“Ahhh! After ten thousand years I’m free!”
Do technicolor heroes fighting monsters in giant rubbery suits bring back nostalgic memories of your childhood? Does your musical taste pulse along the rock and roll guitar leitmotif of the original “Go Go Power Rangers?” Do you spend your weekends and evenings watching Japanese actors pretending that on screen toys and trinkets give them superpowers? Do you secretly wish, in the back of your mind, that there was a decent game for this franchise?
If you answered yes to any of the above, Behold Studios has you covered with Chroma Squad, a SRPG/management sim that draws inspiration from and affectionately parodies on the highly successful Power Rangers/Super Sentai series.
The premise of the game is simple: five overworked, underpaid stunt actors decide they have had enough of their prima donna director, Mr. Mi Ah, and set out to found their own studio and their own show. With nothing but bare-bones cardboard suits, toy weapons, and a healthy heaping of positive thinking, they are able to get their studio off the ground. Along the way, they poke fun at and celebrate the manifold tropes and clichés that have appeared in Super Sentai over the years.
The parodies of Sentai tropes are on-point, witty, and best of all, often quite funny. Chroma Squad has tons of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shout outs and references to Super Sentai, from a Twitter user with a name that will be familiar to Dekaranger fans, to catchphrases that every Gokaiger enthusiast will recognize instantly. The game also has cameos from ersatz versions of Kamen Riders and Metal Heroes to spice things up, and the result is a downright entertaining and carefully crafted love letter to the franchises that shaped an entire generation. That being said, not all of the writing measures up. At some points in the game, the characters delve into social commentary, and all of these points are rather hamfisted and stilted attempts at trying to make the subject matter funny and entertaining. That’s not to say that such subjects can’t be parodied or discussed with levity, just that Behold has serious trouble writing with social commentary in mind — when the game delves into such topics, it’s more Captain Planet than Captain Marvelous — more preachy and condescending than cheesy and endearing.
“It’s time to conquer Earth!”
Even odder, halfway through the game, a bizarre plot twist ends up derailing the parody aspects rather suddenly. After a few hours of passionately parodying the Super Sentai genre, the parodies start to fade and a more serious (but not too serious — we’re still dealing with people in color-coded spandex after all) plotline emerges. While it’s not irritating — it’s actually just as entertaining — the sudden shift in tone may leave some players scratching their heads.
The graphics have an 8-bit feel to them, to such a degree that the entire game’s visual aesthetics are created to give the impression of the 80s and 90s, complete with a CRT TV graphical style that pervades the entire game. The characters and backgrounds are rendered in a 8-bit style quality, though the color palette obviously betrays its technological advantages. The characters and monsters are all detailed enough to show what they represent, and the ranger suits change according to the player’s equipment selection, which is a nice effect; as the player progresses through the game, the characters’ ranger suits will progress from absolutely pitiful looking Speedos to honest-to-goodness ranger suits and helmets.
The game doesn’t fare nearly as well on the music front, though; the soundtrack is up for sale from Behold Studios, but the music itself is rather forgettable. The music the player will hear the most — the hub music that plays during the management portion of the game — is the very definition of “elevator music.” It can be quite catchy, but not in the good way. Instead, it slowly erodes your sanity until you don’t want to listen to another second of it. Thankfully, the brilliant minds at Behold Studios thought ahead and gave players an option to turn off music and sound effects separately in the game, which means that Super Sentai and Power Ranger fans can turn off the music and use their mp3 player to substitute the soundtrack with music from whatever season of Power Rangers/Super Sentai is their favorite and make the game that much more enjoyable.
“Recruit a team of teenagers with attitude!”
As Chroma Squad begins, players are asked to choose from a multitude of available templates to fill out five roles in the character roster. Each character template has different abilities — some will gain the show more fans due to star power but cost more to hire, others will be granted bonuses during combat such as higher movement at the cost of another stat but have a smaller paycheck due to being relative unknowns in show business. The five roles are specialization jobs, each with its own set of abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. As a result, certain character templates have greater synergy with certain roles, but ultimately the player can choose whoever they want for the roles and be able to get through the game without too much grief.
