I can probably count on one hand the number of truly funny games that I’ve played in my life. Giant: Citizen Kabuto had it’s moments, the Portal games in their own darkly sadistic ways and maybe some of the old Tim Schafer point and click adventure games? It was a pleasant surprise then to find myself laughing out loud as early as the opening lines in Pixelated Milk’s Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs. If the only thing I got when playing here was a good laugh, I could consider myself satisfied. Amazing then, that the game surrounding the writing supports it so strongly.
Regalia begins in a sombre mood. Your Father has just died (off-screen) and the family estate has been handed over to our protagonist, Kay. Cue a visit to your dilapidated kingdom with your sisters and bodyguard in tow. Only, as well as leaving you with a lot of cleaning up to do, you’ve also been dumped with mountains of debt. The only solution? Work together with your family (including dead Grandpa) and soon to be friends in the surrounding village to restore your Empire to it’s former glory.
Regalia has so many systems that interact with each other to form the whole that it’s difficult to know where to begin when describing them. Chapters play out on a calendar whereby each action costs you time. Actions take the form of spending time with your team; exploring dungeons; fishing; completing side quests – the list goes on and on. To move onto the next chapter Grandpa sets you a specific number of objectives which need to be completed within a time frame. Chapter 1 gives you 42 days to tick 5 items off your to-do list. Time limits are generous. I often find myself stressed when playing against a clock. Here, you’re given more than enough days spare to play around and do what you really want to do, rather than feel that you’re being ferried down a specific path in too much of a rush.
Chapters are regularly interrupted by the introduction of new characters (there are a huge number to meet and unlock in all) and they are all a pleasure to encounter. Despite the seemingly serious subject matter, new guests are uniformly brilliantly scripted and almost all very funny. (Special mention here to Regalia’s tutorial which breaks the fourth wall wonderfully.) Some provide material additions to your town in the form of a Blacksmith or Alchemist. Others will join you on the battlefield. Everyone is useful in their own way.
What of that battle system then? Meetings of swords play out on a grid with enemies spawning at semi preordained locations. At the start of each fight you’re tasked with placing your own party on the grid. This is often a formality as your choice of starting locations is very limited. No spawning your quickest party member in the middle of a group of enemies here. From there your character’s initiative stat determines their turn order with opponents slotting in and around depending on their own abilities. There are multiple characters to unlock and carry into battle as you progress through the story but you are only ever allowed to up to 6 with you on any away team. Further to that, battles often limit the number of your team that you can spawn and challenging optional objectives in each fight often go even further. Heed Regalia’s warning, some of these extra are down right masochistic!
Combat then proceeds in turns. Each of your characters has their own set of five abilities and as you dig deeper in the chapters it’s important to get the balance of your party right. There’s no healing in Regalia you see. No potions, no healing spells, nothing. Your best defence then (apart from being a good offence, as the saying goes) is finding ways to increase your gang’s shield value. Kay’s Command ability for example, can be used once a turn to increase this by a small amount. Think of it like putting on an armoured vest in a first person shooter; any damage done to your character impacts your shield value first. So while some of your troupe will be all about damage dealing, there are a few whose main abilities are designed primarily to support.
Matters are further complicated by line of sight. Battle arenas are generated with obstacles and the majority of your abilities are useless when your foe is obscured behind a tree or even one of your own team mates. On top of that, friendly fire is a thing in Regalia. Many of your abilities hit multiple squares on the grid. If your own party are on those squares at the time of impact, they’ll take the damage too. All of this makes decision making and positioning absolutely key. All of this depth is slightly hindered however, by a certain fiddlyness on the controller when selecting the square you want; especially when there are multiple characters in a similar location. It’s a minor thing, but after a few hours play, I found it an irritation.
No JRPG would be complete without ultimate abilities. Each of your team’s 5th power up is significantly more powerful variation on that characters theme. Your fire mage for example, gets to summon a huge fire Demon. Kay, on the other hand, will provide a huge boost to the shields of one of your friendlies. They make a big impact on battles and are smartly walled off behind Authority Points. These accrue at a rate of 1 per round for your entire group and most ultimate abilities cost 2 authority points; they’re rightly a rare commodity.
Your party’s main abilities are unlocked from the start. So the skill upgrades take the form of perks. Sometimes these take the form of small increases to stats like damage or dodge. The more interesting ones however, modify your pre-existing main abilities. It might let you guarantee a hit for one of your sword swipes, but at the cost of not adding the status effect which was inflicted originally. Regalia is full of decisions like this that actually impact the way you play and the layout of your party – it’s brilliantly deep.
Regalia was Kickstarted back in 2015 and as such you would presume, had a relatively modest budget. Even with that said, I do wish more effort had been put into giving you a sense of the wider world. Characters are beautifully animated, I love watching the way they walk. But beyond the battles, your exploration of dungeons take place on one screen. You’re then taken from that screen to a text adventure. These are funny, usually well written and often result in branching side quests or a meaningful stat affecting choice at the end. But all of this is in your imagination. You never get to see the locales that are described. I’m probably being harsh here – small developers can only do so much. Maybe if more time had gone into that aspect, the writing wouldn’t have been as strong or the battle system not as deep.