Think of a strategy RPG; any strategy RPG. Now, think about its trappings. Did isometric perspective, class changes, a story that starts with warring nations but evolves to a battle for the survival of the planet, a small but mighty cast of characters, and/or 2D sprites enter your mind? Great! Chances are, you’re thinking about Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy Tactics. Maybe you thought of Disgaea or something similar from Nippon Ichi. Well, the stuff I described is actually part of Mercenary Saga Chronicles. If you played a strategy RPG before, then you know exactly what you’re getting into with the three games that are in this collection. The collection comes with Mercenary Saga: Will of the White Lions, Mercenary Saga 2: Order of the Silver Eagle, and Mercenary Saga 3: Gray Wolves of War. While the overall look of these games is basic, and the gameplay has been done before, don’t be so quick to dismiss this collection.
Looking at screenshots at any of these three titles, it’s clear that the presentation went back to basics. While the sprites aren’t the most detailed or crisp, they still get the job done. There are lots of variations for the cast characters thanks to a classic job-advancement system, plenty of unique monsters, and a wide variety of spell effects. There are also character portraits that accompany dialogue scenes. Again, not the best-looking character art but it works. I do want to give kudos to the music. The soundtracks are very catchy; it reminds me of late 90s/early aughts anime music that gets you in the mood for combat, character customization, or whatever is up next in the story.
Speaking of, I won’t be going into the details for each story. That’s beyond the scope of this review. Instead, I’ll lightly go over my experience with Will of the White Lions and my brief introduction to Order of the Silver Eagle. The games revolve around groups of mercenaries that do what mercenaries do best: look for jobs, fulfill the jobs, gain the profits, and repeat to keep their mouths fed. Of course, these mercenaries somehow get wrapped up in a plot that threatens everyone’s existence. I was introduced to tightknit groups of mercenaries, each with their own personality and history. I’m really excited to get further into Order of the Silver Eagle to learn more about them, and eventually start Gray Wolves of War to meet another batch. Stories are on the simpler side, although there are moments when you can make choices that dictate the next story battles. They’re nice touches.
Customizing characters is where the fun truly resides. Your team of mercenaries has a predetermined role such as warrior, hunter, magician, etc. They’ll have access to a list of moves and passives that they can learn and enhance with Battle Points earned from combat. As they gain experience points, they’ll eventually reach a point where they can branch off to new, more advanced classes. These new classes have their own set of moves, but that doesn’t mean you’re done powering up the ones from the starting jobs. All this leads to an incredible number of options for taking care of the fiends on the battlefield. Of course, there’s equipment (weapons, helmets, gauntlets, boots, armor, and accessories) and items to buy. You can also make magically infused gear by combining certain pieces of equipment. These are things we’ve seen before, but as ever, they just work.
Similarly, combat takes the classic approach. Using a player turn/enemy turn set up, both sides will move on an isometric grid and execute commands until one side falls. Usually, your team of mercs is outnumbered by the enemy forces. Luckily, there are multiple difficulty options and chances to power up outside of the story. So, while the odds might seemed unfavorable, victory never felt out of reach. Gaining a level will fully restore your character’s health, too. One neat aspect is that your characters slowly build up magic points as the battles progress. A unique feature is that each character has an aggro level. The more “stuff” they do, the higher their aggro grows. It’s important to keep this in mind since enemies will make beelines towards those with higher aggro.
My time with Will of the White Lions was 30 hours. A lot of that had to do with me “power leveling” because I wanted to earn extra BP to spend on my characters. But, most gamers with some semblance of experience in the genre will get through it in about 20 to 25 hours. I’m not sure how long the other games are, but knowing that they’re available, it’s clear that this collection will offer many hours of game time. Strategy game enthusiasts will be right at home with this, despite how basic they appear/handle at first glance. The games slipped under the radar, which is a shame because they also serve as great entry points to the subgenre. I’m excited to see what else this series has in store for me.
Overall, 8/10: Mercenary Saga Chronicles doesn’t add too much newness to tactical RPGs, but that’s not a bad thing. This collection has three, classically styled games that are great for fans new and old.