Fae Tactics is a fiddly homage to Final Fantasy Tactics
Always attack with owls on Tuesdays
Fae Tactics is turn-based wizard whacking in the same vein as the much-beloved Final Fantasy Tactics series, which is one of the few classic FF spin-offs that has somehow managed to bypass coming to PC throughout its long, if slightly spotty history. It's effectively to Final Fantasy Tactics what Wargroove was to aggrieved Advance Wars fans - a game which scratches that nostalgic, pixellated tactics itch while bringing it up to date for modern PC players.
As a result, Fae Tactics taps into a very specific brand of tactical role-playing, and it does loads of interesting things that I'm very much on board with. Sadly, it's also one that I don't have a lot patience for. It's not just that its fights are a little too long and maybe a touch too repetitive for my tastes. It's also because I've tripped over so many rules during my time with it that I feel like I'm being asked to perform ballet in the toy-strewn debris of a toddler's bedroom.
The story is about a magical girl named Peony, and her adventures around a mildly post-apocalyptic world rife with clashes between Fae and humanity. It's classic 'unity between all races' stuff, which is fine, but familiar. I can't say I've paid much attention, because I've devoted most of my energy to figuring out how to play it. I'd say I'm about five hours in so far, but my plans still keep collapsing because I've overlooked something pivotal.
For example, I landed a crit on my most recent turn, but I'm not entirely sure why. I think it's because I targeted a flying unit with a flying unit. But also my owl did some knockback damage, so the troll behind the witch I'd attacked also got hit. But then my dog was also standing next to the troll when it took (the right kind of) damage, so he landed a free combo attack as well. And it was a Tuesday, so I think my owl had a stat buff. I'm not even joking.
I like that example, because it includes one of Fae Tactics' best ideas while also illustrating how it can quickly become a bit of a headache: every melee character gets a free pop at enemies standing next to them when another character goes to attack them. This immediately makes positioning tangible and important, and it reminded me of my much-beloved pikemen units in Wargroove, who'd land critical hit after critical hit when I got a bunch of them together.
My best moments in Fae Tactics have all sprung off the back of this. I like wrapping my units around lowly horned-squirrels, then watching them evaporate under a hail of blows. My bestest moment of all came on a turn after I'd attacked twice with Peony on previous turns to ensure she'd get a crit, triggered her "wait" action so her next attack would chain, then watched my dog devour the three enemies he was standing next to. I'm not just being prosaic - that Devouring made him heal to full health, which was higher than it normally would be because I'd made sure he ended his previous turn on a tile with several pies and strawberries.
If this all sounds overwhelming, that's because it is - and part of me wants to celebrate that! I've had several moments where all my plans clicked together and I felt on top of the world. The problem is that I've had far more moments where they've all fallen apart. It does a decent job at explaining its core concepts, but there's still a lot to take in here, and too often I found it left me to figure out things on my own. I wouldn't realise that there was a rule that said 'characters have different limits on how many tiles they can ascend or descend in a turn', for example, which would shatter my carefully-laid plans and and leave me sprawled on the figurative toddler's bedroom floor with bits of Lego jammed in my face.
For me, it's all just a bit much. Final Fantasy Tactics fans of yore might dig all this nitty-gritty minutiae of old school turn-based tactics games, but I simply don't have the energy or the persistence to keep track of everything that's going on in Fae Tactics. I can see how I might start enjoying myself more if I kept playing to the point where I'd mastered them, but I also know it's going to take a heck of a long time to get there.
I might like it more if it didn't take so long to get anything done. I've played far more ponderous tactics games in the past, and most enemies do tend to fall over quickly once you're in position. But this isn't like Into The Breach where spending 15 minutes deciding what move to make is as instantly thrilling as watching said decision play-out onscreen. Just getting Fae Tactics' units into position is too drawn-out for my liking, and to make matters worse you're encouraged to play slowly, too, because some of your units get stronger as the game goes on.
It's a frustrating one, because Fae Tactics does do plenty of things that I like. Giving each character a special ability that triggers if you devote a turn to simply moving them across the map and not attacking is clever, because that provides more opportunities to avoid wasting moves. So is the button that lets you delay your units by a turn, which can be deployed in a dizzying array of situations. If you play your turns right, you can fire off wild combos that wouldn't be possible otherwise. I also like how you can swap out your three core party members for little minion creatures, which does go some way to alleviate the game's inherent repetition. Sadly, it just wasn't enough for me.
"Dizzying" is the note I'll end on, rather than "dull". There's an element of the latter there for me, but I can see how those with more patience might be able to look past it. Indeed, you might be able to sail right through all that and find an intricate and largely well-thought-out homage to that Final Fantasy game of yore that you've always hoped would come to PC but never did.
As for me, I'm going to go play some more Into The Breach.