history of the Ashen Hawk Brigade as well as the Mort invasion and you don’t learn much for a number of battles.  There are 29 chapters in Redemption Reapers and with each battle taking a minimum of a half hour or so, you’re looking at a solid 25+ hours here.  It’s plenty of time to get to know your companions and even though this isn’t the best writing out there, it’s certainly a serviceable enough story.

What you’re really here for though is the combat.  One thing Redemption Reapers gets right is that it doesn’t mess about too much with a deep plot that drags on and on.  It’s great to have a solid and engaging plot sometimes as players of Triangle Strategy (review here) will likely tell you, but sometimes you just want to get right to the combat.  That’s 90% of the game in Reapers and the game is honestly better for it.  But what makes it stand out from the vast array of other SRPGs on the market?  Turns out quite a bit.

Standard SRPGs, especially turn-based grid ones, typically give you a number of playable characters.  Regardless of whether or not you have permadeath, you’re constantly cycling characters and choosing who to use, who to level, and what to equip them with, resulting in a significant amount of menu management and creating a ton of down time between stages.  Redemption Reapers throws all that crap right out the window.  You start off with only two characters and max out at a whopping five characters.  That’s it.  There’s no huge roster to choose from, no specialty jobs system or deep crafting system here.  You don’t have a base to manage and you’re not wandering around having heart to heart conversations with anyone.  You’re a small group of warriors, likely suffering from PTSD and just trying to stay above ground for one more day at a time.  And hey, if you manage to save the world, so be it, but it certainly wasn’t on your bingo card.

That’s right, five playable characters.  One archer, one heavy unit, one light unit, a swordsman, and a pikeman.  And most maps have twenty or so enemies on them.  You’re badly outnumbered and the enemies are strong.  In most SRPGs, you’d send your crew across the map in different directions, gathering up supplies and fighting different enemy types based on their abilities.  Not in Redemption Reapers though.  After a couple of tries with traditional tactics that resulted in an abject slaughter of the Ashen Hawk Brigade, it was time to try something new.  You see, Redemption Reapers is designed for you to keep your party together in close ranks.  Gameplay more closely mirrors real combat than pretty much any other game.  As you get swarmed by enemies, you’re almost guaranteed to take hits.  But what if you and your two buddies hit them from the front and flanked them at the same time?  Now we’re talking sensible tactics.

When you attack in Redemption Reapers, it’s always important to make sure you know where your entire party is.  If you’re flanking an enemy, you can each take shots on them, multiplying the damage in a follow-up attack.  Surround an enemy and four of your team will pummel them to death.  Some weapons are ranged and some abilities even prevent counterattacks, leaving enemies defenseless as you lure them toward you, surround them, and pick them off one by one.  Diving in headfirst will get you killed here, and while there’s no permadeath, it is definitely irritating to have to replay the last half-hour or more.  To perform actions you use Action Points and they’re renewed every turn.  You only have so many though, so as you level up, you’ll be able to perform more actions per turn, enabling you to focus on more refined attack and defensive strategies.  In addition to powerful flanking moves, you’ll get some defensive abilities too.  Interestingly enough, walking does not use action points, a rarity in these types of games.  This design allows you to carefully plan combat, the best part of SRPGS!

Defense consists of blocking or setting characters to defend others.  Several characters are able to offer significant defenses and everyone can block to cut damage in half.  You’ll also get one healing draught per person, allowing you to replenish some hit points but most combat is a slow attrition of HP followed by occasional healing.  There are two points per map where you can heal and replenish a draught, but there are five of you and there’s never enough to go around. 

You’ll also earn skill points which allow you to boost the special abilities of your team.  Skill points are a mixed blessing here.  Some games let you reallocate at will or for a cost.  Not Redemption Reapers.  Make a choice and stick with it or save before you allocate your points, but either way, don’t forget to use them.  Skills may allow you to attack without being hit by an enemy counterattack, make you stronger, allow you to attack two enemies at once, or a myriad of other potential supports.  Some skills are active ones that you select in battle while others are passive skills that just make your survival that much more likely.  Do not forget to use those points! 

In addition to utilizing skill points you can also upgrade your weapons and equip accessories in the menu between battles.  Strangely you cannot pick up a weapon found in battle and equip it but hey, those are the breaks!  You find stones during combat that you can use to upgrade weapons and have a better fighting chance but be careful, money is tight too and unless you take the time to scavenge the field, lowering your ranking and experience, you won’t have much to spend.  Upgrades are few and far between too and the merchant takes a long time to sell you anything truly useful as well!  Oh, and did we mention weapon degradation?  Turns out your weapons are only good for so many shots in Redemption Reapers and they’ll break, reducing their combat effectiveness by half.  The more powerful the weapon, the more frequently you’ll have to fix it and the less durability it has.  There’s definitely an element of planning here, but honestly, use the stronger stuff.  Scrounge the field, grab the best weapons you can buy and keep upgrading because every little bit helps!  It’s expensive to fix all those weapons, so you’ll need to sell the ingots you buy to pay for it, otherwise you’re going to be both weak and broke and there’s no way to survive that!  

