Indie SRPG Tyrant’s Blessing is something of a mixed blessing. A minimalist story combined with a satisfying and challenging gameplay loop awaits those who decide to fight for the island nation Tyberia’s freedom from the undead legions of a necromantic Tyrant. Admittedly, it isn’t a game without frustration. Yet, its tactical-minded mechanics translate well to short bursts of playtime, perhaps making the Nintendo Switch port the optimal way to experience Tyrant’s Blessing.
Tyberia has seen better days. The kingdom quickly falls to chaos and strife when the Tyrant reaches its shores, promising to rid the land of every evil with his simple solution of turning everyone into the walking undead bound by his control alone. Things are bleak, as the queen and king are already dead. Most of the population has succumbed to the Tyrant’s machinations, the survivors losing ground each day. Lyndal, the realm’s princess-recently-turned-queen, must lead a small ragtag band of misfit heroes from all across Tyberia to challenge the Tyrant and save that which remains. Can she and her compatriots succeed, or will they bolster the Tyrant’s undead ranks instead?
That rather bleak synopsis is the crux of Tyrant’s Blessing’s narrative, as the game is relatively light regarding the plot. Lyndal is a compelling enough hero under the circumstances. You’re given brief snippets into party members’ personalities and stories by how they react to battle scenarios and in a few lines of dialogue at base camp. But, the main driving force behind the title is its looping gameplay and strategic combat. It’s a shame that the plot is so minimalistic, as the premise has definite potential, and the glimpses of the party members’ personalities are rather intriguing.
The central conceit of combat in Tyrant’s Blessing comes from the fact that you must survive prolonged, drawn-out battles. Even downed enemies will rise again to face you several times before finally giving up for good. You start an adventure in one of a limited number of save slots. What happens following that, including what initial battles you can participate in, is randomly generated. Not all party members show up at first in a playthrough. Reaching achievements throughout the game unlocks many characters, encouraging replayability if you want to see every character’s unique abilities. You can only pick three human characters for your battle party at a time, bolstered by a fourth slot for a pet support unit. You fight with the same four characters for most of the game, so picking a balanced party with skills you find particularly helpful is vital.
There does come a time after several battles when a character not in the main party gets antsy and requests trading to a more active role. Accepting this comes with a valuable bonus, yet it can also be aggravating since you’ll be used to a given party dynamic by that point. For example, I got so used to the pet panda’s “pushing away units” ability that it took me a lot of time to get used to the more individualized moving ability of the dog that ultimately replaced the panda in my playthrough.
Once your party is set up, you can peruse a map of Tyberia to plot your campaign against the Tyrant’s forces. The map contains a few battles you can participate in, with new ones revealed once you clear existing stages. These battles range from the standard “destroy all enemies” to ones where you must save someone in peril. Sometimes, you find helpful things on the field, such as cannons that you can use to attack enemies or items you can pick up. You must be mindful of obstacles such as mines or tile-activated traps, though you can also use them to your advantage with careful planning.
Adaptation is the key to winning fights in Tyrant’s Blessing. Before you can move, the enemy goes first, loudly broadcasting their next move through visual cues on the gridded map. You then get to decide the best way to approach the impending attack. Simply attacking an enemy with enough force to down them for the turn is a viable way to cancel their assault. Still, depending on how many foes might be targeting a single character or if your blow isn’t strong enough to down the enemy before the turn ends, it’s often difficult. Moving away from an upcoming attack is also viable; however, when you move a character, they leave behind a Shade, an echo of their presence that remains rooted in their initial starting spot. Damaging a Shade equates to damaging a character themselves. Since health is precious and your revival chances limited, you want to mitigate damage to your party in any way possible.
Special abilities can move enemies away from you, thereby changing an intended area of attack. Particular abilities will push characters away, or you might have a character, such as a dog, who can pull a unit to another grid without leaving a Shade behind. Lining up enemies by moving them can also set them up for broader-range attacks, or you can even put them in the path of one of their comrades’ blows instead of your party. Sometimes it’s even possible to use the terrain to your advantage. You can activate a trap when an enemy is in range, knocking one of your foes into a mine or a blazing patch after a dragon’s attack, or destroying a bridge and plunging them into move-canceling waters. You must consider all possible outcomes of a battle scenario and plan accordingly. It’s best to avoid damage if possible, but sometimes it’s necessary to have a character with more health and tank abilities soak up the damage than have your weaker ranged fighter do so. Friendly fire is an all too real threat in Tyrant’s Blessing, so you might find it best not even to attack if an ally lower on health could potentially get caught in the blow.
You can equip unique resources you have gathered at your base camp to bolster their survivability or general strength. I often focused on improving movement range and health first, but you can also increase damage output. Fortunately, when you decide to switch out a character, the resources you allocated to them are removed so you can customize your new party member or another character as you see fit. Each human character can equip one item to their person that grants them a boon during combat, such as dispelling Shades from an area or replenishing health. Because maintaining health is so important, I usually opted for health restoratives, but the wide range of items means you can further tailor combat to your liking.
Five revivals are available per battle. If a character falls in combat, a party member will revive with one health bar. Not an ideal situation if you can avoid it. These revival options are easy to use up but challenging to acquire. Once there are no more revival options left, it’s game over. Any downed party member at this point restarts the entire adventure from scratch as you fight all of the battles again in a randomly generated pattern, opening up boss fights and eventually leading to your long-awaited confrontation with the Tyrant. The repeating gameplay loop is unavoidable, as the game saves automatically after returning to base camp. So, if you use up your revival chances in a particularly tough fight, you’ll be disadvantaged in the next one. It can be frustrating when this happens, particularly when you have progressed through a good portion of Tyberia before being forced to start over. But, simultaneously, it helps you figure out the best strategies for a given fight the next time it appears on the map. I restarted my adventure three times after nearly making it to the Tyrant’s stronghold, but I did notice that I always got just that much farther in each subsequent playthrough. The entire adventure also literally starts over once you reach the journey’s end.
Graphics-wise, the terrains you fight on consist of four different biomes with distinct looks. Character sprites are also quite varied and detailed for your party and pets, and other human characters you encounter. Be prepared to fight hordes of skeletons, though, as they are the bulk of enemy forces. I sometimes had difficulty keeping track of the minute details showcasing the different abilities of the various skeleton enemies. Effects such as dust clouds or burning ground show up nicely, so you can plan around them accordingly. Enemy actions are pleasantly televised on the map to help you counter them. The UI is crisp and does the trick. I also must praise the game’s stellar soundtrack, as the BGM for fights helps keep you pumped and on your toes as you plan your next moves.
Despite some aggravation with the game’s setup, I enjoyed playing Tyrant’s Blessing. The strategic gameplay does make you think carefully about the steps you take in combat. I played the game on my Nintendo Switch Lite and found it excellently designed for those wanting a short-yet-solid handheld experience. Tyrant’s Blessing is a different sort of SRPG than one might expect, but it’s precisely that uniqueness that helps it stand out despite its paper-thin plot. Those interested in turn-based SRPGs with roguelike elements may find the trip to the bleak landscape of Tyberia worth it.