Tactics V: Obsidian Brigade is a turn based strategy RPG developed and published by From Nothing Game Studios. It heralds itself as a retro-style tactical turn based game in homage to console tactical RPGs from the 1990s, and I find no reason to argue that. It is currently available for Steam, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. For the purposes of this review, I completed the game on hard mode on the PS4.
NOTE: The game has had a rather large patch since I have written this article, so some things may be different from what is written here. You can find a short video of the patch here, and a more detailed list here.
Gameplay in Tactics V is fairly straightforward, and will be familiar to any long-standing fans of Japanese strategy RPG gems such as Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre. In that vein, the two main portions of the game are of course the battlefield and the map where you can select various other options. The primary modes you’ll engage in from the map are the Roster, Training, and Shopping within cities and towns.
Battle is conducted in a very similar manner to the aforementioned games. You’ll select a limited number of characters from a larger roster, pick a starting position, and then engage in combat against various humanoids and creatures. While most opponents are human, there are several types of monsters, undead, and demons you’ll fight against as well. Each enemy type will of course have independent strengths and weaknesses so it is on the player to assemble their team accordingly for balance.
Within combat, turns are taken based on inherent math called TU, or Time Units. Each action a unit takes adds TU to their initiative both in terms of when the action will occur, but also when their next turn will arrive. This forces the player to add a considerable amount of thought to using more committed abilities. While it may be necessary for your healer to heal a massive amount of people at once, other characters-and enemies-may have two or three turns before that healer can move again. This adds risk and exposure as pivotal strategic elements to the game and I found it to be well implemented.
Traditional strategic factors that are historic in SRPGs are here as well. Facing direction, height modifiers, projectile mechanics, gained skill points, as well as map strategies are all in full form in Tactics V. Many battles will be strenuous if you fail to prepare properly or bring the wrong characters. This can often drag a battle out to extreme lengths, but with a few exceptions, I typically didn’t spend longer than an hour in a battle until the end game. Permanent death is also a factor here, occurring after three rounds of unconsciousness. I never once had anyone die however, as the revive timer is fairly generous.
The class system is really the meat and potatoes in a classic SRPG and Tactics V definitely delivered in this arena. A robust system supporting 13 different classes along with multi-classing heads up the charge here. There are an assortment of class types which fit many traditional builds. And though I found the casting classes to be a bit too similar, the rest of the choices came through in fine form. Classes include, Archer, Blade Wizard, Defender, Druid, Energy Wizard, Fighter, Healer, Necromancer, Physical Wizard, Rogue, Temperature Wizard, Warrior, and Wizard.
Each class contains their own inherent passive and active abilities. These also include the ability to purchase skill slots so that you can permanently have an additional ability from any class you’ve learned from that point on. What this allows for is a very robust character creation system that gives as much as you’re willing to put into it. Want a priest who wears full plate and counter attacks 3 times a round? Go for it. Archers who imbue rogue poisons on their arrows? Yup. Dual wielding fighter-mages which specialize in one or more types of magic? It’s all in there. The class system was hands down my favorite feature and it had me recalling many pleasant memories of games like Final Fantasy Tactics.
From the roster, you can manage your characters equipment, class, skills, and powers. Skills is the larger hierarchy and contains abilities such as weapon/armor proficiency, assorted commands, and powers. These are divided between active and passive skills and have varying costs in terms of skill points.
The main map is filled with nodes that are either combat or non-combat stages. Most non-combat stages are towns, where you can purchase new items, equipment, and new recruits. New recruits will come with an assortment of abilities that are randomly generated and based on the level of your leader. Hidden as well are a handful of side quests which lead to unique equipment and encounters. These nodes are marked as optional and often contain heightened challenges to accommodate their rewards.
A unique aspect of Tactics V is the multiplayer feature. You can use this mode to make the game couch co-op for several sessions or the entire game if you have someone to play with. This function extends to training as well, so you could feasibly divide the roster with a friend and play the whole game this way if you choose.
The training feature here is very functional and allows for you to play against yourself, the computer, or of course another player. This allows you to gain XP and SP without the threat of permadeath although any items you use will still be consumed. If you are lazy like me, you can also set both teams against each other under computer control while you go do something else for 30 minutes. I found this to be a very helpful way to grind while I made dinner.
Some of the extra features in Tactics V include a codex and in-game help menu button, New Game+, mounts, and various difficulties. The difficulty ratings include easy, normal, hard, and very hard.
Set in a territorial and monarchy-ruled land called Auria, Tactics V weaves a somewhat light story of political divisiveness. After a few hours in, the plot takes a turn more towards the supernatural and exposes a grander, but also an all too familiar, plot line. I feel this area could have used a bit more love as classic SRPGs had some of the best plot writing of their era. Too often the scenes in Tactics V felt lacking, or simply just pushed through. The concept in this case was right, but the execution could stand to be a little more explored.
The controls are fairly par for the course for this genre of game. Some features such as camera movement were often difficult when combined with the graphical style. Even though there were options to switch between isometric and top-down as well as camera rotation, this didn’t always alleviate line of sight issues and could sometimes impair it further.
On a more positive note, the game’s various functions such as SP displays and more had options for seasoned SRPG enthusiasts. Many of these operations can be tweaked to suit your preferred playstyle. Finally, Tactics V had an in-game help menu to explain the numerous terms and their applications to gameplay.
(Played on a PS4 using a native controller)
The graphics were my least favorite part of the experience. I can see where the design was going, but I felt it had very little polish, even though it had many interesting aspects to support it. Regardless of the distance, angle, or stage, some type of odd clipping or rough edges often presented an issue, particularly in grassy areas. Battle areas with large objects such as trees or buildings oten pigeon-holed you into camera configurations that were off or unenjoyable.
Character models were a little better, but like the stages, they suffered from a 3D-ish haziness that made me yearn for the flatter graphics of traditional SRPGs. One aspect I did find favorable was represented equipment. Your characters will display all the equipment they wear, a technique rarely employed in many similar titles. Overall, the negative aspects presented here weren’t enough to deter me from enjoying the gameplay, which was the real focal point of an SRPG.
Sound effects were on the medium to low end as well. While navigation and similar sounds had a fair quality to them, in-battle effects had room for improvement. A few effects here and there also suffered from mistiming or delay issues. There were some effects however, such as dark magic, which stood out very well in a positive light. This area left me a little miffed since the music quality was so good.
So here is where the audito quality comes through. The music in Tactics V was nothing short of a pleasure to listen to. Composed by Benji Inniger, the entire OST felt as if it was a collection of unused tracks from Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre. And though it was a short orchestral composition, it was very enjoyable, with great string, percussion, and piano work.
I really enjoyed playing Tactics V at late night as I was winding down. It has many great aspects, which do in fact remind me of the golden era of SRPGs that many newer titles fail to replicate or expand on. And though it has some flaws in the audio-visual department, none of them were enough to keep me from enjoying the phenomenal gameplay, music, and class system. You can tell it was made with love-laced nostalgia and I really hope Paul Metcalf continues to improve and produce more work.
If you’re feeling that old school yearning for some intricate SRPG action, give Tactics V a shot. The price is definitely worth the throwback hours you’ll spend cross-classing characters to death.