Arthurian lore meets epic fantasy trappings and dire political machinations in the SRPG journey Esperia ~Uprising of the Scarlet Witch~. Despite suffering from a not-so-error-free script and some very noticeable visual hiccups, the twenty-to-thirty-hour-long campaign is still a pleasant enough experience for those craving more challenging tactical gameplay similar to Fire Emblem. The battle maps and strong, character-led plot might be worth giving the title a try, even with its obvious imperfections.
The narrative begins a long time ago when a legendary heroic king wielding a sacred blade of light fights an evil witch clad in red. Their battle became the historic cornerstone of the kingdom of Mediana, where the hero king’s royal line continues under the reign of King Uther Pendragon. Diana is King Uther’s second child, though many only tolerate her presence as a princess because Uther commands it. She’s been called a “bastard” and a “witch” on more occasions than she can count, including by her stepmother Queen Ygrene. Only her father and two half-siblings, Arthur and Liliane, offer familial support. Then, one day, King Uther gifts Diana a vital artifact known as the Orb of Dragons before mysteriously falling ill. Those in the know immediately spread the word that his illegitimate daughter cursed the king. Diana’s forced to flee from hostile pursuers with her loyal knight, the dragon-riding Ursula Bedivere, resolving to figure out the truth behind the conspiracy. Meanwhile, Uther’s absence from the field results in numerous factions vying for power. Will Diana succeed, or will her quest bring about the second coming of the dreaded Red Witch?
Esperia has a beefy plot with several nods to Arthurian lore throughout. Story scenes play out from either Diana’s or other characters’ perspectives in a visual novel format. The lengthy cutscenes between battles give you a strong sense of the game’s fantasy world and characters. Personality-wise, I immensely enjoyed most of the characters, especially the characters who came to make up Diana’s party. However, special mention should go to Diana and her little sister Liliane, who becomes playable later in the game. Both princesses endure severe heartache throughout the narrative, but their differing determination and resolve are outstanding. On occasion, during the VN scenes, you’re given a choice that can influence how story scenes or even future battles play out. I appreciate the choice-heavy narrative since you routinely go through lengthy story scenes as you progress. I especially enjoy the ending’s potential sequel hook and the extensive character epilogues you unlock after beating the game.
Battles play out on large-scale maps with terrain advantages. Certain spots, such as forests or mountains, will offer you status bonuses when a unit gets moved to it. However, the same applies to enemies. As you advance your characters during your turn, you want to keep note of the attack range for foes. When two units clash in battle, a fighting animation shows how much damage both take. The fights’ objectives vary, ranging from destroying all enemies on the field to defeating the commander to seizing locations of interest. There are battles where two teams have to fight at different points on the map, or everyone has to survive the fight. I found the versatility of what you plan for in combat quite refreshing; none of the battles ever felt like repeats. Sometimes you can chat with particular party members on the field, possibly causing a foe to change sides. You can even have an archer set themselves up in a tower that increases their attack radius. Before fights, you sometimes see optional dialogue scenes between various characters as a reaction to a given combat scenario, giving more insight into character dynamics and personalities.
While you sometimes progress from story chapter to story chapter or fight to fight, there are also times when you set up a base of operations before advancing the main plot. At base, you manage units by customizing various stats with enough points, equip or use items, visit shops, and choose to participate in optional chapters and battles if available. For instance, the mysterious necromancer Nina joins the party this way. Like Fire Emblem’s Supports, you can also open up bonds between characters who have grown close to one another. Bonds not only provide exciting story info for the characters involved but at a higher level, they grant each character boons in terms of skill. Trying to max them out is encouraged if you can. Unfortunately, it’s never quite clear how bonds grow between characters aside from perhaps that they must battle together. A lot of the bonds I ended up developing were more due to luck than anything else.
Esperia is stunning as far as the gorgeous character portraits and CG illustrations are concerned. The sprite work is serviceable, though it isn’t entirely unique for certain characters versus others. For example, Linus, a dragon knight squire who can join your party later on, has a very similar sprite to the enemy and ally dragon knights you often see in the field. The game’s music is incredible, and the opening theme is all sorts of catchy and performed phenomenally. It even plays as a poignant looping track in one significant fight. The tracks used for battles or tense story moments were particularly dynamic.
I found Esperia’s overall gameplay challenging but ultimately enjoyable, with the bonus of saving, suspending a fight, and resuming it later. I’ll admit I restarted some battles several times before a winning strategy presented itself! The story is moving, and many of the characters in Esperia are likable, but unfortunately, the script work also lacks quite a bit of polish. I was constantly auto-correcting in my head, which lessened the plot reveals’ intended impacts. It’s a shame the script doesn’t have a more powerful presentation, given its inherent potential.
Ultimately, I found myself immensely enjoying the time I spent playing Esperia. However, I also wished the game development process had more time to polish the game’s script. Unfortunately, that noticeable flaw mars an otherwise fun tactical experience. Still, SRPG fans who can see past that blemish should consider pulling Esperia ~Uprising of the Scarlet Witch~ out of the stone.
Update, March 27th, 2023: The developer Prismalice has since patched the visual graphic glitches that were mentioned in the original review. We have amended some text and scores as a result.