While the menu system is streamlined compared to other SRPGs, it’s also a bit odd.  None of the equip buttons are intuitive and accessories have to be accessed through a different sub-menu than weapons.  Wandering back and forth through the menu system is a bit of a hassle, but it’s somewhat forgivable considering that you’re mostly here for the strategy.  Gathering up that post-combat XP is useful too since you can use it to boost the levels of any characters that are lagging behind a bit.  But just like everything else in Redemption Reapers, it’s a finite resource that you’ll definitely have to be careful with.

Fortunately, there’s some relief built in here as well.  There’s a skirmish mode where you can work on leveling up the Ashen Hawk Brigade before you get totally out of your depth and slaughtered repeatedly.  You can replay any level you’ve completed and grind your characters to their best (and strongest) selves.  However, chests and items are not replenished in Skirmish mode, meaning that supplies are still limited so be careful! 

What you have probably noticed by now is that while it’s a rather dreary game, Redemption Reapers is absolutely gorgeous, especially on the battlefield.  The attention to detail is fantastic and even on the Switch with its noticeably weaker graphics.  This is one pretty game and the cut scenes are pretty outstanding too!  Character portraits are a bit weaker than the rest of the game however, slightly detracting from dialogue portions of the game, especially with atrocious lip synching.  Hey, can’t win ‘em all, right? 

Regardless, the oppressive dark atmosphere, ruined cities and buildings, and terrifying character designs of the Mort are an absolute win here and this is one great game to look at.  It’s just a shame that there’s no camera control or zoom function that lets you fully enjoy the noticeably detailed in-game character maps!   There are also a few issues with the camera when some more powerful attacks zoom in, leaving you stuck looking at the inside of a wall on occasion, but they’re mostly bearable.  Sadly, the game has fairly small fonts and very small characters overall.  On the Switch in undocked mode, the game is very difficult to see, notable because of the dark and monotone color schemes of the visual design.  It’s honestly hard to really get the full impact of the visuals in Redemption Reapers when playing undocked on the Switch.  When switching to the PS4/5 version of the game, the visuals become a bit clearer and more detailed and the cinemas are improved, but the text and fonts are still small.  Visually, the PS4/5 is the clear winner here, though only the most intense graphics-focused gamers will truly care. 

Sound design in Redemption Reapers is rather more impressive than the visuals however.  The music is composed by Rei Kondoh, and if you think you haven’t heard his work, you probably have.  He composed the music for the first two Bayonetta games, three different Fire Emblem games, and even The Wonderful 101!  The masterful tracks in Redemption Reapers are utterly breathtaking and if ever a game deserved a physical soundtrack, it’s this one.  As it is, you’re definitely going to want the soundtrack here, and unfortunately, aside from ripping it from Youtube, you’re not going to find it.  There’s no way to buy the soundtrack anywhere.  It simply isn’t available and as of yet, does not come with the game. 

Unlike the stellar soundtrack, the voice acting in Redemption Reapers is, well, less impressive.  The script isn’t the best and the voice actors are often noticeably over the top or missing the point of a particular piece of dialogue.  It’s not that they’re bad per se, it’s just that they’re hamming it up pretty hard and the voice acting comes off as cheesy and almost cringe-worthy.  On top of that there are a variety of dialogue choices that in other games with give you some agency in the game but here make absolutely no difference.  Bummer

Either way you slice, it while Redemption Reapers isn’t the best game out there in terms of voice work and plot, it’s a superb SRPG that obliterates convention in favor of a well-designed and well-reasoned team-based combat system that requires careful attention to detail, challenges players, and is an absolute joy to play.  The strategy is gratifying and unique and allows for clever tricks and attacks that would never work in most strategy games but would absolutely make sense in real life situations.  Challenge and critical thinking is what the SRPG genre is all about and in that respect Redemption Reapers absolutely nails it.  As an added bonus, the load times are remarkably fast for how advanced the game is and the optimization on the Switch is refreshingly good, allowing you to blaze through levels rather than sitting around waiting for load times.  Add in a surprisingly good soundtrack that will have you turning the volume up while you play and you’ve got yourself a winner!  At $50 it isn’t the cheapest game out there but the gameplay value is high and Redemption Reapers is, above all else, fun!

This review is based on a digital copy of Redemption Reapers provided by the publisher.  It was played separately on a PS5 and a Nintendo Switch in both docked and undocked modes and is much better overall in docked mode on the Switch!  Redemption Reapers is also available for Xbox Series X, and PC on Steam.