Crimson Tactics: The Rise of the White Banner unexpectedly innovates in the TRPG genre

The king is dead, the dukes are rebelling, corruption is rife and the towns are burning. Crimson Tactics: The Rise of the White Banner is a tribute to older turn-based tactics RPGs that puts you right at the heart of a nation on fire.

Crimson Tactics: The Rise of the White Banner is a turn-based tactics RPG that’s after the hearts of anybody who dabbled in games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre: Knight of Lodis and Vandal Hearts II. That’s right, if you love carefully sliding around a map, whacking people around the back of their heads and sliding your way across a fantasy overworld then this one is for you.

Every so often a game comes along that feels like it really learnt from some of the masters of the genre, and that’s the situation here. There are a few cool ideas plucked out from the past, things like class/job pivoting being almost freely available, things like a soothsayer defining your playstyle/journey/starting stats right at the beginning, but most importantly the ability to retain abilities and skills after you change up your class. There’s also a very cool mounting system included, where you can swap out your simple 1×1 presence for that of a big ol’ 2×2 beasty with a different skillset, as a rider, rather than having that unit-type as an independent unit.

There are also AI-archetypes that you can turn members of your party over to. You’ll often be controlling eight or more units, and so the opportunity to set some to support, rear vanguard or other prefabs is a really interesting way of trying to speed up gameplay. They’re also effective, which is perhaps surprising, and while there were some issues with character classes not quite fitting the situation — or there not being a recommendation over other options — it works fantastically. It works especially well if you play on the dynamic difficulty setting, which is another cool feature, and it means you can just sit back and feel smart as most of your helpers go about their business annihilating your rivals.

But, one of my biggest issues with Crimson Tactics: The Rise of the White Banner is that sitting back. For some reason, the whole game is incredibly slow. That might sound like a stupid thing to say for somebody who is reviewing a strategy game, especially one that has quite a tame combat scale, but as somebody who has played quantum-heavy wargames with 20-phases in a turn, there’s something here which makes playing it — or at least watching it play out — feel pedestrian.

Is it the click to confirm everything even with the game having an undo? Is it the way the camera slides around and every movement and attack animation just feels a little too slow or a little too long? I’m unsure. It feels like Cinematic Platformers do — those games that over-animate and have the character take a while to climb to their feet after they make a jump. You can speed it up — the whole combat scenario can be boosted to maybe 3x speed — that’s nice, but even then, it just feels like there are a few too many clicks.

All I can theorise is that it’s because the action selection menu is tucked away in the top-left corner of the screen, rather than popping up where you’ve selected. But, it might also be the animation — which, I should add looks amazing.

The animation looks fantastic outside of combat, it really does. There’s an early moment where a character walks up some stairs and you can see their knees and legs lift individually as they step — an animation that most games of this type wouldn’t bother with. In fact, most games of this type don’t really animate their characters out of combat, instead having faces chatting to each other, or people just simply walking from point A to point B.

Apparently, there was a bit of a hubbub about the game-changing from being a full-story arc into a chapter-based series, as it is currently released. As somebody who came to the game late that doesn’t affect me in the same way that it might somebody who had been following it since its Early Access launch.

Crimson Tactics: The Rise of the White Banner is a visually impressive TRPG that brings together a lot of cool features into a compelling episode within a greater story. It’s UI slows it down a fair bit, and that combined with a very hammy story might put people off, however, people with a lot of time for the genre will hardly find that an obstacle. A game that if it launched 15 years ago then people would be screaming and shouting about as a classic.

Crimson Tactics: The Rise of the White Banner is available now on Steam.

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