The Revenant Prince is the debut title from Nomina Games, a small, independent developer based in Indonesia. One look at the game clearly shows that it’s heavily inspired by the classic games that Nomina’s head, Darrell Wijaya, grew up with. Although this inspiration is clear, The Revenant Prince aims to be something different and not merely a retread. I appreciate the game’s quirky qualities and overall vision, but questionable design choices resulted in a clunky execution.
I actually had to pay attention to the tutorials for a change.
This title follows a modern-classic JRPG protagonist named Troy whose sullen exterior hides a good heart. A new recruit to the Lumerian Empire’s army, Troy’s inaugural mission results in him standing by helplessly as his platoon slaughters an entire village of innocents with no compunction. This obviously does not sit well, and with the help of his older sister Gabriella (a more seasoned soldier), he ends up deserting the army. With nowhere to go and on the brink of death in the frozen wastelands, he’s rescued by a leporine soul beast (anthropomorphic animal) named Farrah and her human friend Roland. Both are wary of him because he was part of the army they oppose, but they decide to give him the benefit of the doubt.
From that point on, the plot steadily veers off-kilter in terms of surrealism, absurdity, and even some creepy horror moments. That’s my erudite way of saying, “This story made no sense to me at all.” Even the big reveals that were supposed to explain it all… simply didn’t. The plot felt like a tangled mess of ideas that never quite gelled in a cohesive manner; it was riddled with holes, internal inconsistencies, and threads that were left hanging.
Speaking of inconsistent, that’s the best way to describe The Revenant Prince’s overall tone. The game is at its best when it’s presented as a somber endeavor, yet NPCs often undermine that by breaking the fourth wall, expressing forms of JRPG self-awareness, and doing wink-wink-nudge-nudge things that feel completely random. I understand the need for occasional comic relief, but the juxtaposition of tragedy and parody was awkwardly done.
I appreciated the story’s emotionally stirring set pieces and the few characters who compelled me in spite of their limited screen time. I would happily play a spinoff game starring Farrah, the aforementioned leporine soul beast, because she’s the most intriguing character in the game. She has the most personality and made me want to know more about her mysterious past and the history of her people. Pity her screen time wasn’t more generous, because she had the most to tell. Lead protagonists like Troy are a dime a dozen in JRPGs, but I haven’t played enough with unique leads like Farrah.
Not only does the game have tons of dialogue and field-action decisions that can alter the game’s trajectory, but decisions made in battle have an impact as well. When enemies have low enough HP that one strike will kill them, you have the option to spare them, so choose wisely. Several story elements occur no matter what actions are taken, but other aspects of the game (e.g. how certain NPCs react to you) change depending on your choices.
A single playthrough takes about 8-10 hours, depending on how much side content and exploration you do. Explorable areas are fairly compact, but sometimes when you walk left, right, or down to another screen, the next screen has you at the bottom moving upward. This can be discombobulating for the directionally challenged.
When I finished the game, I thought it was going to be a Groundhog Day style endeavor where I’d repeat the same span of time until I got it “right.” Unfortunately, my first playthrough was a slog to a bad ending that never even gave me a New Game Plus option. I badly wanted the opportunity for a New Game Plus do-over where my stats, equipment, and items carry over, so I could conveniently “play for the story” and do things differently without having to start from scratch and grind all over again.
The clean and readable text is mostly free of technical errors, but there are instances of questionable word choice and several moments when the dialogue reads too stiffly or is disjointed. What’s cool is that talking to animals and otherworldly beings grants uniquely colored and styled dialogue boxes and fonts. Dialogue boxes have reasonably sized text, but the text and icons used in store menus are way too small. I also would have liked battle menus and ATB bars to be larger and easier to read.
Small fonts and icons are only the beginning of the painful shopping experience in The Revenant Prince. When you’re in equipment shops, the store menu doesn’t tell you what kinds of stat boots various pieces of equipment give you. It’s quite inconvenient to save, buy, equip, and evaluate something before deciding whether to keep it or to boot up a prior save and pass on it all together. I also dislike that the item shop menus don’t tell you quantities for particular items you already have in your inventory. Such quality-of-life elements have been RPG staples for decades now and their absence makes absolutely no sense to me.
