Revenant Saga Review (Switch)
Revenant Saga is an RPG that attempts to present many interesting concepts but struggles to get out of its own way to accomplish them in majorly successful ways. The game includes many staples of the RPG genre; however, the implementation of those tropes never feels like anything past “surface-level.” From story to combat to character customization, the beginnings of complexity and depth flash for moments before dissipating and never fully realizing their potential. As a whole, Revenant Saga feels like a mediocre game that shouldn’t necessarily be avoided but should be approached knowing what to expect.
The story begins simply enough with a plague infecting a small village and affecting the game’s main protagonist, Albert. His best friend’s parents tragically pass due to sickness, forcing Albert to recruit the help of an old man who enters the village amidst the chaos. Our young character soon discovers the old man’s “help” is not as harmless as he’d believed, and Albert finds himself in the middle of a plan to fuse demons and humans together to form beings called Revenants.
After a disturbance during his transformation process, Albert meets a voice inside his head. In his case, the demonic possession did not finish completely, leaving him still in a human form with a demon locked inside his body. The story then leaps forward two years where Albert meets his other three companions – Esther, Bruno, and Julia – through missions performed for a religious group known as the Sanctum. The four party members, through an adventure that takes them across a sizable world map, uncover an evil plot to flood the world with demons for the purpose of releasing The Demon King into the realm of humanity.
On the surface, this premise appears interesting; the problem with this game, however, is that the premise does indeed stay near the surface for the majority of the game. It misses huge opportunities to dive into interesting pockets of the plot and explore elements such as the connection between the human and demonic realms, the history of the Revenants themselves, the relationship between the Sanctum and the monarchy, and the actual motivations of the game’s true villains. Those are just to name a few story points brought up throughout the game but never given enough screen time. They made me interested as a player, setting up a fairly interesting world but completely missing the opportunity to take the time to explore or understand it in any meaningful way. Story beats just hit players in the face and expect them to buy everything being sold to them at the speed of a professional auctioneer without giving the time to dwell on those beats and look deeper.
One of the worst examples of this lack of story depth occurs between Albert and his demon, Magnus. The game, being called Revenant Saga and being a game where nearly everyone becomes a Revenant by the end of the story, barely scratches the surface concerning the actual connection between the human host and demon possessor of a body. We get conversations between Albert and Magnus throughout the course of the game, but they never truly amount to anything. Their conversations work to make us understand that Magnus is always hungry, and that’s about it. We get hints at character growth, but it’s so vague that it’s essentially nonexistent. At one point in the game, Magnus converses with the demon possessing another main character’s body. When this happened, my eyes actually got big, and I was impressed where the story could go from there. But I was quickly let down by the fact that it is the only real instance of that in the entire game. It teases demon politics, rank, society, rivalry, and just life in general, but it leaves those story threads in that singular scene completely unresolved and unexplored. That is a HUGE story opportunity left undone.
The characters themselves feel flat as well, and when they actually do or say things to make them rounder people, it feels forced and unnatural. None of the actions that progress their personalities feel like logical sequences for their personal ideologies. While it’s true the characters talk to each other throughout the game, those conversations don’t always equal productive interactions. There is a LOT of dialogue in this game, and although some of it is interesting, most of it feels like a slog to read through. Many times, I felt exasperated to hit another conversation instead of just moving the plot. And that’s the problem. The conversations themselves rarely move the plot forward. Yes, you get those milestone scenes that include important information or plot reveals, but they are drowned by nearly-useless interactions doing little to advance the story or build the characters.
I can’t say the story never does anything interesting because it does. There were a few moments of honest surprise and shock for me. The only problem is those things come so far into the game, I’m afraid many players will never see them because of the slog it is to get there. In fact, some of the biggest instances of character development take place in the area before the final boss. In the story, each of the main characters must face a trial, pitching them against the demons within their bodies or doubts inside their minds. These scenes do SO MUCH for each of them, and I feel if they’d occured closer to halfway through the story, it would have done wonders for the general development of the plot. As it stands, those scenes happen at the end, too late to enhance the characters or general story with any amount of impact.
Unfortunately, moving away from characters and story does not necessarily produce better results. Revenant Saga presents its visuals in a 2D aesthetic reminiscent of the NES or SNES eras, which does not look bad. During conversations, characters are represented by illustrated portraits that make me think of the character portraits in The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. They’re interesting and honestly do a good job bringing emotion to the characters during dialogue. The issue with the visuals arise when battles begin as the whole look of the game shifts to a 3D style. This shift is not a positive for me because I’m a big fan of consistency, and it feels too jarring to go from sprites to fully built 3D models and environments. It doesn’t add anything to the experience, especially since the 3D isn’t breathtaking by any stretch of the imagination. Don’t get me wrong though, I wouldn’t have minded it as much if the whole game had been crafted in that style. It’s the inconsistency that really bothers me.
Revenant Saga, much like with its story, offers a number of interesting mechanics that feel underdeveloped. For instance, while the transformation system in combat is “cool,” there is never a true need for it. The mechanic allows each party member to change into a more powerful version of themselves, able to perform strong moves unavailable to them when not transformed. While these abilities are powerful, yes, there are not enough other bonuses or reasons to use transformation all that much. In fact, I completely ignored it for much of the game.
