This is, I can say, a very interesting game with mechanics and a focused narrative about making hard choices. You are leading a small army of characters that each manage to have gobs of personality—which makes it all the more wrenching when their cute little avatars are cleaved by an ax or blasted to smithereens by dark magic in the middle of battle. When they’re dead, they’re dead, never to return. That is, you can’t get them back, period, in contrast to other such games where party members “die” only to be revived a phoenix pinion or some other magical item at the player’s leisure. And because these characters have personalities (they can even develop romances and friendships, and have children), well, the decision to move forward after their demise has implications beyond just the newfound inability to command them in combat. I had a romantically-linked couple, Kellam and Cordelia, and admittedly was a bit crestfallen when the man was killed in battle. Nevertheless, Cordelia soldiered on in my continued campaign and though the game never once referenced it directly, I couldn’t help but imagine a little story for this small bunch of pixels, soaring over mountains on her wyvern and engaging evil forces having now left her beloved six feet under.
Of course, this is a Nintendo game, and so serious dramatics must be inferred. The cute aesthetic and chipper attitude expected from the company responsible for Pokemon is not to be denied. Still, this is sort of the pleasure of gaming: Scenarios lined with some measure of story or drama that serve as a conduit for imagination.
It’s too bad that you can opt out of the “Classic” gameplay setting that leaves your characters dead for good when they fall in battle. The game is difficult, but it’s a challenge that stands for something: To eliminate the hard choices—”Kellam died, but this battle was so excruciating: Do I reset to save him or just plod on with a void in my party?”—basically cuts this game off at the knees, draining any intrigue from the proceedings and relegating the title to a boring realm of strategy RPGs. Often there is no “right” or “wrong” way to play a game: In this case, I would encourage any interested parties to stick with the Classic setting, grit their teeth and enjoy what’s to come. Toward the end, the plot literally hinges on choices you make as a player—and these narrative twists feel a bit more meaningful if you’ve been conditioned to consider each choice through the entire campaign.
This is a game that’s worthy of your time. It’s not flawless—missions are by and large unvaried despite a couple of standout chapters that sadly prove to be exceptions, and once you figure the mechanics out, it’s not too difficult to build a powerhouse soldier that can utterly destroy any opponent—but it’s interesting: Exactly what any triple-A title should strive for.