Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx Review (Switch)
One of the first games I ever reviewed for the site all the way back in 2018 was Mercenaries Saga Chronicles, a compilation of the first three tactical RPG titles under the Mercenaries banner. These games aim to provide a budget-friendly experience in a similar vein to classic politically-driven, grid-based tactical RPGs such as Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics and while they certainly provide a bang for the buck, they’ve always come with some concerning caveats.
For me personally, I kind of wrote off the series after the underwhelming followup to the first three entries that was Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix, which I also reviewed back in 2018. Simply put, there weren’t enough changes to the formula to make it an easy recommendation. But it’s been three years since I played those games, and now developer Rideon Japan and publisher Circle Entertainment are on their sixth entry (for the Switch, at least) dubbed Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx. After perusing the trailer and various details surrounding this latest entry, I decided to give the series another chance. And honestly, I’m glad I did.
Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx primarily focuses on the story of Irvin and Kiera, the former a mercenary-for-hire and the latter a princess “on the run.” The two unexpectedly meet as the princess and her bodyguards are ambushed within earshot of the mercenary, who is trying to enjoy a moment of silence at a nearby grave. After routing the enemy together, the two agree to help one another while their objectives overlap – Kiera needs cover, protection, and funds while living on the run, and Irvin is willing to help anywhere where there is coin to be made. Despite adhering to the mercenary life, however, it is clear from the very beginning that Irvin is a man of conscience, which makes for some interesting exchanges throughout their journey together.
The reason for Kiera’s current predicament is pretty straightforward – the throne is in an unstable state after the king’s unexpected death, which left it in the grasp of one of his concubines, Rosa, who is desperate to seat her son, Kyle, upon the throne rather than Kiera. The constant unease and tension between her and Kiera is what ultimately led the princess to the temporary life of a vagabond.
After traveling around the kingdom, doing odd jobs with Irvin, it’s clear that the new rule under Rosa is weighing heavily on the citizens as political, social, and even financial turmoil are at an all-time high across the land. Something must be done for the kingdom to avoid a complete collapse and for it to prosper once more.
Fans of medieval fantasy, politically-driven narratives should enjoy most of what Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx has to offer. The translation is far better here in comparison to previous entries, with very few spelling and grammatical errors to deter one from the overall presentation. While the game never really strays too far from its simple, predictable path, there are enough interesting characters and moments throughout that should keep most invested for the entirety of the adventure.
Moreover, most of the characters Irvin and Kiera befriend over their journey experience a bit of growth and development of their own, something that isn’t always present even in higher priced titles. There are also two separate paths that can be taken based on a key decision made towards the final quarter of the game that actually affects the final two characters of your party, as well as the story itself. Overall, the game’s story and cast may not stick with you well after the credits have rolled, but the amount of narrative depth present in a budget-tier title is nonetheless commendable.
Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx is a tactical RPG where battles take place on a rotable, grid-based isometric map. At the beginning of any fight, the player can place their units and pick a leader, the latter essentially being a passive that applies to all characters for the entire encounter. Upon commencing the battle, the player will act first, moving any and all of their units into position to attack, defend, use items, spells, skills, etc. After that, the enemy takes their turn doing the same with their units. The goal of most skirmishes is to defeat all enemies on the opposing side, but this can vary a bit depending on certain events.
Positioning plays an important role in combat in Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx. Players and enemies alike can take advantage of height and directional differences to both increase damage dealt and decrease damage taken. In general, attacking an enemy from the side or rear and from a higher elevation will result in increased damage, with the opposite applying to improving defense against incoming attacks. Although Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx is rarely very difficult, making use of positionals will absolutely speed up the pace of battle and, most importantly, prevent enemy reinforcements from appearing on certain maps.
Most maps will continuously throw enemies at the player at regular intervals if they aren’t being “productive” enough. These enemy reinforcements would lead one to believe that clearing the map as quickly as possible is ideal, but it really isn’t. There are extremely useful treasures littered about most maps that can only be acquired once, so the player must weigh whether they want to risk prolonging any given battle in order to reap those rewards or not.
Akin to what is found in many MMORPGs, Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx uses an aggro system to determine the general behavior of enemy units. Player units with the most aggro each round are the most likely to be attacked – but this isn’t always the case. Overall distance, certain map objectives, and the level of a unit’s health can also play a role in who is most likely to be attacked. While the aggro system may not be for everyone, I find it to be a nice little touch that adds additional depth and control to the battlefield.