The combat in general feels like a missed opportunity as it’s more or less simply “damage to win.” Status effects, while they do exist in the game, don’t seem necessary, important, or even impactful. And your party characters’ abilities do not pair in any interesting way at all. They make you think each party member exists for a specific role or purpose, yet nothing truly comes of it. To illustrate, many of Julia’s moves delay enemy attacks, but then none of the other members get a bonus against a delayed enemy or anything like that. In a similar way, buffing and debuffing feels useless. All potentially interesting aspects of the combat system appear to be great ideas with almost no execution. Instead, the game is attack to win and heal when necessary. In fact, I played 90% of the game on auto-attack that only used my characters’ basic attack option. I not only survived 90% of the game doing that, but I breezed through it (even defeating several bosses in that fashion).
I could have lived with the subpar combat of the game had the moment to moment gameplay been fun. Alas, controlling the game oftentimes feels more a chore than anything. The character’s movement around the world map and within towns feels too floaty and not like he’s actually moving around those spaces. I’m not sure if it’s because the sprite feels too naturally fast or what? Thinking back to vintage Final Fantasy, even when you sprint, the sprites still feel a part of that environment, so I don’t think speed has anything to do with my issue here. It’s a feeling thing for sure. It just doesn’t feel right. To compound my issue, using the joystick is so inaccurate because of how quickly it moves the sprite that it’s almost impossible to correctly align yourself with your target, whether it be a chest or door or NPC. No lie, trying to stop in front of NPCs was absolutely infuriating at times. Alternatively, using the D-Pad feels so constrictive that it’s equally as frustrating. Maybe it’s just me, but the overall movement throughout Revenant Saga felt worse than any game I’ve played in a long time.
Speaking of moving around the map, the world map is quite sizable, something which impressed me. It definitely covers a lot of ground. But once again, like with a lot of the other features/mechanics, it feels almost wasted as the game does little to actually encourage exploring the world. The plot propels you from town to town in a mechanical fashion, giving little incentive to see the sights around each location. Side quests don’t even arrive until later in the game, and when they do (the few of them I actually took time to complete) simply asked me to fetch items from monsters outside the town. One quest did ask me to backtrack to a previous town to deliver something, but the dialogue text felt so uninspiring that I barely cared about what was going on. Something like this is much harder to tolerate after playing a game like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 which really makes use of its time in towns and locations, and also fills those spaces with side quests that engage you on a lore level. I understand comparing these two titles in that way is completely unfair, however, so I digress. I only mention it to point out that adding lore and flavor to quest dialogue and incentivizing players to slow down and explore regions goes a long way toward making the game both fun and memorable.
On the exploration front, I got pretty excited when the story finally gave me a ship with which to take my adventure to the seas. HOWEVER, upon first getting said ship, all avenues of exploration are closed off due to “environmental factors.” Near the end of the game, Julia lets me know there are islands worth looking into, but I was so close to the end that I didn’t really care at that point. This feeling could have been combated by giving me exploration notifications earlier in the experience, which would have provided a greater sense of getting to know the world and getting to find its hidden secrets instead of waiting until just before the final boss.
One of the biggest strikes against this game for me arises in the soundtrack. I’m not asking for the moon here, please understand. Not every game score has to be Final Fantasy VI (that would be impossible, are you kidding me?). Seriously, I enjoy smaller, simpler scores almost as much as I do the bigger ones. For example, I recently liked Lost Sphear’s soundtrack despite its lack of overt grandeur. The soundtrack for Revenant Saga initially struck me as interesting and potentially something to keep my ears open for throughout the game. The first few tracks definitely caught my attention. The problem, I soon found out, is that those first few tracks in the score are actually the only tracks included in the game at all. Yes, the music you hear in the first hour of your playthrough is the exact music you will be hearing until the end of the game – over and over and over. The town themes are the same, the battle theme is the same, and the overworld theme is the same. And you hear them over and over and over. To make it worse, the timing and transitions for the music is really off in some scenes, making super obvious cuts that pull you right out of the immersion. The cuts themselves are not the only thing to break immersion – oh no, they’re not. Every time you receive a quest or open a chest, a little victory tune plays…loudly. And it interrupts the soundtrack being played in the background. It’s honestly quite intrusive and was immediately a turnoff for me. I know that might seem like a small thing for others, but for me, it just added to the general subpar nature of the experience.
A word to sum up my entire time with Revenant Saga is unpolished. It just feels unpolished. There are many interesting systems and mechanics included without a sense of successful execution. The story, while set in an interesting world, does nothing to encourage exploration, commitment, or general connection to it. And finally, the lack of polish even seeps down to the level of the sound design, unfortunately creating instances of complete immersion erosion. I really wanted to like this game and really did give it a chance. Honestly, I’m happy I stuck it out to the end because the story finally included a few worthwhile moments, but I’m not sure the entire journey to get there was worth it. And I’m worried others will never see those moments because they can’t make it through the journey themselves. So, while Revenant Saga pitches a number of worthwhile concepts, it cannot get out of its own way long enough to follow through on them. I don’t know if I would tell you to avoid this game, as it’s still playable, stable, and provides content for about twenty hours – it’s just not going to be the most fun ride you’ve ever had. In the end, my suggestion for this game is to know what you’re getting into.
Luckily, you just read this review, so you do indeed know exactly what you’re getting into.