The boundaries between mobile and handheld gaming are flimsy at best. Many titles translate extremely well from one medium to the next, and the greatest difference is often merely the presence or absence of actual, physical buttons. It’s especially satisfying whenever a previously obscure title jumps from one device to the other and gains more exposure. Such as in the case with the excellent, previously Japanese exclusive, Mercenaries Saga 2.
The game is your standard grid-based tactical RPG romp set on an isometric plane. You play the role of a rag-tag group of knights who wander around with their prince. After being attacked by a group of bandits (serving as the game’s introduction to the basic mechanics), you quickly find out that the whole thing was a diversion for a political assassination attempt. After it becomes clear that poison is at work and standard sorcery will be of no help, the group sets off to find a cure for their monarch and extract revenge against their regicidal adversaries. Of course, along the way a few twists and turns present themselves, but I won’t divulge too much in the interest of keeping this review spoiler-free.
The story is generally interesting, but it takes itself a tad too seriously. The dialogues are also sometimes too long for their own good and occasionally feel stilted, but it’s a minor complaint in a set up that otherwise keeps players interested in the protagonists and the world they inhabit.
Fortunately, the gameplay hits all the right notes and proves to be well acquainted with all the appropriate RPG tropes. It proves its depth by providing players with multiple characters, each with their own particular loadout with regards to health, armor and ability. Some characters may heal or defend other characters and there are even craftable items, constructed from magical accessories. This helps keeps things diverse and certainly gives players a clear edge in creating an all-round team with various strengths that cover all the bases in the heat of battle.
I like to move it, move it
There’s plenty of playtime to be had, with over 30 levels of grid-traversing goodness. Most of them are fairly small battle arenas, though the terrain is spiced up thanks to the inclusion of ledges, slopes and other such deviations from flatness. This keeps players on their toes and comes into play during combat, forcing them to think in more three-dimensional terms. Enemies are often numerous and take a fair amount of damage, ensuring that battles aren’t over too quickly. Bosses also pop up, helping to save gameplay from excess repetition. These are perhaps the most challenging encounters and will prove to be a problem even if you’re playing on the easiest setting. Still, it never feels unfair or cheap and you’ll walk away feeling as if you’ve accomplished something once you’ve tackled the brutes.
As far as presentation goes, fans of pixel art will find a lot to love in Mercenaries Saga 2. It has a very cute, functional style going for it and it harkens back to the late 16-bit and early 32-bit era. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems as if too many pixels were shaved off, as various sprites appear rather indistinct from one another. Also, in combat, sprites may overlap one another, causing potential confusion for the player and making it difficult to distinguish friend from foe. As far as music and sound goes, it’s nothing particularly memorable, but it serves its function without being obtrusive or offensive.
Have Mercenary on us
Mercenaries Saga 2‘s biggest strengths lie in its competent execution and forgiving price tag. For what is essentially a budget title, there’s a ton of gameplay to be had here and it’s a solid nugget of RPG goodness throughout. It may not be the most original title on the 3DS nor the most polished, but it ticks off all the right checkboxes and comes recommended for any self-professed RPG fan.