When Regalia: of Men and Monarchs hit Kickstarter back in 2015, the project was a resounding success. The Pixelated Milk team saw their $40,000 target smashed and all of their stretch goals achieved, reaching a total of over $90,000 by the end of the campaign. The game took a little longer than the original estimate of October 2016 to deliver but after a closed Beta (which I gave some thoughts on back in March), Regalia finally entered the hands of its backers in May. One of the reasons the game managed to gather such interest at an early stage was the concept. Namely, fusing the isometric turn-based combat and comedy zaniness of games like Disgaea with the relationship management of the Persona series. Those are some mighty names for an indie developer to cite as influences. Regalia: of Men and Monarchs handles both gameplay aspects well, but never really excels at either and ultimately falls short of these self-set benchmarks. To only view the game in terms of comparison would be dismissing it too easily, however, as there's an amusing storyline, some likable characters, and some neat gameplay ideas to be found within. There's room for improvement, sure, but there's certainly enough here to interest any SRPG fan.
As I discussed back in March, Regalia: of Men and Monarchs has an engaging introduction that sets up the comedic tale to come. On his deathbed, your father reveals that you are the heir to a royal estate and rule over the vast kingdom of Rashytil. It sounds like the stuff of dreams, but you unfortunately find that your estate is now a pile of rubble and the kingdom has all but forgotten your family. All except for the debt collectors, who couldn't be happier that a new Loren has risen up to claim the title of ruler and inherit a huge bill courtesy of their ancestors' excesses. This sets up both the storyline and gameplay premise neatly, as your objective from then on will be to satisfy the demands of the shadowy money lenders known as the Furtive Union by rebuilding your realm from the ground up.
These debt collectors are somewhat reasonable and, realizing that our young hero Lord Kay Loren is worth more to them as a ruler with a functioning kingdom to rule, they'll take proof that your rebuilding efforts are working as proof you can satisfy your debts. In gameplay terms, this means you'll have to complete a certain amount of tasks by each given deadline to keep them off your back and avoid a game over. Your deadline is usually around 55 in-game days and the tasks you'll complete to meet your quota could be anything. This is where the varied gameplay aspects of Regalia come in. Whether you're improving relationships with your subjects, building up your town, questing, crafting, or solving diplomatic issues, you'll be checking off tasks on a list of 'Kingdom Quests' and having a certain number of these completed by each deadline will be your main objective for most of the game. It's a strong start to a lighthearted story and while the plot sits in the background for most of the game, barring your deadline days, the deadline itself is an ever present reminder of what you are working towards that helped keep me invested in the story throughout.
In the early stages, you'll be introduced to each gameplay element in turn, with tutorials for battles, relationship management, town building, and adventuring on the game's overworld map. It makes for a slow introduction to the game with a lot of text explanations but the systems require some thought from the player and this low-pressure intro is probably better for balance than being thrown straight in. The vein of humor running through the game also eases the boredom factor that could have otherwise set in. Once you've been shown the ropes, you'll be left to your own devices. From then on, it's up to the player to decide how to best spend your time to meet your goals. While it starts off easy, it becomes progressively harder to achieve objectives as you go, creating a decent level of peril and lending weight to your decisions on how to spend your time.
You'll divide this time between two main areas, your town map and the world map. On your town map, you'll be able to access your throne room, where you can construct buildings for the town, answer diplomatic missives, and prepare for adventures. Once you've constructed a building, you'll be able to visit it from your town map and make use of the services or interact with the inhabitants. This is how you access things like weapon crafting and potion crafting and is one way to add new characters to your town, thus opening up new relationships. Relationships are a big part of Regalia, each character has a 'bond level' which you can increase by conversing with them, or in the case of companion characters adventuring with them, and reaching new levels of friendship with these characters will get you various rewards as well as helping you towards your Kingdom quest quota.
There are some interesting stories to be found by exploring your relationships with the various side characters. They're mostly comedic asides, like helping your would-be vampire lord pal achieve his true ambition of becoming a hairdresser. Still, these side stories definitely help you form attachments to the wide cast of misfits that come under your banner over the course of the game. Of course, the campaign of Regalia is deliberately designed so that you can't max out every relationship in a single playthrough. If you're anything like me, this means you'll pick favorites to focus on which only heightens your attachment to them.
Gameplay wise, the system can be a bit simplistic. There's little that can damage a relationship, so they progress in a fairly linear way that works well enough when mixed in with the other systems at work. In fact, one of the best things about Regalia is how those systems are interconnected and relationships form the backbone of this. Improving relationships means combat characters get stronger abilities, merchant characters have better items, support characters offer more support, and so on, which in turn increases your effectiveness in the other main part of the game, adventuring.
Access the world map via your throne room and you'll be prompted to assemble a party of your followers to venture out on expeditions to different regions. There, you'll engage in the game's SRPG style tactical battles as well as various text adventures. Each region has a certain number of nodes that need to be completed in order to clear that expedition and tick another task off your Kingdom quest quota. The nodes will either be straightforward battles or choose-your-own-adventure style tasks presented like a storybook. These text adventures are a nice touch and can be quite varied in their contents and outcomes. You'll make all kinds of choices, solve puzzles, evade (or trigger) traps, and probably make a few inept choices and start some impromptu fights if my experience is anything to go by. It's an inspired mechanic that helps keep expeditions interesting, as you never know quite what will happen.