Finally, a powerful skill, dubbed Rebirth Exceed, becomes available after meeting certain story conditions. Each individual player unit has their own unique version of this skill, but all share the same meter that fuels it (ie. if one character uses the entire Rebirth Exceed meter, others will have to wait until it is full again to use their own). Think of them as a Final Fantasy “limit break” that can be extremely powerful in certain situations.
The player can choose to partake in either campaign or free battles, with a shop and party screen being available between each skirmish. Campaign battles progress the story, while free battles are static maps that can be repeated infinitely for leveling up, money, and other rewards. When I say free battles are static, I mean completely static in that they feature the same weather, enemy types, and placements each and every time. I may be in the minority, but I didn’t like this in previous Mercenaries entries, and I still don’t like it here, as I much prefer how games, like Final Fantasy Tactics, randomize the repeatable maps to a small degree every time.
I personally just prefer a bit of variation in situations where grinding is required – the same exact loadout on the same map quickly becomes tiresome. Fortunately, very little grinding is required to progress through the story campaign, and the included auto-battle feature helps alleviate some of these pains (although the auto-battle AI is another kind of pain entirely).
In terms of character progression, each character in Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx has their own class progression, with seven different classes across three tiers eventually becoming available. While there’s never a reason to return to an earlier tier of class since higher tiers provide superior base stats, each character can utilize ANY skills unlocked for ANY class regardless of their currently selected one. On top of that, there may be certain situations where one may want to swap between classes of the same tier to take advantage of different leadership passives mentioned earlier, as most classes provide a unique leadership skill.
Two new classes become available to each character upon reaching level 10, with four more unlocking at level 20. While all new classes require SP to unlock – a currency awarded upon beating any map – two of the four final classes for each character also require a special item purchased by a special currency called “puzzle pieces.” These can be found rarely in treasure chests scattered about story maps, or by converting unused rainbow gear (powerful, and also rare, unique gear) at the shop.
It’s extremely unlikely that one will accrue enough puzzle pieces in a standard playthrough to unlock each and every special class for each character, which is unfortunate. As mentioned in some of my previous Mercenaries reviews, the puzzle piece system still, unfortunately, feels like a latent byproduct of the series’ mobile roots, though I cannot claim to know whether they are actually purchasable in the mobile versions or not. Regardless, each character will eventually have an impressively diverse toolkit at their disposal even without unlocking each and every class.
Further “puzzling” features (I’ll see myself out) include the synthesis shop, which is another carryover from previous games and remains equally concerning. The idea here is to combine the traits of items with others, but in practice it is far too expensive and RNG-based to be all that helpful or interesting. Items with traits on them – or magical items – can be found through combat and at the shop, and their usefulness is entirely random.
Many items will actually REDUCE stats, while others have properties so powerful that they could end up being too expensive to carry over multiple times to new equipment. Again, it just seems like an odd design choice that somewhat reeks of a missing microtransaction shop that may or may not be present in the mobile versions. As it stands, one will have to commit to a lot of grinding in order to make serious use of the synthesis system.
Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx features two base difficulty levels, with two more becoming available after completing the campaign once. While I did not test out the new difficulties myself, I did play through both sides of the branching path on easy and normal, and found the latter to be a relatively smooth progression of difficulty (save for the final boss, which actually caused me to try the other path on easy). It appears that the two higher difficulties are catered towards those interested in new game plus, which does become available after completing either side of the campaign.
Graphics, Sound, and Performance
Graphical improvements are to be expected with any new entry into a series, but the standout surprise in Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx was the actual amount of improvements made. Not only are the graphics improved overall, but units are more emotive than ever before, which really helps add emotional weight to key story events. On top of that, the frame rate has (mostly) improved, and sprites have far smoother animations as a result.
One of the greatest struggles that any game in this vein seems to have is providing impactful sound effects and satisfying attack animations. While there is obviously still room for improvement here, Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx has moved the goalposts quite far for the series, instilling hope that the next chapter will really knock it out of the park. There are plenty of reused sound effects from previous entries, but also some new (and better) ones to appreciate as well. As far as the soundtrack goes, it is easily the best in the series thus far, with many catchy, often upbeat orchestral tracks to adequately compliment the heat of battle.
Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx is a clear step in the right direction for the tactical RPG series, but it will have to continue to improve to be truly exceptional. As it stands, though, it is still one of the best budget-friendly tactical RPGs – specifically in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics – currently available on the Switch.
While Fell Seal offers a similar (and, in my opinion, superior) experience, it also costs more. Regardless, this is a great new direction for the series, and if Rideon can continue to shed some of the things that have continued to plague the series to this day, we could have something really special on our hands in the future. Until then, though, Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx is likely the best the series has to offer, and that is by no means bad.