Everything old is new again, so the saying goes. That trend is evident in recent waves of remasters and, now, remakes, but the past also emerges in homage. Himeko Sutori, which launches in Early Access today, owes a clear debt of gratitude to classic RPGs, but still requires considerable work before it can hope to be considered as a worthy successor.
At the heart of Himeko Sutori’s ambition is the large-scale, strategy-focused battle system. With enough money, players can recruit hundreds of soldiers to the cause, range them into small groups, and send them into combat. The scope of these skirmishes is impressive, yet the need for strategy is underdeveloped at present.
In general, battlefield layouts are straightforward, offering few opportunities for players to be creative in their movements. Flanking manoeuvres or phalanx formations are simply unnecessary. Furthermore, environments are free of hazards or other special tiles, resulting in the battles more often seeming like thoughtless brawls. Another major issue at present is that each enemy type has only one battlefield, meaning that, before long, the conflicts become rote and unexciting.
These issues are compounded by the lack of direct control. While each formation (or lance, to use the game’s terminology) can be tailored to the player’s liking, the nature and target of their attacks cannot. This design choice means that characters, with some exceptions provided by passive skills, strike enemies at random, often undercutting any attempt to strategically dismantle adversarial lances.
Nevertheless, the ability to build lances at will provides room for tactical play. Striking a balance between offensive and defensive units is essential, and that is where Rockwell Studios’s robust character customisation mechanics come into play. Through branching options provided when leveling up, soldiers can be assigned to one of dozens of classes, though the distinctions between some of them could be clearer. For example, multiple classes use strong melee attacks, so the choice of one over another can come down to aesthetic preference.
Therein lies another issue affecting the current build of Himeko Sutori. The game features dozens—perhaps even hundreds—of different items, armours, and weapons, but classes are limited in what they can equip. However, other than when actually equipping items, no clear indication exists as to who can use what, which is particularly problematic when attempting to outfit the party. The lack of clarity about game elements extends further to the effects of the upgrade options offered with each new level, the role of the colours embedded in each character’s statistics, and even the questlines.
This latter area is one in which Himeko Sutori seems woefully unprepared for even an Early Access launch. At present, beyond the first few missions, the journal is blank, the story unwritten. Even were that in place, the narrative feels unoriginal. Players step into the shoes of Aya, youngest daughter of House Furukawa, who one day finds her kingdom at war, overrun by enemy soldiers and demonic creatures alike. Alongside her sisters, she sets out to find a way to bring peace back to the world.
The storyline is incomplete, but reeks of the kind of epic fantasy already written and played in dozens of games across the years. Compounding this sense of been-there-done-that-ness is the quaint visual style that combines sprite-based character models with a 2D overworld. The pseudo-3D stylings of certain locales is a novel twist, but not enough to override the boredom inspired by yet another pastoral, pseudo-medieval fantasy setting.
Rockwell Studios predicts Himeko Sutori to remain in Early Access for six months, but that seems less than is necessary to take the game from its current shell state to a full-fledged, engrossing RPG experience. Of course, the developer is free to take longer than predicted. However, most importantly, the core gameplay loop of combat is solid and enjoyable. The shortage of clarity and diversity that stand out as Himeko Sutori’s most egregious faults can yet be remedied, and, once they are, the game could well stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the greats of the past.