Alright so, I’m not sure if you guys are aware, but tactical RPGs are my jam. As soon as I heard that Relayer was a strategy-based, mech-suit-meets-space-opera-anime-explosion, I was hooked. And the game did not disappoint… Okay well, maybe once or twice.
Spectacular Strategic Battles
The first thing you’ll notice with the battle system though is how slick the combat scenes look. Any time two mechs duke it out, it honestly feels like you’re watching a mini-epic showdown from Evangelion. No joke, they’re that good. I did have to turn them off at some point to get my review done in time, but I never got sick of them. One scene in particular, had a weird frame-drop issue on PS4, and there is a fair bit of loading time in between battles. However, I’m sure these issues will be improved after launch.
The encounters themselves are pretty straightforward. If you’ve played Triangle Strategy or Final Fantasy Tactics, it has a very similar interface and approach to those games. Basically just take turns moving, buffing stats, whittling down an enemy’s HP and doing the good ol’ sandwich attack. Clean and simple. Each unit (with some exceptions) are assigned their own categories like sword fighter, gunner, tank or scout which can be modified as they level up to focus on more specific roles. All while maintaining their own designated range and counter capabilities.
The kicker is, not every class can counter the other. Plus, some dish out more damage depending on the match-up, just like the weapon triangle in Fire Emblem. So for instance, a fighter can’t retaliate against a gunner and vice-versa. Since they literally cannot hit back from where they’re standing and they’ll deal more damage depending on who has the more dominant type. This is a really cool mechanic, as it actively encourages the player to utilise a balanced party. Rather than simply selecting whoever hits the hardest, or has the best skills.
Relayer’s Unorthodox Approach
You don’t see this often in tactical RPGs, but Relayer actually features a limit break gauge that charges throughout battle. Not only do you get to witness more over-the-top anime glory, but the abilities it grants can absolutely devastate opponents. Did I mention that they completely ignore the counter system as well? Say what? Yep, I had the same reaction too. I also love how you can see which allies are being aggroed and toggle on and off individual or group threat squares at the touch of a button. Very convenient.
What isn’t so much is the difficulty curve. You’ll often find yourself under-levelled, yet still able to overcome the odds and win. Although about 6 or 7 battles in, the first major boss fight suddenly appears and goes “Nup, it’s grim reaper time” and absolutely wrecks your mechs. So the only thing you can do then is grind previous battles until you’re at a high enough level, which is mega annoying. Thankfully, the auto-battle system does help expedite the process somewhat, but it still doesn’t make this hurdle any better. I mean, I can make a sandwich while it’s happening, although it’s still a roadblock nevertheless.
Outside of battles, players are sent to a central hub where they can upgrade stats and gear, check out useful game information and optional character interactions, and then proceed to the visual novel portions of Relayer. In a similar manner to Triangle Strategy, there are tonnes of back-to-back cutscenes, especially towards the beginning. In fact, probably even more. Would you believe it? Don’t even know how that’s possible, but the space opera style plot is honestly quite good.
The Space Opera World of Relayer
The story follows the plight of Terra, a quote-unquote ‘Starchild’ who can operate uber-powerful mechs into combat. Alongside her fellow Starchildren, they desperately try to foil the titular Relayers from plunging the universe into darkness. It’s a typical save the world affair, albeit the story’s not without it’s intriguing political twists and poignant character interactions that discuss what it truly means to be human. There’s a real sense of camaraderie and depth amongst the characters, and the writing can be straight-up hilarious when the situation calls for it. The English voice-acting isn’t half bad either.
If I had one big complaint, it’d have to be with the visual novel elements themselves. To be honest, I don’t have a problem with this approach at all. I love Ace Attorney’s presentation in particular. Albeit in this case, it just feels so dull to look at. The devs should’ve added in some real-time cutscenes, extra animations, effects or something else at the very least for the more impactful moments, but I digress.
The music is straight-up gold though, it never misses the mark. Each moment is filled with energetic and sombre tunes that really help heighten the atmosphere. Relayer features a mostly orchestral-based soundtrack, and there were a few tunes that absolutely stood out by blending in different instruments or melodies that I honestly hadn’t heard before. Definitely give this soundtrack a spin when you can.
If you’re a big RPG or strategy fan, then this one’s a no-brainer. Relayer encapsulates everything that’s truly great about these genres while adding its own quality of life features and space opera flair into the mix. The long loading times on the PS4 and the occasional difficulty spike can dampen the experience. Although the addictive gameplay and heartfelt story more than make up for these issues by far. I mean, it’s a tactical RPG set in space with mech suit battles. Need I say more?
Relayer sprinkles in some small, yet surprisingly impactful changes to the tactical RPG formula. Being able to check threat squares and an aggro list, alongside an awesome limit break feature really help this title soar. The gameplay itself is so compelling, and the emotionally resonant space opera pays off in spades. Don’t miss Relayer.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by Clouded Leopard Entertainment. The Beta Network uses affiliate partnerships, however, this does not influence reviews or any other content published. The Beta Network may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links that are on the website.