'Fuga: Melodies of Steel' - A game that tanks, but in a good way
Did you ever want to play a game with animal people in a World War 2 inspired environment with characters and plots that have anime aesthetic as you drive a literal kaiju tank through the countryside and melt away your opponents in turn-based tactical combat? Well, that request is rather specific, but Fuga: Melodies of Steel is here to fill that void.
You control six youths who find themselves piloting a powerful weapon of unknown origin after they are forced to fight back against the Berman army that has been attacking their homeland of Gasco. As you journey, you'll find others to help along the way, develop friendships between the characters, and power up your machine of death as you move forth to free your captured relatives.
However, things may not be so simple. Aboard this tank there is also a mysterious voice on a radio driving the crew forward, and a strange ghost that seems to haunt the halls. Also this monstrous tank, named Taranis, has a dormant weapon that sleeps, awaiting a desperate hour to arise and unleash its devastation, but at a great cost.
If you like tactical RPG combat with good art direction and an orchestrated soundtrack, you'd do well to play this one. More details and minor spoilers found past the divider.
Tanks, Tactics, and Teamwork
The three Ts of this game are the foundation of the gameplay. There are three weapons slots and you eventually can have up to twelve characters in your crew. Each weapon requires two crew to operate, the front gunner and the support. As you move along your journey, you can increase the affinity between pairs of characters. A higher friendship gives you additional bonuses and a chargeable link attack when they work together on their weapon. This attack is not only powerful, but also comes with a bonus side effect depending on who is the support.
There are also three types of weapons that are tied to the individual characters: machine gun, grenade launcher, and cannon. Each of these have enemies they are strong against, and weak against. For instance, flying enemies typically take the brunt from machine guns, but can evade cannon shots more easily. And while the machine gun may do less damage then the other two weapons, they all come with abilities to remove armor ranks from enemies that can prevent the other powerful weapons from doing their full damage. An additional bonus that promotes weapon diversity is that you can push back an enemy’s turn if you use certain weapons to attack them before their turn.
The individual characters also have their own strengths tactically. Kyle, as a machine gunner, starts to develop skills that can deal with groups of fliers more easily as he moves up in level. On the other side, the grenadier Jin starts to acquire skills that punish ground forces heavily. During combat you can shift characters around to address the changing situations in the battlefield as you want. Though, you will be stuck with your choices for at least three actions after you shift, so you have to think ahead a little bit.
All of these mechanics and systems may sound daunting on paper, but the interface and means it was implemented make these actions intuitive and fun.
Art, Music, and Story
Even if you do not play this game, this is a game where you will probably want to hear the soundtrack. For the type of game it was, it feels wonderful and atmospheric and far outpaces any music I would have imagined for it when first installing it. There are choirs and orchestrated pieces that project a feeling that is haunting and intense. One of the main battle themes has sort of a raindance aesthetic, so it is quite a literal toe tapper.
The aesthetic and story fall along the lines of a show like Gundam, where you have a bunch of young children (but in this case only one is really an orphan) piloting devastating machines of war. Though the characters can feel like a trope at times, there is a bit of a charm to their simplicity. Their aesthetic certainly matches what you would expect from their respective archetypes. It certainly made it easier to keep a voice for each of them while streaming.
The environment and lore for the world itself feels fleshed out. However, the main character that is shown the most love is your weapon itself, the Taranis. At periods during the game you will have checkpoints in which you will get to explore the inside the belly of your beast. Here you can allocate how you wish to improve things using a limited number of action points. Do you have your characters talk to one another and improve their bonds? Do you sit down for a meal to give a stat boost for the upcoming fights? Upgrade the weapons to do more damage? Explore ruins or go scrap fishing to have a chance to get more materials needed for upgrades? There is never nothing to do during these intermissions.
The minor complaints
There are moments where the gameplay can repeat in such a way where you kind of have to have a bit of a chuckle. Between each chapter you have a chance to stop at a village and there are always three people to talk to. Two hand out a line about the war before giving you an item, and the third will always be a child who gives you a piece of the in-world comic.
You can also barter to try and use materials you don’t need to get versions you can actually use in these towns. However, the barter system is not as intuitive as the combat and can feel a bit strange. The interface doesn’t make it entirely clear who is getting or receiving what items. Though after the first few chapters I got the hang of it and developed a system to decide when to exchange items for others, and why I would take those actions.
The greatest sin to me though, was that the end boss for the final chapter was a bit anticlimactic. The story beat was climactic, don’t get me wrong, but I found myself defeating the big baddy easily since it was basically a rehash of the boss I had fought two chapters prior, with just a dash of difference. There were no surprises, or final form, to truly test the mastery of the mechanics. I would even argue that the encounter in the penultimate chapter, rather than the final one, was the most interesting combat of the game since it caused a status effect on my whole crew that made me have to rethink the mechanics of the game to fight effectively.
Experiences Unknown and Replayability
It is possible to lose characters while on the journey aboard the Taranis. My playthrough did not incur any losses of passengers, but it is possible that a player could end up with a casualty. This is war, after all. This means that this game could technically have a variety of nuances depending on who and how many are lost along the way.
Also, around one of the characters, there is also a pivotal moment where if you do not take the correct course of action regarding them, then you can find yourself impacting the outcome of their story.
Another interesting mechanic that popped up after I completed the game was that there were gears on the main menu that changed color, indicating that there are hidden goals that will unlock all the different gears. Looking around online, it does not appear that there is a clear consensus as to what unlocks these, but they will as you continue to play through the game multiple times.
It is these possibilities that could lead to a desire to replay the game. As someone who does enjoy the concept of branching bad ends, it would be interesting to see what would occur if I went through a run to see the impact that lost characters would have on the overall story.
In that regard, during my original playthrough though, I did notice points where some characters would act a bit more matter-of-fact than they usually do. My suspicion is that those bits of dialog would be interchangeable between characters in case their primary speaker was no longer amongst the living.
It’s definitely something that is appreciated and puts a bit more meat on the bones for those who like the game so much they would come back for seconds.