Fuga: Melodies Of Steel Review – Switch

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Fuga: melodies of steel seemingly out of nowhere and garnered some cult following (according to your internet circles) since its release. CyberConnect2 is known for both its Naruto and .hack games, so a new IP address with such a drastic change in gameplay and aesthetics caught my eye. I hadn’t played their other titles much, so I really didn’t know what I was getting into. The answer to that was a wonderful hidden gem of an RPG that managed to impress and stress me beyond belief.

This stress shouldn’t necessarily scare you, as it is practically the crux of the experience. Fuga: Melodies of Steel is a turn-based strategy RPG in which you play as a motley group of children in a supernatural tank called the Taranis. War has ravaged their country, and they must regroup and recruit other children as they travel to reunite with their parents. Stress comes naturally from wanting to keep all children safe on their journey, and Berman’s army will do everything they can to make that difficult.

There are no difficulty options in Fuga: Melodies of Steel, and those new to the genre may not want to start here because the learning curve is steep. On the other hand, I think the game does enough with its mechanics that you care enough about the main cast to want to pass. If your tank gets destroyed, you have the option to go back in time and redo your final decisions, so the difficulty never feels too unfair.

The structure is divided into a series of chapters that involve your tank moving in a side-scrolling plane, with branch paths of varying difficulty. The harder the difficulty, the better the rewards. The challenge comes in managing the well-being of your units as well as the health of the tank.

Along the way there will be fights, resource drops, intermissions, and expeditions. The side-scrolling aesthetic of the moving tank provides a sleek and smooth journey throughout. Battles will appear regularly along the way, each offering a tall order of any difficulty. There are three types of weapons that each child will use naturally: cannons, machine guns, and grenade launchers. Cannons are the strongest, machine guns are best for aerial enemies or weakening the armor of strong enemies, and grenade launchers fall in the middle of effectiveness for both. You can choose which characters (and by extension, which of the three guns are active on your tank) at any time during a battle, but once that’s done you’ll need three turns before you can switch again.

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Each character offers a unique take on the three fighting styles, so you’ll change them frequently to better suit the situation you find yourself in. Each enemy has specific weaknesses, so a dynamic party and playstyle will come in handy. There are a total of six characters active in the tank at all times: three attacking and three supporting. These are divided into pairs, which have special bonuses depending on their bond level. It’s a good idea to pair up characters who already have a high link, as they will slowly build up a link attack which can be wonderfully effective in a pinch.

Intermission segments are where you can take some much needed breaks … that’s what I would say if Fuga: Melodies of Steel has always felt the need to really unleash their passion for micromanaging. You receive a certain number of points to spend on activities in the Taranis. These range from upgrading tank parts for battle, farming, cooking, unit rest to recover from status issues, character participation in bonding events, and more. At some point, you will be given a notebook that shows what each of the children wants to do. This changes with each intermission and will generally give you a goal of what to accomplish during that time. By checking what they want to do, you increase their mood. Each child has a unique Hero Mode that they can activate in battles if their mood is good enough, which will give you special perks that can help you tremendously. You can do whatever you want during intermissions, but if you want to maximize your effectiveness in fights, you should do your best to keep the kids as happy as possible.

Interacts add another layer of complexity to the decision-making process of Fuga: Melodies of Steel, but there were a few hiccups from me. Some of the activities you can engage in have a percentage chance of success, which doesn’t quite match the number of activity points given. It’s more than frustrating to waste action on something important like trying to upgrade your gear, especially since as the game progresses each intermission becomes more and more valuable. The bonding system is extremely adorable, but needing to pick one of the characters for the event and then walk around to find the other one you want to bond with can be overwhelming. It would have been better if it had been managed with a menu that can handle everything immediately, but this is really the only problem I have encountered. The intermissions were on the whole quite good, and it added to the frame that they are not entirely stress free.

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Many RPGs try to make your decisions affect the story, but the best make you feel like every little decision in and of itself carries weight. Are you using your resources to get through tough encounters faster, knowing that a tougher encounter or boss later in this level might catch you off guard? Do you choose the most difficult paths available for the best rewards, knowing that it could exhaust both the kids who wield the tank guns and yourself? Are you going to take it slow and choose safe paths, even if that means you might not get enough experience to survive the boss fight at the end? These moments are offered to the player all the time, and it leads to a wonderfully engaging experience from start to finish.

The icing on the cake, however, is an early mechanic called “Soul Cannon”. It completely changes the way you approach the Fuga. When your health drops low enough, a special attack will unlock for this fight. It’s powerful enough to probably kill anything onscreen, but the cost is steep. To use this cannon, you must permanently sacrifice the life of one of your party members. Remember what I mentioned at the start though. The group is made up entirely of children. After having me use the mechanic just once for the story, the game went back in time to give me a taste of what it would be like to make that sacrifice.

It may seem extreme to some that the Fuga gives you the option of killing a child to use a strong attack, but I think it serves the themes exceptionally well. The mechanic exists to give people an easy way out of a situation if they aren’t managing their resources well enough, and comments on the consumable nature that many war-themed RPGs make of their character. How many times have you left a generic unit dead in a game with permanent death, just to level up? This is probably the most effective an SRPG has ever humanized the characters. For the rest of my time, I try to play optimally to avoid losing lives.

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The fact that one of your party members may die has a slight impact on the story, as they have to make many of the dialogue responses generic to accommodate the fact that your party may be very different between chapters. It’s not a big deal, but I noticed a few weird scenes here and there. Personalized bonding events make up for this, offering insight into children’s personalities and lives. What personally added the most to the experience was CyberConnect2’s passion for keeping the setting authentic.

If I had to tell you Fuga: Melodies of Steel had a double sound, you’d probably immediately assume it has Japanese and English dubbing. This is not the case. Japanese is there, but the other option offered for listening to the occasional dubbing is French. The setting itself is meant to be based on France, and I would recommend playing it along with this vocal track for a more authentic experience. I’ve never seen a Japanese game feature this before, and frankly, I love it. The location is beautiful, and it was the icing on the cake for me.

Fuga: Melodies of Steel quickly became one of my favorite hidden gems of the year. Few things mar a great overall RPG experience. It was one of those rare games that was so engaging that it made me want to not play it, just because I know I would spend hours hooked on the wonderfully grueling gameplay loop. It sounds negative, but if you’re used to this genre, you know it’s extremely high praise. Music, visuals, and gameplay all come together for one package that’s hard to let go. Fuga: Melodies of Steel is the kind of risk we should hire in this industry, and if you’re into RPGs that aren’t afraid to make bold design choices, it’s worth checking out your library.

Tested version: Nintendo Switch
Review the copy provided by CyberConnect2

Nintendo 9 Insider Review Note


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