Living in the aftermath of their parents’ untimely deaths, siblings Niamh, Tadhg, and Deirdre uncover a shocking truth on Deirdre’s twentieth birthday when she mysteriously transforms into a wolf. Theirs is a world where magic can wreak havoc on nature, and the dead can walk the earth. But, unfortunately, they must also contend with the forces of the Order: a faction that views Deirdre’s power as a warning of disasters to come. Joined by a small band of characters opposed to the Order’s more dubious machinations (including a bonded duo tracking the witch for their own personal reasons and three village defenders who seek to aid refugees), the path that lies before the siblings is one full of danger and potential to bring family secrets to harsh light. Pursued by dogged foes yet aided by atoning necromancers, their journey comprises the heart of SRPG Walk with the Living II, an indie title that tells a short, concisely thoughtful tale and provides a fair bit of tactical challenge.
On the surface, Walk with the Living II’s gameplay reminds me of a simplified Fire Emblem battle system, yet it contains hidden depth. Every party member has a job title and specific weapons only they can wield in combat. For example, middle sibling Tadhg can handle a bow (Deirdre’s preferred weapon of choice) or an axe (older sister Niamh’s specialty). The firm-yet-contemplative village defender Ewatomi can use elemental spell tomes. Some, such as the protective-minded Niamh, can use staves for a certain amount of time in combat to cast status effects on characters or for healing, and Deirdre has the power to transform into a wolf. She can also gather herbs due to her role as a herbalist. Units that ride atop horses or griffins can move even after using an action in battle. Each weapon corresponds to others that it is either weak or strong against, causing you to think carefully about strategic positioning on the battle map or your attackers.
Similar to some Fire Emblem games, certain characters have supports with one another. These supports create a closer bond between the party members that nets them bonuses when within range of one another on the battlefield. Talking during fights when an icon presents itself can increase support levels and raise stats, encouraging players to take advantage of them whenever they’re present. Particular supports can be gained or lost depending on your actions in the story. In one of my playthroughs, Tadhg remained close with his older sister Niamh despite her revealing a painful secret about their mother she had kept from both of her siblings. In another, he lost that closeness with her but gained a deeper relationship with two other party members instead due to leaning on them for comfort. Iyabo, still grieving over the tragic loss of a woman she loved, can choose to become closer to Ewatomi or Niamh. Still, certain decisions will prevent her from forming a closer rapport with both women simultaneously. It’s an intriguing way to handle supports in general. However, beyond the stat-boost supports grant, they’ve more of an impact on potential story scenes or how the ending for specific characters plays out. I also greatly appreciate the diversity and overall inclusivity of the cast.
Unlike Fire Emblem, there is no permadeath in Walk with the Living II. Instead, defeated characters retreat from battle, their absence putting you at a strategic disadvantage for the rest of the fight and causing them not to gain as much experience. In addition, they become injured following a retreat, losing statistic points. Before fights, you can manage units, tailoring their limited item inventory to your preferences and spending skill points to strengthen and improve various character stats such as HP, speed, or defense. You can visit only one shop throughout the game, though it works similarly to any other RPG store.
During specific battles, you can search buildings and potentially gain items, or AI-controlled allies will assist you. I was especially impressed by the ally AI, as the moves they made during combat never bordered on the outright destructive ones I’ve seen utilized in other SRPGs. An ally might join the party afterward, depending on what happens during a fight. After one woodland fight, I was surprised to find a bear amongst my ranks! Sometimes you also have the option to talk to mercenaries during combat, which can result in hiring them for your cause instead. I had three characters become additions to my party this way, which is an excellent way to pad fights.
There are three difficulty settings to choose from when starting up a new game in Walk with the Living II, though I admit that fights can still be challenging even in Story Mode. One battle where you must defend a temple for ten rounds from a horde of enemies had me frequently restarting. You must keep Deirdre alive throughout all fights as her “death” is a defeat condition, which can make you think carefully about sending her into the thick of things since, in her human form, she isn’t the most powerful character in your roster. Aside from Deirdre, you don’t usually need to worry about characters retreating. However, I did notice a glitch in the battle where the witch Keir and the dancer Innis join: the couple goes hand-in-hand together wherever they are. If Keir is defeated and retreats from his introductory fight, his sprite would go missing from the following story map, where Innis must talk with him to progress, making it impossible to proceed further. Fortunately, a patch has since been implemented and this particular bug is no longer an issue.
Walk with the Living II’s SRPG mechanics are solid and engaging, though its storyline makes the game stand out. The story scenes play out in a visual novel format, with a poetic narrative that is both emotional and compelling to uncover. I love the way characters describe things in this game! There’s so much narrative depth to even simple recollections of past experiences. Plenty of plot choices are given to decide the game’s direction, not only in terms of what bonds you ultimately create between characters but how certain scenes will play out. For example, there are two different final boss fights depending on your chosen actions beforehand (with one ultimately deciding the fate of the pursuing Order while the other dives more into the grim history of death itself in the game’s world), with numerous differing interactions and character reveals depending on player choices. The game isn’t long for an SRPG at twelve chapters, but the replayability is relatively high. While the endings often have a bittersweet tinge, I found them to be quite touching overall. I appreciate the rewind option given after seeing a particular ending play out, allowing you to start a “new game plus” that way.
Visually, Walk with the Living II features gorgeous painted backgrounds and beautiful portrait art for its VN story scenes. The UI is functional, and the sprite work during combat is nicely detailed. But, there was one scene where the text bubbles overlapped for a few dialog instances. In addition, the music fits with the game’s overall aesthetic, wonderfully capturing the “feel” of the story. I especially enjoy the song that plays during one of the final boss fights, as it comes across as a culmination of everything that came before.
While a sequel, Walk with the Living II is enjoyable as a standalone title thanks to its gameplay and the themes it explores. Returning characters provide enough insight into what happened previously to make it compelling when the past comes up in the confines of the plot. It took me some getting used to the controls using the mouse alone, though the game also offers keyboard support. Still, I found the mouse controls easy enough to pick up and utilize.
At times, Walk with the Living II does have a few hiccups, but it is an overall solid SRPG title with a lot of replayability and a powerful storyline that makes you think about what it means to be living. I enjoyed my time with the game, so I replayed it multiple times to see how things would play out if I chose one choice over another. It is heartfelt in the best of ways while also providing an entertaining tactical challenge. SRPG fans looking for more quality titles to peruse in the subgenre could quickly lose themselves for a little while here.