Review: The Revenant Prince

Nomina Games’ The Revenant Prince is a confused and terribly wasteful release of a game. As much as I hate to kick things off with a bluntly to-the-point sentiment, no amount of suggestive introduction, setting the stage or delaying of the inevitable will do this analysis justice. It’s been a while since I’ve found myself so utterly bewildered — and left frustrated to the point of offense — with the kind of experience Nomina have built, checked over and considered to be one that is both coherent and enjoyable-enough for its flaws not to take too much of a reign. So let’s remove completely any semblance that this can go in either critical direction: The Revenant Prince is mired in bad design — no longer a case of picking out its flaws, rather scratching for any degree of good one can recall from out a trek (as loose a term you can affix to that) whose gameplay, plot, progression, interface and overall design is woefully inadequate.

Because while the marketing may talk about taking nods from “old-school RPG” — the idea, in the developer’s own words, stemming from the “nostalgic love for classic JRPG titles” — the more you sink into The Revenant Prince, the more you see it for what it is. And what it is is nothing more than a self-indulgent attempt to imitate the best of the genre, without fully grasping what has made past and modern greats as captivating as they are. It becomes such an almighty problem — more so than your dime-a-dozen, top-down, pixel art affair — that the more hours you put into this game (and my word do you feel the drag of every minute in those hours here), the less you see of what the developer’s original vision may perhaps have once been. Where exactly they were taking inspiration from; what games were they looking at, perhaps a tad too much in their seemingly ambitious attempt to appeal and to aspire comparisons.

It could, in one light, have taken the route of a protagonist fighting back against the faction he had once been a part of, as is shown during the opening segment. It might have been the voyage of a lone human through a strange, off-beat, occasionally comical world full of odd, anthropomorphized characters that you so quickly are required to tolerate, if not accept. It may even have been one of those self-aware, wink-wink games that managed to subvert perceptions the player might have held as to what RPGs are or can be. All three of these threads are present, to some capacity, in The Revenant Prince. The problem — and a common (ironically the only common) thread that runs through a lot of the bad decisions here — is that the game rarely feels all that interested in properly tackling what that particular direction or overall aesthetic would require. Even the world itself, modestly appealing its pixel art and illustrated backdrops may be, feels disjointed, bolted together, lacking any real sense of scale. The lack of a map to reference (a bizarre absence of which has plenty of company in that regard) doesn’t help, but the more you wander into the many story beats or environmentally-varied surroundings, little of it feels meaningful. Worse, even less instills any modicum of intrigue or curiosity…other than to see what better games await after this one. I felt so little throughout one’s time, it’s shocking.

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That feeling of disjointedness persists unto the characters present and the kind of interactions you share. Whether this is a fault of the game’s taking on freelance staff or not is a completely separate matter, but it’s hard not to look at the varied style (and at times quality) of some character art — even the sprite work too — and sense a growing unease at just how conflicted these differing aesthetics are. Imagine the worst cases of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and turn it up to 11. How little of what the game presents finds a way to mesh, to meet somewhere in some hypothetical middle-ground. It’s a traditional fantasy set-up that also wants to have quirky and odd-ball characters. It’s a story with a dramatic and straight-faced introduction that also wants to come across as humorous, comical, possibly breaking the fourth wall and talking to you the player. It wants you to look at the flat, lifeless, random flinging of NPC sprites dotted about the world — of smiling snails/mushrooms/cell-phones here and non-stylized character — and genuinely deem this as gelling in any sufficient way.

One of the biggest flaws, something which was integral to its list of main selling points: rarely, if ever, do you feel guilty for killing foes in combat. It’s not just that there’s a lack of weight or even a delivery of the pretense of consequence, it’s that the game unknowingly gives the impression that even the very concept of making a decision doesn’t matter in the slightest. Bad enough that you’re still rewarded experience points for killing enemies as opposed to selecting spare once their health is low enough (the game even has you confirm you want to kill them). But there are a fair number of key story moments where the game simply goes against your choice. Instances where, for example, you choose to spare a character after a major boss battle only for the game to go “nope!” and have the character die anyway.

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So then, why bother?
is a question you will repeatedly end up asking yourself as the game continues on but sadly it’s one that’s barely answered. Shuffling in its unnecessarily cryptic sequencing of monologues and dialogue exchanges whose overuse of ellipses sticks out more than any of the characters or scenarios it presents, ditches and shifts wildly between. In all its continuing struggle to find one, any, tone it wants to prevail on, the progression is all over the place. Dragging its heels through one scenario to the next, whose only suggestion of a progression is simply having you mindlessly, accidentally, stumble into another environment to maybe trigger the next vital cutscene. But good luck even seeing all the points in and out of each area — some hidden behind vegetation or environmental assets, it’s at times difficult to make out what constitutes as a connecting path and what doesn’t. In some cases, you can even instigate a boss battle that’s without build-up or pre-warning, you can even find yourself locked into a section of the map. And if you take into account the game even allows you to disable random encounters, don’t be surprised if you similarly stumble into proceedings horribly under-levelled and forced to grind for countless battles.

