God Wars: Future Past PS4 Review
Coming from playing Disgaea 5 Complete a couple of months ago on Switch, a strategy RPG that is packed with many mechanics and features, jumping into God Wars: Future Past from Japanese developer Kadokawa Games feels like I have gone back to the PlayStation days of strategy RPGs. I mean that as a compliment, because after all the twists to the formula of modern Japanese strategy RPGs, some amazing, some not too good, it’s kind of cool to see a title that calls upon the past to build its core gameplay, giving me similar vibes to Square Enix’s I Am Setsuna.
God Wars: Future Past is loosely based on one of Japan’s oldest historical mythos books, Kojiki. Set in a period of fantasy history where the land of Japan was known as Mizuho and was split into the three nations of Fuji, Hyuga and Izumo, the game introduces the player to the beliefs of the world by dropping them into the start of a sacrifice. It begins with Lady Tsukuyomi, the Queen of Fuji, with her Royal entourage and one of her daughters, Sakuya, standing above a volcanic creator at Mt Fuji. Sakuya has been chosen as a sacrificial lamb and is offered to the Gods as a way to calm their anger, stop the eruption of Mt Fuji and halt the disasters that have been recently plaguing the region. After the impactful and distressing scene ends and the gods pleased, the game moves forward thirteen years to the game’s current setting.
The focus of the story is on Kaguya, another daughter of Lady Tsukuyomi, who has been living her life imprisoned near Mt Fuji for 13 years. She’s basically a safeguard in case the gods become angry again, sat in waiting to be sacrificed if the time comes. A childhood friend, Kintaro, isn’t too happy with this, and with his always smiling giant god bear, keeps his childhood promise and breaks out Kaguya. Having been locked up for so long, Kaguya finds out that her mother is missing, with rumours she was meeting with some lords to stop a potential conflict between them. With the help of Kintaro, both leave the Fuji region to see if they can find Lady Tsukuyomi. As the team explore Mizuho, the story begins to loose its stride, turning into a follow the hints journey, as it always feels like you are playing catch up, and as more people appear side plots begin to come into focus more often, but thankfully, the Japanese mythologically setting and some interesting characters (the ones that stay with the story) do make the journey intriguing, even if the general plot is only okay. It’s not often we get to visit this part of Japanese mythos in the west.
With God Wars: Future Past being on Vita as well as the PS4, its visuals take a hit to make sure it can run on the handheld device. This means that the title won’t be blowing you away with current generation AAA assets. Interestingly, and I don’t know if this was intentionally done by the team, but by catering for Sony’s handheld, the presentation is reminiscent of the PlayStation SRPGs, and it helps in keeping with the idea that the development team were fully into reincarnating those classic titles of old, such as Vandal Hearts, and presenting them with a simple, chibi atheistic on today’s hardware. Everything is presented three dimensional, enabling to see all angles of character models when spinning the camera round, but texture work is flat, models are blocky and environments are minimally detailed. On the other side of the presentation coin, the 2D artwork used for dialogue scenes and cutscenes is beautiful, presented with a modernised take on traditional Japanese watercolour and ink paintings that is jammed with colour.
Traditional strategy RPG gameplay is in full force here. The 3D modelled land acts as the battleground, which hangs in the middle of empty space and is viewed with an isometric perspective. Grids are used to set movement distance, while the speed statistic for characters determines their move order, and the skills and weapons equipped will influence a character’s attack range – melee weapons often one square in each main direction, while arrows and magic spells can cover a bigger area. It’s fairly straight forward to pick up, and throughout the game’s campaign, it never throws in complicated mechanics. Anyone who did not gel with the Disgaea games, but prefer something more classic in the gameplay department, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, will find this more friendly to grasp.
