I love me some traditional JRPGs, which is why I almost always jump at the opportunity to review the latest KEMCO RPG that comes to the Switch. Revenant Dogma, not to be confused with the earlier release from the same company, Revenant Saga, is the latest in over a half dozen releases as of late to land on the Switch platform. As a general rule, KEMCO RPGs aren’t for everyone because they tend to adhere to many of their native, mobile-based roots with things such as microtransactions.
But again, I can make myself drool over almost any traditional JRPG, and have legitimately enjoyed some of the KEMCO RPGs, like Asdivine Hearts and Dragon Sinker. This is why it saddens me that Revenant Dogma is easily the worst KEMCO RPG I have played to date, and I will explain why that is the case today.
Whenever you approach a KEMCO RPG, it is a good idea not to intend to play it for the story alone. While that doesn’t mean that they are awful, it is never their strong point either. The majority of the games tend to revolve around orphan child(ren) or just down-on-their luck individuals. In the case of Revenant Dogma, you get into the boots of Caine and Julie, who basically failed to attain the elite soldier class, Revenant, and are now looking for ways to prove themselves otherwise.
You see, monsters have appeared all over the world in multitudes, and the primary races of the world, the Humans and the lion-esque humanoids, Therians, believe that each other are to blame for the recent happenings. I suppose that this is just convenient, considering the two races have co-existed without any issues for ages. But recently, jealousy has plagued the leaders of the humans because they’ve heard of Therian miracles and wonders being performed thanks to their respective Feral Gods. So, while the two races have lived in harmony up to this point, crap is about to hit the fan.
And it all spirals out of control when Caine and Julie come across a mysterious woman in some ruins (who turns out to be a humanized version of a Feral God), and the three are subsequently captured by the Therians for traveling in their territory. This eventually leads to an all-out war between the two races, and I’ll spare you further details of the plot because it won’t make things any better in the long run.
KEMCO RPGs always struggle with making you care about the main characters, but Revenant Dogma is definitely one of the worst cases. Caine and Julie reveal their backstories in the most inorganic, top-loaded way possible. They tell each other their history within 5 minutes of starting the game, as if they weren’t aware of each other’s past when they clearly have a history together. This snowballs when you discover the aforementioned Feral God and she isn’t immediately recognized by the Therians that capture you shortly thereafter. I find it hard to believe that a mask on the face of a worshipped God would make it that difficult to recognize them.
The camel back-breaking straw came in the form of Caine’s sister, whom is ill but is granted god-like powers in order to further stir the pot of tension between the Humans and the Therians. But don’t worry, she won’t attack Caine but she’ll kill anything else that stands in her way. What? Look, I can get behind almost any story, regardless of if it’s considered “far out there” or not. But it has to be backed up by at least some base level of sense. Do you really expect the player to care about ANY of these characters when A) all of it is forced B) none of it makes sense and C) is just uninteresting?
Revenant Dogma uses a similar graphical setup to Revenant Saga. While it features the classic KEMCO RPG aesthetic when traversing the world, it boasts, and I quote from the game’s description, “stunning 3D battles” in combat. As was the case in Revenant Saga, the 3D battles just don’t do it for me. It is just too jarring, in my opinion, to have 2D sprite-based graphics out in the field and then have dated, 3D graphics in battle. And I don’t think a higher fidelity of 3D graphics would have helped in its place either.
I believe that you should stick with one format or the other, and I have absolutely no bones to pick with KEMCO’s 2D, more traditional approach to graphics. Many reviewers can’t wait to chalk up the graphics to “just another RPG Maker game”, but I refuse to follow in suit. Why? Because not all RPG Maker games are bad, in fact, some of them are highly acclaimed. Therefore, having a style similar to that of an RPG Maker game is not only a weak way to describe a game’s graphics, it doesn’t really hold water to true, traditional 2D RPG fans either.
Now that said, the 2D graphics aren’t completely free of blame either. As is the case with most of the KEMCO RPGs, the asset and prop placement is so bland that the various places you visit won’t really resonate with you on a meaningful level. So while I take no issue with the actual style of 2D graphics in Revenant Dogma, it doesn’t leave a lasting impression due to its rather lazy placement of things.
If you’ve read any Switch RPG reviews on KEMCO RPGs or have played any first hand, you kind of know what to expect with the soundtrack. Typically, these games will feature only a half dozen or so tracks that are used throughout the entire game, and Revenant Dogma is no different. However, it actually re-uses some tracks from Revenant Saga, which I found to be quite odd.
Now, I suppose that it isn’t too far fetched of an idea for games within the same series to use similar tracks, but I’m not entirely convinced that Revenant Saga and Dogma are cut from the same cloth in that respect. Admittedly, I could not stomach completing Dogma in its entirety, so perhaps there are later plot points that tie the two games together, but I cannot say that for certain. That said, I’m very disappointed that tracks were reused, regardless of whether these two games are in the same series or not. If you’re only going to feature 5-6 tracks per game, the least you could do is make them totally unique across each other.