Yet the reasons why you may end up actively avoiding combat entirely is perhaps the biggest issue working against The Revenant King as an RPG, let alone a game in general. Because taken at face value, though the interface is simplistic, the interpretation of ATB combat, does — genuinely — show glimpses of promise. On its own, when nothing else is working against you, the emphasis on getting one’s timing down can be mildly enjoyable. Knowing when to switch between one of three equipped weapons. When to risk an added strike and nail it in time so as to guard and avoid the enemy’s incoming attack — indicated by a charge bar below their health. When combat is this minimal (if a little plain in its simplicity) combat in The Revenant King is, though not assailable in its qualities, without issue.

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It’s when you find yourself running up against lot after lot of foes whose own stats are all over the place — some weaker than your current level, most far exceeding your own — do things start to fall apart. Bad enough that it isn’t long before a group of three or four enemies are brandishing you with debuff after debuff in a matter of seconds, the game forces players into a frantic, frenzied state of using item after item just to survive only to undo all the work you’ve put in. Finally decided to rid yourself of all those health-sapping debuffs? Well, here they all are again a few seconds later. Even the basic mechanics of combat become a chore — a chore that lasts far too long and never tends to give the impression that one tactic or the other is proving fruitful. Spam attacks too much and you quickly run out of BP (the means at which ATB attacks are instigated) take too long and enemies will have already knocked you out.

It’s a lose-lose situation regardless of which route you take and the game never has an answer to the latest question on what exactly the counter-measures are to a combat segment that is so deliberately going out of its way to work against the player. Add to this the relentless amount of menu-hopping and even victory itself end up feeling hollow. Knowing full well that the exact same stacked nonsense is a few more seconds away, yet ignoring it completely will of course set you up for another boss encounter with even less-forgiving circumstances and unskippable pre-fight dialogue alike. The only real offer of a balance being a brief powered-up state initiated after taking enough hits. But even this — the supposed “stop time” feature; another arguably misleading promise of a key feature — is but one more laughably basic sequence of just spamming the attack button for around ten seconds with little benefit.

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But what’s even more egregious here is the means at which you upgrade your character stats. While you still accrue XP during battle, the “in name only” manner that leveling up manifests inevitably means you’re forced again and again to hop into the Sphere Grid portion of the game menu. It’s here where one of The Revenant Prince‘s many unique interpretations of “fun” manifest — namely the horridly-planned and short-sighted interpretation of how one spends their valuable upgrade points. The simple idea is that players must choose which of three categories — Attack, Defense or Utility — they want to dedicate an entire grid towards. The first problem is that once you’ve selected one of three categories, you’re locked into it until it’s fully complete. Still in the process of finishing that Defense grid but want to improve your Attack power? Well that’s too bad. A quick-to-annoy circumstance given how little any of these small additions truly feel in combat. The equivalent of a weapon in a game like Destiny going from 200 to 201 damage.

I could go on and on about all the many other little problems encountered in The Revenant Prince and of the unapologetic attitude it takes. Taking little into account about the ways RPGs (and games in general) have changed for the better in past years. Problems that only mount and mount until the entire experience turns sour and you eventually lose what little investment you had to begin with. A game that was never off to the best of starts when you discover that it isn’t fully supportive of controllers natively — requiring you to re-map buttons using a third-party program. Then there’s the similarly-cumbersome and simplistic user interface for the many menus; even small irks like the lack of a means to compare weapon stats when at a shop, only increase in their annoyance the more and more you encounter it. The way your character moves in a stiff, non-fluid way to the point you can struggle just to get in the right spot to interact with objects and people alike. And as previously mentioned, the lifeless, static nature of NPC sprites and how lazily flung into environments they come across.

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Closing Comments:

If there were any doubts in people’s minds that games sporting pixelated or “nostalgic” aesthetic were somehow immune from being rotten or otherwise bad, The Revenant Prince finally puts that great myth to bed once and for all. Even the decent effort pitted in such visuals aren’t enough to carry a game whose plot, tone, gameplay and overall delivery is so all over the place. It’s hard to feel invested in a game that comes off neither confident nor interested in committing to a particular intention. That is, intentions that are anything other than so desperately wanting to be seen in the exact same positive light as the very RPGs whose writing style and delivery it imitates without properly understanding the root of such joy. The Revenant Prince is as far from joyous as one can get, resulting in one of the most frustrating, tedious and downright awfully cobbled-together RPGs to release in recent years.