A kingdom that once ended a war with the aid of a mythical creature has been plunged into conflict once more. Intervention from crimson birds of a different feather might be just what the kingdom needs to finally bring peace at last. These two sentences summarize the essential plot setup for Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix. The beginning of the game explains that the Kingdom of Dryden has declared war on her neighbors, and the continuing conflict stirs up a civil rebellion too. To bolster his forces to fight on both fronts, King Harold hires groups of mercenaries. One such mercenary group is the Crimson Birds, with Jeremy and his adopted sister Cecil at its head. The Crimson Birds end up running into rebels early into their campaign and find themselves thrown into a much larger battle than they initially anticipated, one with repercussions that will have a lasting effect on Dryden for years to come.
The plot for Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix is a narrative you have probably seen before, with plot twists you can see coming a mile away and characters who generally behave as expected. However, the storyline is presented in such a way that the short plot scenes between battles will at least hold the player’s interest, and the cast of heroes that make up the Crimson Birds are a generally likable bunch. Worth a special mention is the character development seen by Eunice and especially Cecil in my chosen playthrough.
Speaking of “chosen playthrough,” there is one key decision players must make early in the game: whether or not the Crimson Birds continue to serve under the king despite being made aware of his troubling actions. I leaned more towards going away from that role, but there’s definitely a good replayability factor to this game in that you can see the storyline play out from different perspectives and have access to new party members as a result of your choice. Just be sure to have a separate save file if you wish to quickly reach the decision point as the Clear Game data has you restart the title from the beginning, albeit with new difficulty levels to choose from.
Battles in Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix are pretty standard SRPG fare. If you are at all familiar with games such as Final Fantasy Tactics or Tactics Ogre, you’re basically looking at a simplified version of their brand of tactical gameplay here. Your party moves along a mapped grid, meeting enemy combatants along the way as you decide how best to dispatch them through a series of menu commands. There isn’t really anything in this game that hasn’t been seen or done before, so players already familiar with the SRPG genre will have no trouble picking it up. Height and directional differences on the map and aggro stats factor into gameplay too. Players select a leader at the start of every battle who provides the party with beneficial boosts. Truth be told, this isn’t vitally important to a battle outcome (I usually just picked Cecil for my party leader), but it is something fun for players to experiment with.
The job system in Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix is also a simpler version of what players have probably seen in other SRPGs. Characters start off with a base job, which then branches off into two other jobs. Reaching the third tier of advanced jobs after leveling up means deciding between a readily available advanced job or gaining access to a new one that is unlocked through the use of a special item. Each job comes with a list of useful skills for battle, and learned skills from one job carry over to the next. Thankfully, you can still continue to master and learn skills from previous jobs even after switching to a new one, allowing players to hang on to things like vital healing spells.
Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix’s graphics are very much reminiscent of SRPGs from a previous era: scenes and battles play out entirely with character sprites and still art. The sprites are detailed, with noticeable visual changes depending on a character’s job class, and the character artwork for the game is gorgeous, so I didn’t mind the simplicity with which the stories and battles were presented. I was even able to get past some of the more extremely fanserviced female character designs simply due to the amazing art. The game doesn’t always make it easy to see things, though. Camera position can’t be adjusted in battle, so there were occasions when I struggled to find a character hidden by details like ledges or shrubberies.
Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix’s story contains twenty-two chapter battles. After each chapter, the player is sent to a hub menu where they can adjust their characters, shop for new items, participate in Free Battles, or opt to continue on to the next story battle. Free Battles are optional fights that reuse story battle maps to help keep the party well funded and leveled. I found them to be extremely useful in maintaining survivability for story fights.
The game’s soundtrack also harkens back to SRPGs of yesteryear. I found it sufficient enough to keep me invested in fights in particular, even without a ton of different battle tracks, although there was quite a jarring “level/skill up” noise that I personally didn’t care for at all. There’s no voice acting, though the script is serviceable and keeps the plot moving along at a brisk pace with only a few small typos or odd word choices on occasion.
Mercenaries Wings: The False Phoenix is a decent SRPG that doesn’t really do anything wrong in terms of delivery or presentation. I enjoyed my time playing the game, even if I wasn’t necessarily wowed by it. However, with so many other SRPGs to choose from in both the Switch and PS4 libraries, I’m hard pressed to recommend playing this title when there are many great options available. For the price you pay for the game digitally, it is at least a solid addition to an SRPG collection once the heavy hitters have all been played.