The turn based battles take place on an isometric grid with each character taking turns to move and attack. It's similar to many other SRPGs of the type, the wrinkle here being that there's no traditional form of healing in the game. Instead, you'll be able to imbue your characters with shield points through support abilities or items - essentially giving them a second health bar that must be depleted before they can take damage to their hit points. Your character's fighting abilities are set from the start, with each having access to four unique abilities that can be used at will as well as an ultimate ability that you can trigger less frequently. While it seems like there are limited tactical options with this set up to start with (and to a certain extent there are), as your roster expands you'll find that each character fits their own niche in combat and there are some interesting team combinations to play with.
I enjoyed the way that each character can have a role to play in battle and how unique they all feel but the combat in Regalia is not without issues. Basic battles are normally short, punchy affairs that are over in six to ten turns, which suit the relatively limited abilities of your party. When the game throws up longer battles is when things become less enjoyable. For boss fights, the longer rounds make sense, they're supposed to be more drawn out matches that provide a stiffer challenge and I have no issue with that. Where it doesn't work as well is when you're presented with endurance type battles or objectives like "survive two waves of enemies". The shield points system is more of a buffer and less of a substitute for healing, so keeping your characters alive for any sustained period is a much more challenging task than just defeating an opponent. It makes these fights stand out as odd difficulty spikes amongst your adventures. If you're not prepared for a tough fight, they can cause no end of frustration.
While there are some difficulty spikes to be found on normal settings, (in part due to randomly generated elements of the expeditions where the exact battles you encounter won't be the same each playthrough) Regalia makes sure you're never too far out of your own personal difficulty comfort zone with a host of customization options. Despite a limited amount of basic options in the game, including being unable to check or change the controls, you can customize almost every aspect of the difficulty in battle down to damage multipliers for you and your enemies and removing the enemy's ability to dodge. If you simply want to enjoy the story and make battle a formality, there's an option for that. If you want the game to beat you down at every turn, there's an option for that too. It's an all encompassing approach that I appreciate, as we all know that one person's idea of 'challenging but fun' can be highly subjective.
I've been fairly positive about Regalia up to this point, and with good reason. I enjoyed the majority of my time with the game, but that doesn't mean it's without flaws. For me, this mostly came down to the presentation but it affects each part of the game. The first thing you'll notice is the terrible pacing of the spoken dialogue. The ability to switch autoplay of conversations on or off has been removed since the beta (I mentioned it didn't really work as intended in my preview) and spoken conversations now play automatically. The problem is that the cuts are all over the place, frequently moving on too quickly and cutting off the voice actors' remaining lines. This kills the pace of conversations and spoils some nice voice acting work. Since comedy is all about timing, it also kills a few lines that would otherwise have provided a laugh. It's especially prevalent in the early game and seems to disappear later on in the story, so hopefully this is something that can be patched out given time.
The background artwork has a pleasant, cartoonish style that's nice to look at. There's not a lot going on in the foreground though, battle arenas especially have little that makes them stand out other than the occasional line-of-sight-blocking object. In fact, combat is pretty visually unimpressive all round. Despite the Disgaea influence, you won't be dropping planet sized fists to annihilate your enemies here. Most of your character development happens with passive boosts and while they get quantifiably stronger, they never get any flashier. I'm asking for bells and whistles here, I suppose, as the tactical aspect of combat is sound. I just felt like a little more over the top action would have suited the comedic tone running through the game and could have helped give battles a little more personality.
One of my biggest gripes with Regalia is the music. Specifically the music that plays all over your town map. The only thing I can liken it to is elevator muzak and it plays the same tune for every moment you're in your home base. That's around half the time you'll spend with the game, which translates to about fifteen hours of one of the most inane tunes I've ever heard. The main battle theme is a lot more listenable but the real problem here is that for a thirty-plus hour game, there just aren't enough pieces of music to avoid overwhelming repetition. It might not seem like a big issue to some but it was definitely detrimental to my overall experience. To say that is one of my biggest issues is telling, however, as there's a lot to enjoy here before that tune you've been hearing for the last few hours really gets under your skin.
Regalia is a game whose whole is greater than the sum of it's individual parts. I can pick holes in the relationships, the combat, even the comedy that borrows a little too much from fellow fantasy absurdists like the 'Pythons and Terry Pratchett (so much so from Pratchett that his estate is credited at the end of the game.) However, you have a compelling game once you put all these aspects together. The story is just insistent enough to keep you invested throughout and concludes in a very satisfying, albeit predictable, way. The action in-game is all underpinned by the ticking clock of your deadline, forcing you to think about how the various systems can be used in tandem to reach your next Kingdom quest objective. There are a few underused mechanics; diplomacy feels a bit superfluous and one excellent story quest has you brokering a peace between three parties in a round-table kind of discussion but this mechanic never appears again. However, the peculiar mix of gameplay types gives the game a unique feel that makes it worth a look for any fans of strategy RPGs or JRPGs. Given the comedy storyline and relatively simplistic battle system, it would also serve as a decent starter game for anyone who's unsure about the strategy RPG genre and wants to ease into it.
This game was reviewed on PC via Steam with a key provided by the publisher. Regalia: of Men and Monarchs is also available as a digital download on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
While Regalia: of Men and Monarchs never excels in any one area, the unique mix of gameplay elements really comes together to provide an experience that's worth having. If you're a fan of JRPGs, SRPGs, or a fan of the British tradition of absurdist fantasy comedy, there's something here for you to enjoy.
- A Genuinely Amusing Story...
- A Unique Gameplay Mix...
- Likeable Side Characters
- Text Adventure Throwbacks
- ...Spoiled by Poor Conversation Pacing
- ...Where No Single Aspect Stands Out
- Lack of Musical Variety
- Underutilized Mechanics