Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs Review – The King is Safe (PS4)
Given the plethora of crowdfunded video game projects that fail to see the light of day, it’s always nice when one crosses the finish line. Pixelated Milk’s Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs has done just that after a successful Kickstarter campaign saw it funded back in 2015. It’s easy to see how that money was raised, too. Pitched as a western twist on classic turn-based JRPGs and promising a rich story to carry things along, Regalia – on paper, at least – is more than enough to pique the interest.
For the larger part, the developers have delivered on their promises. An appealing art style and subtly-pleasing soundtrack compliment the well worn JRPG tropes that have been included. It’s not all by the book though, as a few tweaks and twists have been brought into play in an attempt to provide a unique experience. The story is an excellent example of this. Usually in a game of this sort, you’d expect to be trying to prevent the end of the world or protect your kingdom from destruction. Instead, Regalia flips the script and focuses on creation rather than protection. You play as Kay, the heir to the once-noble House Loren, but it turns out that there isn’t much to inherit. Luckily, Kay finds out that the family still owns the distant kingdom of Ascalia. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? I know I can’t move without tripping over title deeds to kingdoms that I forgot I owned, but I digress. The fact that Ascalia is less of a kingdom and more of a ghost town that’s been all but turned to rubble is where the challenge begins.
The Days of Our Lives
This idea of bringing prosperity back to the kingdom while finding out what’s caused it to fall from grace in the first place is a good one. It allows for the developer to combine several different gameplay styles into one coherent package. The turn-based combat is the game’s meat and drink, of course, but when you’re not on the battlefield, there’s much to be done. From building social links with the huge cast of characters that show up in Ascalia to constructing the kingdom itself in a light world-building mode, there’s work to do. All of it must be done within certain time limits, too, since the previous custodians of the kingdom ran up a great debt, and the collector isn’t going to wait. Time is indeed what drives the entire game for the most part. If you haven’t completed enough kingdom-related quests by the time the payment deadline has rolled around, you’ll be looking at the game over screen.
As I say, there’s plenty to do and to keep track of in Regalia’s world. The fact that it all feels too much like actual work is something of a problem, however. The overly frequent loading screen interruptions are one of the main causes of frustration in a game that requires you to jump between locations with regularity. Even when you aren’t traveling from area to area, loading breaks get in the way. If you’re standing next to your right-hand man Griffith and decide to spend time with him to increase your friendship bond, for example, you’ll need to sit through loading screens before and after a five-second animation plays out of the two characters sparring. Want to leave the armory and go to the pier to do a bit of fishing? That’s fine, but you’ll need to check out four loading screens before you’re even ready to cast your line into the water. They’re only relatively brief periods of loading each time, but it all mounts up over the course of your time with the game.
A few seemingly basic quality-of-life issues like this get in the way and prevent any one part of Regalia from launching itself up to the level of the Personas and Disgeas that the initial crowdfunding pitch referenced. Some of the problems come from the fact the game is a PC port. Not being able to select “Venture Forth” to go out conquering when an NPC is standing near the option is a notable one, since it essentially stops you from progressing. With a cursor, you’d click on the option and be on your way. Without one, you’re stuck trying to convince the game that you don’t want to speak to the NPC and actually want to go plundering. The only way around it is to make minuscule movements until you’re standing on the one pixel that allows you to select the option. Either that or you can try wasting an in-game day doing something else, in the hope that the NPC has been relocated on the following day and another one hasn’t appeared in the same place.
That this happened to me multiple times in the first couple of hours of play and somehow hasn’t been deemed a big enough problem to fix pre-launch is somewhat damning. That it happens in multiple locations and absolutely prevents you from carrying on is a huge, huge issue. When you visit the pier and find that you can’t get back to the castle because Griffith is standing what would be four entire battle squares away, yet the game thinks you want to talk to him rather than select the “Exit” option you’re practically on top of, it can be enough to make you want to give up entirely.
(Note: It has been pointed out by the developer that you can get around this issue – sometimes – by using the triggers to cycle through the available options, but it’s far from an ideal situation. You’re given direct control of the protagonist and can walk up to things and interact with them a lot of the time without issue. So it isn’t great to have to change the way you do things when the game engine can’t handle creating a clear path for you.)
Freedom is a Constant Struggle
Once you’ve reached the battlefield, it’s pleasing to see that combat in Regalia is freer than you’d expect it to be in a turn-based title. All characters can perform their tasks in any order, without limits. This freedom adds extra levels of tactical nuance since characters with a larger range of movement can do more than the old “move, attack, stay” routine. Instead, they can run in, attack, then move again until they’ve reached their movement limit. In a perfect world, you’d need to rely on some of these subtleties to progress through the more difficult encounters. Alas, that isn’t the case, since each battle often feels like you’re flipping a coin. The difficulty curve is bizarrely spiky, with the game allowing you to stumble into hopeless encounters without warning. At other times, you’ll steamroller your way through the opposition without having to think.
When the odds are overly-stacked against you – such as when your party of three or four are suddenly faced with 20 zombies in the early game who can each drop a quarter of your health in one shot – you can alter the damage multipliers to make things much easier, without penalty. It feels like a bit of a cop-out along the lines of “we didn’t know how to balance things, so we’ve let you do it for yourself.” The sad fact is that no matter how you alter the sliders, there’s never a happy balance that works for more than one battle. That absent middle-ground is what spins the industry-leading turn-based titles the game seeks to emulate into tense and thrilling experiences. Without it, you’re essentially just throwing rocks at each other until one side doesn’t have any health left.
There’s a lot to like about the approach that’s been taken with Regalia. The developers have taken a good story premise and weaved it into a game involving world building, classic text adventures, dungeon crawling, crafting, and social bond-building, as well as all the other fripperies you’d expect to find outside of the field of battle. The problem is that none of those strands are as fully formed as they’d need to be to be able to call the game a real success in any one area. Even with that said, compelling combat would allow you to look past some of Regalia’s rougher edges, but the frequently dull and repetitive battles on offer here don’t get the job done.
Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs review code provided by the publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on a PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.