Break on through to the Othercide!
As a self-confessed lifelong XCOM obsessive, anything with that tile-based tactical combat crossed with an overworld strategic layer immediately grabs my attention. The likes of Alder’s Blood, Phantom Doctrine, and Narcos: Rise of the Cartels are flawed but enjoyable additions to any fan’s game selection, but I’m always after something else to scratch that turn-based combat itch. Othercide grabbed my attention thanks to using that gameplay style alongside a gorgeous art style and rogue-lite gameplay structure. Its combat has more in common with the likes of Fire Emblem than XCOM, but I’m very interested nonetheless.
Othercide is a turn-based tactical game in which you, as the Red Mother, lead your team of Daughters to defeat The Other who seeks to destroy the Veil connecting reality and unreality. On its base level, the plot is very simplistic, but it does go into some pretty dark places, including child and sexual abuse, so do be aware if this is something that’s a difficult subject for you. These themes aren’t explicit, as a lot of the story is hidden away in codex entries, but they’re clear enough if you’re paying attention.
Gameplay takes place in two parts, as games of this type often do, with an overworld in which you develop your team and plan for your next mission, and the tactical layer in which you take on your foes. The overworld is fairly simplistic compared to some of Othercide’s peers, with you leveling up your Daughters, creating new ones, and selecting which mission to undertake. Whilst your Daughters initially fall into three classes, you can specialise them by picking skills every few levels, making each one somewhat unique. You can also resurrect lost Daughters here if you have a rare resource that allows you to do so.
The real meat of the game is in the missions which are a turn-based grid affair, and are oh so enjoyable to play! Characters have a set of action points (AP), usually 100, used for moving and attacking. You’ll have your Daughters dashing around the grid in an anime style, swinging swords, and firing guns in incredibly satisfying combat. Every attack feels devastatingly powerful, with attacks as simple as a sword swing being able to fell a lot of enemies in a single strike. As you level up you’ll gain access to even more useful and fun to use moves, such as area of effect gunshots that will allow you to backflip away from foes as you strike or shield bases that drive your enemies back.
Your team may hit hard, but your opponents are no slouches either, often having access to equally devastating arrays of moves that can tear your characters apart in a matter of turns. Making things even more tricky, healing does not occur between missions, with the only way to restore health being by sacrificing a higher level Daughter to recover and buff a lower level one. You end up needing to work your best characters to near death so you can use them to enhance your slightly weaker ones, and whilst there are ways to resurrect heroes lost in battle or through sacrifice they are few and far between. There’s a fine balancing act between leveling up your best whilst also protecting them so you’re ready for the boss.
Each of Othercide’s five eras plays out across seven days, culminating in a boss fight (which you can take on earlier if you feel ready) which is downright intense. Aside from the dark themes they embody, the battles themselves are tough, multistage affairs that have high stakes due to the rogue-lite element. Imposingly huge and devastatingly powerful in their attacks, you’ll need to learn quickly or come back for another attempt later. This can be a bit of an issue, as at first you won’t necessarily know what an attack name means, so you’ll need to pay close attention.
Luckily, you still have some powerful abilities in your back pocket. You can control the initiative timeline by making attacks to slow your opponents, as well as moving them around the battlefield with specific moves, but you have some other ways of controlling your foes. The three initial classes have access to interrupt attacks that can block an enemy’s move when they strike an ally. These can genuinely turn the tide of a mission, but they come at a cost: health. Seeing as healing is hard to come by, this can be a tough choice to make, but they are often worth it. Plus, there’s nothing more satisfying than thwarting your enemies as they move in for the kill.
You’ll need to choose skills for your Daughters carefully, and deploy them well, as Othercide does not pull its punches. Whilst I managed to just barely get through the first era first try, subsequent ones took more than a couple of runs due to the uptick in difficulty and having to learn a new set of boss attacks and patterns. Failure resets you back to the start, but with a currency that will allow you to unlock powerful buffs for your subsequent run. These can simply have some Memories — one-use buffs that can be applied to attacks — ready from the outset, up to new Daughters being higher levels as soon as they are created. Eventually, you’ll be ready to take on some seemingly insurmountable foes.
All this praise shouldn’t ignore the fantastic presentation Othercide has. The striking visual style is unlike anything I’ve seen in this genre, with the whole game being in black and white save for splashes of red. The grey can be an issue as sometimes it’s hard to spot enemies, who are also grey, against the background, but you can simply cycle through all participants on the battlefield using LB and RB anyway. The enemy characters are incredibly detailed, and some of the larger ones look particularly grotesque, whilst the bosses look huge and intimidating compared to your regular size Daughters. Animation is equally excellent, as your Daughters dart anime-style around the arena and attacks wind up and land with impressive force.
This is aided by the sound, which really adds to the effect of your crunching blows. There were a couple of oddities here, with dialogue being repeated or sometimes two different lines being spoken at the same time, but the developers have said they are aware of this and are already attempting to fix it. The music, too, adds to the atmosphere. Dark, moody tracks accompany small scale battles against minor foes, whilst full guitar tracks flare up as soon as a boss enters a rage mode. There’s little to criticise here other than perhaps wanting a few more different tracks for the standard missions.
As much as I loved playing Othercide due to its fun gameplay, engaging systems, and fantastic presentation, I did find a few things I took issue with. A few bugs were a touch irritating, although the developers have already acknowledged them and are working on getting everything resolved for release. The UI is a touch small and the text can be a bit hard to read at times, as can text showing buffs and debuffs which disappears very quickly. The UI in general can be a little awkward to use with a controller, and I found myself highlighting characters that I didn’t intend, needing to return to the original character selection to reset the options available to me. I’m sure this would be easier if using a keyboard and mouse rather than a controller on Xbox One as I was. I also would like the ability to rotate the camera. A small annoyance, but an annoyance all the same.
The issue that may put people off the most is that this is a rogue-lite, as I mentioned previously. If the idea of replaying from the start is off-putting, then this will do little to change your mind. Whilst there are ways to mitigate it through skipping eras and starting with stronger Daughters, you may still find yourself needing to grind to get to a position you can get to and successfully defeat a boss. I quite enjoyed the grind due to the enjoyable gameplay, but I appreciate that it may not be for everyone.
Othercide is an excellent turn-based tactical game with a striking art style. I’ve had a great time playing this and I would strongly recommend it to fans of the genre. Whilst the rogue-lite elements may be a turn off for some, there’s a huge amount to enjoy here.