Performing any command (attacking, using items, defending) will reward character experience and job experience. Jobs are an important part of God Wars Future Past, as they determine the growth of the character. Every character has a main, sub and unique (think character specific) job. The unique jobs cannot be switched out, as it grants them their personal skills, but the main and sub jobs can be changed at anytime when not in a battle. The main job determines what gear can be equipped and the growth of the character – jobs have school grade ratings against statistics to tell how much the stat is improved upon levelling (A for MP growth would be great, while E for HP growth wouldn’t be so good). The sub and unique jobs offer their skills to learn, with skill points earned from having those jobs equipped in battle used to improve or unlock more skills in said jobs. Eventually meeting level requirements will unlock new jobs that evolve on from their beginning category – the Warrior, who is based on physical combat, will eventually unlock Samurai or Archer jobs, which then go leading into the best advanced jobs of Hunter and Herculean. This is the progression for any beginner jobs available in the early hours of the game.
Even though there is no character creator in the game, the Job system offers potential to customise the game’s cast to twist them into roles you see fit. Not everyone has to be primed for a specific role, you can mix and match various jobs to create hybrid units that succeed in having smartly throughout skills. Maybe turn a healer into an effective killer or change that mage unit into a defensive buffer. There is a limit on the skills used, as to access the unlock skills requires the job to be assigned to the character, meaning there is no way to build an all masterful unit that has all the skills available to them. Switching jobs does require the need for more job points to unlock the sealed skills, so planning which character should take which job is advised if you want to skip having to take on optional side quests from the shrines scattered around Japan to grind enough job points to unlock them and see which diverse skills can be used to good effect. On the topic of side quests, they aren’t done with any imagination. The side quests boil down to reusing existing maps, but switching up the enemy units and count, but with no story or exposition fleshing them out, they feel like generic gathering quests in a open world RPGs – content there to enable character growth, but no worthwhile rewards past that.
Variety across each team member becomes an important factor in the latter half of the game where stat buffs and debuffs are used in full force by the computer. The job system allows to get around the issue of this by having all recovery options available, but this is still down to the player to make sure they spread those skills across the party members to back up handicapped units. With only six party members allowed (out of the eventually 14 that join) on the map, it’s key to have characters who can cover the range of skills across the different jobs attached to them to fend off against a potential debuff. Positioning is also important, as attacking from the side, behind or above will deal more damage, while range weapons increase their distance the higher the unit is. To help against attacks from all angles, characters can change their front face position when picking to defend or on finishing a unit command at the end of their turn. Every command or movement increases the impurity levels of the unit peforming the action. Impurity is a rating that feeds to the player the likelihood that the unit will be targeted by the enemy. Some skills can increase or decrease this, and using these can manipulate enemies from landing a killing blow – increase your tank’s impurity to taunt all the enemies to come to them stops them from hitting the weaker comrades. It might be more simple than Disgaea, but there is enough happening within fights to keep it interesting. I just wish the level design was always on top, as it varies from boring to brilliant way too often.
Both Japanese and English voice tracks are packed in the game. The English dub features known names for people who watch anime or play smaller budget Japanese titles, such as Cristina Valenzuela (BlazBlue, Tales of Berseria, Fire Emblem Echoes) and Carrie Keranen (Persona 5, Trails of Cold Steel II), and the performances are mostly decent throughout. Although, since the game is very deep in its Japanese mythology, having it switched to Japanese feels more in tune with the theme of the game, but there is a problem with doing this, as the animated cut scenes don’t always feature subtitles, so key plot points will be missed during those scenes. NIS America have stated on their Twitter account that a patch is coming to solve this issue. On top of that issue, there is a problem with the audio mixing between some spoken dialogue scenes where the background music is overpowering that it makes it hard to hear the voices. You can somewhat fix the issue by going into the options and using the sliders to find a better balance, but then this causes problems with other areas of the music, such as during gameplay.
God Wars: Future Past offers a decent strategy RPG that keeps things straightforward by throwing away complex mechanics in favour of a well-built job system that calls back to the classic strategy RPGs, like Final Fantasy Tactics. If you enjoy the genre, I can see God Wars: Future Past being an entertaining title, but it’s harder to recommend for the casual fans, even with its less demanding strategy mechanics, because the story isn’t great, the battles can be similar due to some mundane and flat level design, and for people who adore great graphics, the dated visuals won’t do anything for them. Get past those problems and there is a solid strategy game at its heart.