The summer months are a great time for a comfort food game, something reassuring in its familiarity and willingness to revel in its repetition. Japanese games are especially good at this, and NIS America’s new tactical RPG, God Wars: Future Past, seems well-positioned to be that game for many. Does it deliver on its aims?
Developed by Kadokawa Games, the studio that brought you Natural Doctrine, God Wars both is and isn’t what you expect it to be. Sure, it’s a game with ambitions exceeding its grasp, one that simply doesn’t have the budget to cover everything it wants to do. This time, though, the ambitions that tripped Kadokawa up with Doctrine, those of combat complexity, are nowhere to be found. Instead, God Wars uses what may be the safest possible battle system for a strategy-RPG: a grid-based, elevation-and-facing-heavy scheme like Final Fantasy Tactics or Jeanne D’Arc.
Stepping onto well-trodden tactical ground means you know what works and what doesn’t.
And that’s great, because it totally works. Stepping onto well-trodden tactical ground means you know what works and what doesn’t, and Kadokawa keeps it stripped down in-battle, letting the complexity and hooks come from managing characters’ various jobs and ability trees outside of combat. Each can equip primary and secondary jobs, and advancing through one job can unlock more — again, not reinventing the wheel, but executed well — and these are paired with character-specific abilities that make each something more than a generic vessel onto which you project roles.
There’s an intentional focus on making combat a more subtle sort of experience than the combo-heavy, numbers-flashing fare we see most of the time these days. The chance that you can one-shot an enemy is really very low; instead, you’ll take a few turns to dispatch one foe while managing the threat of the others. The result is a more meaningful approach to adjusting the minutiae of your moves. This sparse approach also applies to job skills: you constantly gain access to more abilities through the game, but you can only equip three passive abilities on a character at once, so you still have to make tough decisions.
This is aided, at the expense of expediency, by an option to act and then move. It means your standard move-attack action takes one more button press each time, which slows down a game that already teeters on the verge of tedium, but you do get to do some things you don’t usually get the opportunity to do.
God Wars loses points for presentation, certainly. The story is blandly told, despite some clear indications that it believes it offers something larger on that front, and with some truly cringe-worthy portrait animation. Transitions and sounds are sparse and unfinished, the sorts of things you only notice when they’re not there but make a big difference. And some things are written in an illegible script for some reason!
It’s also clearly built toward the Vita’s system specs, which… well, is fine if you’re playing on a Vita, but it feels rough on a screen to see low-polygon models moving around slowly without anything taking advantage of the extra horsepower even a little bit. God Wars wasn’t going to be a game about its visuals anyway (despite occasional flashes of a cool old-Japan look), but there’s a certain degree of quality that’s supposed to separate retail-scale console games from cheaper mobile releases.
Though there’s definitely a grind to keep your crew leveled up and competitive between story sequences, the grind’s structured to make it feel like you’re always making progress.
If you can get past these things, though — and you definitely can — God Wars offers a lot of tactical gameplay, and though there’s definitely a grind to keep your crew leveled up and competitive between story sequences, the grind’s structured to make it feel like you’re always making progress. You can typically grab a skill upgrade or two between battles, and a simple quest system lets you face different battles and get some small rewards for your efforts. It’s a game that could do a bit better if it lowered its hour count and made each map feel momentous, but we’ve seen far more egregious releases than this.
God Wars: Future Past is a game that was seemingly overlooked before it even released, out at a busy time and after years of development delays, but those who do pick it up may find that it holds more value than they expect. It’s comfort food, to be sure; a callback to days long gone that does little to remind you of the progress we’ve made since. And it could use some more seasoning. But hey, some people are hungry, and it’s a taste that really hits the spot.