Another poor example of game design here is the use of a “sphere grid” type system to put special points into character stats. Troy is the only playable character and has stat trees for attack, defense, and utility stats. Once you choose one to pump points into, you can’t switch to another until the current one is maxed out. Who in their right mind thought this was a good idea? Typical players want to be able to switch in and out of these trees at will and distribute available points into multiple stat trees.
Be sure to save often, because enemies of varying ferocity roam everywhere. Even early in the game, it’s possible to encounter both weak and ludicrously overpowered enemies even in the same encounter. I’m not sure what the motivation behind this was, but it does not make for smooth progression. The Revenant Prince is all over the place in terms of how powerful enemies in a given area are, leaving me in a near perpetual state of confusion. I could never tell if I was properly leveled for my current location, and progression constantly felt like one step forward and two steps back.
My benchmark is that if I don’t run away from a single battle in a hostile area, I should be good enough to take on the boss. That’s not the case here since, as mentioned earlier, some random battles must be fled from because they have enemies who can decimate you in one turn. Bosses themselves are immensely powerful and often merciless. You need to think quickly on your feet and use every item, weapon, and skill at your disposal to strategically bring them down. If you go down in battle, though, there is a cool mechanic where you have ten seconds to revive yourself and avoid a Game Over, provided you have revive items in your inventory.
In a moment of convenience, the game provides you with an item early on to adjust the encounter rates. Switching to the highest encounter rate made grinding easier. Conversely, if I was low on HP I could eliminate encounters entirely and hightail it back to town to heal up. I found enemies rather stingy with giving me money because the items and equipment I needed most were always stupidly expensive. I constantly felt like I had caviar needs on a canned tuna budget.
Battles themselves are akin to Final Fantasy‘s Active Time Battles set to “active” mode where enemies will pound on you even as you’re scrolling through menus. Troy is the only one who actively fights (though he can summon companions for a quick assist) so keeping tabs on everything is not overwhelming.
Because of the way the battles are designed, it’s best to play The Revenant Prince using a keyboard and mouse. Several buttons are mapped to usable and necessary functions: more so than your average JRPG. The A, S, and D keys toggle between three available weapons, while the Q, W, and E buttons are mapped to jab, strong, and special attacks. Using these buttons to toggle my moves and using the mouse to select my enemy targets on the fly took some practice, but soon felt workable after some time.
This is not a “turn off your brain and go” JRPG that can be played using instinct alone. I actually had to pay attention to the tutorials for a change. With practice, I found myself getting into a good rhythm during battles, slickly switching between melee weapons, ranged weapons, and shields on the fly to gain the best tactical leverage. There were times I felt like the response time between my key presses and the action on the screen was delayed, even when my ATB bars were full, though.
The button mapping for the keyboard is fine, but I still wish there was a way for players to change it. I also wish gamepad support was better, because playing with a gamepad was like trying to feed strained carrots to a fussy and inconsolable baby. The gamepad button mapping was wholly unintuitive, there was no way to change it, and I felt like I was fighting the game rather than flowing with it. I prefer to play games like this on a gamepad, so I was disappointed that using one in this case was practically a no-go.
I have little to say about the inoffensive soundtrack beyond the fact that the music is simply there. I found the music generally flat and flavorless. As a test, I played the game on mute for an hour, and I could barely tell the difference between that and playing with the sound on. There is nothing inherently bad about the music; most people who play the game will probably say the music is just fine and that I’m being overly picky. Music is a biggie for me, though, and it’s not a good sign when I want to turn off the game’s music and substitute my own.
The Revenant Prince was created using RPG Maker MV, but utilizes tons of original assets, making it one of the most lush and lovely RPGM games I’ve seen in a long time. Detailed sprites and beautifully crafted environments feature loads of animations that really make the game’s world feel alive. Major characters are given several well-drawn and expressive dialogue portraits. The sprite animations during battle are very well done, but though there are some nifty looking creatures, most of the enemies are palette swaps of the same few foes. At the end of the day, The Revenant Prince is a lovely looking game and its visual design is its strongest aspect.
I almost feel bad bagging on The Revenant Prince as much as I did, because it’s clear that a lot of love was put into this project. Unfortunately, its few shining points are obscured by a massive dark cloud of flaws. I loved the visual design and the gameplay elements that required me to think a little differently. An RPG I can’t just play on autopilot is certainly intriguing. Sadly, the game’s faults are just too numerous for me to wave off. Try before you buy is the order of the day with The Revenant Prince, so I urge anyone interested in the game to take the available demo for a thorough test drive before committing.