Revenant Dogma is very much your standard KEMCO RPG fare, meaning that there is a main campaign to follow and various side quests that can be taken at your leisure. The pacing for the main story is good, but you can choose to partake in those side quests should you need a breather. They are generally not that difficult to complete, but the rewards and story behind those endeavors are lackluster, more often than not.
What I found most intriguing, however, was the Ethereal Est Dungeon system, which I believe is exclusive to Revenant Dogma. Basically, it is a multi-difficulty dungeon that is randomly generated each time you delve into it. These dungeons are a fairly good way of coming across various items and potentially powerful weapons, but there is a caveat. Weapons are discovered in an unidentified state, and can only be identified by appraisers within the dungeon which are also randomly generated.
On top of that, you can only take a single weapon with you outside of the dungeon unless you off-load them to couriers, which are also randomly generated in the dungeon. While exciting in theory, that level of randomness piled up on each other can make things frustrating at times, especially when you need to appraise and find couriers for weapons before completing the dungeon, and lady luck will not always be kind to you.
The Ethereal Est system has loads of other problems, such as being too large and not looking interesting at all. Random encounters are very high in Revenant Dogma, so these dungeons are a nightmare unless you have a premium currency ring that removes random encounters entirely (more on that later).
As for not being aesthetically pleasing, a fair comparison would be that of a corn maze, but replacing the actual corn with sections of dark, empty space. I never completed one of these dungeons because the final boss wiped the floor with me (despite being 7 levels above the recommended level). Maybe I just need to git gud, but that doesn’t change the fact that this system, as a whole, feels like a missed opportunity. A Diablo-inspired mini-game within a traditional JRPG sounds amazing on paper, but is poorly executed in reality.
The saving grace in Revenant Dogma is the combat, much like for most titles in the KEMCO RPG lineup. Battles are turn-based and feature a transformation system akin to Revenant Saga, albeit a little more refined this time. Whereas Revenant Saga was rather easy even on some of the harder difficulties, negating the need for transformations in the first place, Revenant Dogma will quickly require you to use the system in earnest even on the normal difficulty. If you are unfamiliar with transformations, think of them as a means to access powerful abilities–but at a price. Staying in a transformation too long runs the risk of you becoming uncontrollable for the duration of the encounter, so keeping an eye on your transformation meter (or whatever it is called) is crucial. While I did appreciate the added level of difficulty, your mileage will vary based on your relationship with the microtransaction system.
A true staple to KEMCO RPGs, but I can’t blame them given their background in the mobile market. As with their other titles, they give you a set amount of premium currency from the get-go, in hopes of enticing you to purchase more later on. While you do accrue some of the currency by completing battles, it isn’t very much when looking at the big picture.
Like I suggest in every KEMCO RPG, it is in your best interest to avoid the majority of these premium items, even with the free currency they give you. Weapons and armor from their gambling system can easily trivialize content, particularly early on. If I choose to get anything in these KEMCO RPGs, it is usually quality of life improvements like double experience or money, because those have varying levels of innate stinginess across their library of games.
Revenant Dogma is definitely on the stingy side too, particularly with money. As I said before, even on normal difficulty things tend to heat up rather quickly. You will want the best weapons and armor that you can afford, but the work you put into random encounters doesn’t always pay off on the money side of things. Items and equipment get very expensive fast, to the point that you might begin to question whether KEMCO built it this way as to entice you to buy-in to their microtransaction system.
I can honestly say that, out of the half dozen KEMCO RPGs I’ve played to date, none of them feel like they force the microtransactions on you. Revenant Dogma, however, feels like the tipping point in that scale. That’s not to say that the game can’t be finished without them, but there is certainly a strong incentive behind their purchase, which is not cool at all.
Remember how I mentioned the high rate of random encounters? In past KEMCO RPGs, you have the ability to adjust these from the main menu, but Revenant Dogma requires you to PAY REAL MONEY for this feature. It cannot be purchased with the in-game premium currency. Fortunately, you can buy the previously mentioned null-encounter ring with some of your free premium currency, but it is almost a necessary buy in some cases.
My barrier to entry with any traditional JRPG is low, and I am not ashamed of it. I have played some amazing games over the years that have entertained me that might have not for your average RPG fan. Because of that, I’ve come to appreciate several of the KEMCO RPGs because they scratch that nostalgic itch for me, despite having issues here and there.
But I just can’t give Revenant Dogma a pass. It is a mess in the truest sense, and is built in a way that might feel like a cash grab to you even after paying the $12.99USD entry fee. While I’m not writing off future KEMCO RPGs as a whole just yet, I sincerely hope that the next title is catered more towards the console audience, at the very least.