This is one of the rare times I sit down to write a review immediately after finishing a game. Usually, I let myself have about a week after finishing something before reviewing it. I look at it again, knowing what I know about the design and then write my review for it.
Sometimes though, a game captivates me so much that I feel compelled to review it straight away. Portal 2 did it, Psychonauts did it, and now Chroma Squad has done it.
I’m willing to bet most of you haven’t heard of this game from Behold Studios, one of Paradox Interactive’s developers. They’re defined by taking a well-established idea, and twisting it in a unique way. For instance, their last game: Knights of Pen and Paper, was a Fantasy RPG but focused on the players of a tabletop roleplaying game (You could buy stuff like new tables, new Dungeon Masters and other such guff). Chroma Squad does something similar. It’s a tactical, squad-based RPG (Not unlike XCOM: Enemy Unknown) with a Sentai Aesthetic. The cool little twist this time around is that it’s a TV Show, and you’re filming said TV show.
If any of you know me IRL, you’ll know I’m a bit of a sucker for Saban’s Power Rangers (Which this game is so heavily influenced by) so knew I needed this game as soon as I saw it. The chance to make my own Power Rangers-like team with custom catchphrases and everything? That shit sounded morphenomenal and I picked it up fairly quick.
I went in to this expecting a light tactical RPG with mecha-fights and cutesy, 8-Bit, graphics. That’s pretty much what you get, but there is some depth that I wasn’t quite aware of until the first big plot reveal.
The story starts out with your crew of Sentai actors getting bossed about by a mean director. He says “Be less shit”, they say “Shan’t” and leave to form their own studio (Which you can name and all that good stuff). From there, each combat situation is contained to an episode. All the episodes have really goofy setups, like: “Your team decides to go for a picnic but a tree monster ruins it for them!”. I laughed at a lot of them. That examples is almost the plot of an episode of Power Rangers verbatim. It’s a nice touch.
While on set, your director gives you special side objectives for you to fulfil such as “Defeat X amount of enemies with the Scout” or “Keep all of your squad mates alive” or “Kill the boss monster with a finishing move”. Doing these nets you more Audience, which nets you more fans and money (Both of which are useful for upgrading your gear, robot, studio etc.). These are a really cool little addition. I found myself strategizing specifically to meet these goals. They were totally optional, but I felt really bad about missing out on one. It’s a cool way to keep the fairly samey gameplay fresh from encounter to encounter.
After that, some episodes will have you fight in your giant robot against a monster that has turned huge and is rampaging in the city. This is unfortunately not nearly as cool as it sounds, and is easily the worst part of the experience. Fights are turn based and you begin by punching the enemy over and over. With each punch, your damage multiplier increases, but so does your miss chance. If you miss, it’s the enemy’s turn. They get three attacks all of which you can block to varying degrees of success. When the enemy’s health is low enough, you can use a super move that knocks the rest of their health out. Once you figure out the mechanic, fights just become clicking until you miss, blocking and then repeating until you can use your super move. It seems almost counter intuitive to the game’s design, which is all about strategy.
Thankfully, the main component of the game more than makes up for it. Squads are made up of five classes, all of which have different abilities. You unlock more every Season (Or chapter, if you want to be traditional about it) and can swap them out as often as you like. Each class does only get around fifteen or so moves to choose from and a lot of them are passive bonuses, but it still feels good to get synergy going there.
When it comes to everything else, the story is the most interesting aspect of Chroma Squad. It hs multiple endings, which I haven’t experienced yet. You make story choices through emails to various clients. For instance, do you allow this enigmatic businessman install an “Audience Booster” in the studio that will let you get more fans? Or not? Does that even matter to the plot?
You never know which email chain will change your story drastically until later on. In my case, a decision I made didn’t have any repercussions for several seasons. Then it hit me and I and I kicked myself. It’s cool though. Rarely are games so covert in their choices, and I’d like to see more games do it.
The writing is pretty top-notch as well. It’s suitably goofy, given the subject matter. The Support almost always puts little emoticons in their speech bubbles for instance and there’s plenty of pop-culture jokes. There was this whole bit where my socially awkward Techie tried to flirt with the aloof warrior lady on the team, and opened up with “Did you know that the original name for Pac-Man was Puck-Man?” (an obvious, but hilarious reference to a scene from the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels) which made me laugh out loud. Sometimes, it’s a little too “90’s TV Show” but that’s alright, it’s the aesthetic they’re going for so I can respect it.
My biggest complaint though is a story thing. I won’t spoil it since I’m not a raging dick that can only get it up if he ruins other people’s day, but there’s an event that happens in the story that made me groan and say “Really? They’re doing this bit?” I’m not sure if it happens on all the ending paths, but speculation leads me to say “Yes”. It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the game, it was still very fun, but I just wish they hadn’t done it.
So the last word is: If you’re looking for a goofy 9 hour tactical RPG to play instead of playing XCOM for the billionth time, this might be worth looking at. It’s not particularly deep, but still worth the paltry £11 I spent on it. If you’re a Power Rangers fan, this is a must buy. It’s a Power Rangers game in everything but name. it retains the wacky nature of the original show, and still scratches that nostalgia.
And hey, If Power Rangers ain’t your thing, I hear Kamen Rider DLC is coming pretty soon.
Verdict: Somewhat boring Mecha fights and a jarring shift at the end of the second act but very enjoyable tactical gameplay with a unique twist and well executed story.