Characters don’t level through experience or battle, but rather as the story progresses; in each chapter, another stage in the skill tree for all characters is unlocked and their stats are increased accordingly. Each role has different skills and abilities (some passive, some active) in each skill stage, though the player can ultimately only choose one ability from each stage to use during battle. This works fine in the context of the game, but it also limits the flexibility that you can approach the game with — in the earlier chapters, if your medic is knocked out in battle, you have no other healers you can fall back on, and even later on, the medic is the only one that can revive characters from the knock out state. Because each character is locked into a specific role, there’s very little freedom with which to customize party abilities.
This is especially noticeable once battles start, as Chroma Squad’s battles operate on a SRPG battle style, but don’t make full use of its battle system. Players can’t choose which positions their party characters start at, and after a while, each map becomes a routine of having melee fighters cut a bloody swath through the enemy lines, having the long range fighters mop up the stragglers, and having the medic support with healing. Each battle has special objectives that, once achieved, will pull in more viewers, which adds an interesting wrinkle to some battles, but most are easily achieved and add no real challenge to the game proper. That’s not to say the battles aren’t entertaining, because they are, and the SRPG system is actually quite well-designed; it’s just that long-time SRPG aficionados will find it easy to see the untapped potential in the battle system.
At the end of certain missions, the party can also jump into a giant mech to do battle against equally enormous monsters. In this mode, the game takes on a rudimentary turn-based system. As normal attacks by the mecha connect with the enemy, the ability multiplier increases while the hit percentage decreases. Missing a normal attack, defending, or activating certain abilities will cause the player’s turn to end, with the goal being to achieve higher normal attack combos so that the ability multiplier will strengthen the abilities the player uses. Mech battles thus become a heavy assessment of risk vs reward, but much like the SRPG portions, there’s some potential lost, as it quickly becomes routine, with the player falling into certain setups that guarantee victory.
In the hub menu between battles, players can buy/craft equipment and materials, set job abilities, and most importantly, manage the studio where the filming for their Sentai show takes place. The management aspect comes in various forms, most importantly marketing and studio funds. Managing the correct marketing grants players with bonuses at the end of each mission, such as increased money, additional viewers, or increased viewer conversion rate. These are all proportional to the number of viewers the player is able to get in each episode, and of course, the more viewers, the better the show does, which pulls in more money to pay actors, marketing department, and other costs. Studio funds go into upgrading studio equipment and hiring workers to grant bonuses during battle such as increased item drop ratios or faster viewership increases, so that players have an easier time during battle. Occasionally, players also receive emails from fans, companies, and other networks hoping to solicit business or better public relations, and while answers can have certain positive or negative dividends, they make little impact on progression.
“It’s morphin’ time!”
Although Chroma Squad isn’t perfect, each of the game’s different elements come together to become greater than the sum of its parts. The management and SRPG aspects, though individually not as deep as games that specialize in one genre or the other, gel in a natural way similar to that of the disparate elements in games like Sakura Wars. The different parts complement each other well, and all but the most hardcore of management or SRPG enthusiasts will have no complaints about the relative lack of depth Chroma Squad has in comparison with its contemporaries. Chroma Squad is not a particularly long game, clocking in at around 15-18 hours, but a certain chapter in the second half of the game has branching paths with distinct storylines (though they ultimately converge on the same endgame) that introduce new powers/squadmates. Due to a lack of ability to keep multiple saves (as far as I have seen), this necessitates multiple playthroughs of the game to see everything it has to offer.
As a fan of both Super Sentai and the SRPG genre, I can’t help but feel elated at the existence of Chroma Squad but also a bit disappointed. The Sentai enthusiast in me is ecstatic with the shout outs, the love letters, and the general feel of Chroma Squad that only a Sentai fan can truly appreciate. The SRPG enthusiast in me scoffs at the simplistic and somewhat shallow nature of the SRPG gameplay, while still enjoying immensely the management aspects and breezing through the battles as a Sentai team. Chroma Squad, while not perfect, is, undeniably, the best Super Sentai-based game around. While it falters a little here and there, the end result speaks for itself — anyone who calls themselves a Sentai fan — or even has rosy memories of the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers — owes it to themselves to check it out. It truly makes a show of things, and that, in my book, is a Super Mega win.