Royal Frontier (REVIEW)

Mar 15, 2022

Developed by: Woblyware
Published by: Ratalaika Games
Released: March 18, 2022
(PC, Playstation, Nintendo Switch, Xbox)

Royal Frontier is Slay the Spire meets the Paper Mario. Rogue-like mashups work. Hades mixed in action RPG combat to great success and awards. Tunche mixed in the beat’em up brawler genre and it was one of my favorite games of 2021. Woblyware’s Royal Frontier takes the map and structure of Slay the Spire and combines it with the combat of the Mario RPG (Paper Mario / Mario & Luigi) series. This combination results in a fun and challenging rogue-like for the low price of $6.99.

Wobblyware’s games are modern takes on established genres and Royal Frontier fits nicely in their portfolio. Royal Frontier keeps the scope small and the focus tight. Fortunately, this results in an excellent experience. Although, some gameplay balancing would assist with making the game more in line with the games it uses for inspiration.

Gameplay

Royal Frontier starts with building a party of three heroes. There are six potential party members, three are unlocked from the start and the other three unlock through game progress. Players start with a knight, monk, and wizard. The unlockable characters include a human with a musket that damages multiple enemies, a dwarf with a shield and high defense, and an assassin with quick deadly strikes. All characters have basic and special attacks. The monk heals. The wizard has fire magic.

Once the party is set, the player equips three buffs that can increase health or magic, attack or defense, gold or experience, and a variety of other gameplay areas. The party protects a caravan through the three maps through a series of battles and encounters. However, each node on the map results in a new battle or encounter leading to the main boss. The map layout mirrors Slay the Spire with battles, shops, resting points, and decisions points.

The battles themselves play out like Mario RPG combat where correctly timed button presses lead to additional attacks or blocked enemy attacks. Furthermore, battles incorporate items that can deal damage, refill health and special attacks, or buff and debuff characters. Consequently, in true rogue-like fashion, character health and special attack points do not rechange after battles or leveling up. This creates tension in each and every enemy encounter. Too many special attacks drain the meter and prevent future moves. Burning through items on regular enemies leaves the party vulnerable during boss battles. Otherwise, simple battles require strategy to sustain a run.

Run Based Expectations

When the entire party dies the run is over and the game restarts. Progressing through battles and days on the map unlocks new and more powerful buffs to equip at the start of each run. Characters gain experience points during battles, which level-up each character. Every new level presents a choice of stat growth: attack, defense, health, or special attack points. Players must choose between three of these stats, each with randomized increases. This choice creates another level of strategy as players must often decide between a stat that favors the character’s class or a stat with a higher increase.

While the run-based nature of the game resets your characters, the game rewards persistence with more helpful buffs. Initially, I considered it a victory to make it to the first boss on day 15. My expectations slowly increased for each run. I then expected to beat the first boss. Eventually, through persistence, my expectations continued to increase to the second boss and third map. Unfortunately, as of this review, I have not beaten the third boss. However, my gameplay enjoyment is well beyond the $7 price point of Royal Frontier.

Graphics & Sound

Royal Frontier’s graphics align with the 16-bit roots of the turn-based RPG combat. The pixel art is bright and expressive. Character actions contain little touches that personality to them. Facial expressions vary as characters attack, block, and take damage. The soundtrack is minimal, but sound effects are satisfying. The music helps to create a rhythm to the flow of combat as players time their attacks and blocks.

Concerns

The largest concern as of release is the damage done through enemy attacks. Early in the game, characters start with around 70-100 hit points. Enemy attacks dish over 20 hit points of damage. However, even blocked attacks remove 10 -20 hit points. With enemies that can attack multiple times in a turn, the damage can quickly stack. While this makes each battle potentially strategic, it also makes the early game stressful. Fortunately, progressive runs unlock stronger buffs making the early game more forgiving. But players interested in the game for the turned-based combat will need to accept the random and occasionally punishing nature of the rogue-like genre. It is possible Woblyware tweaks damage amounts in future patches to create a more gradual challenge.

This commitment to the rogue-like genre also results in the loss of some traditional RPG genre perks. Leveling up does not replenish character health (HP) or special attack (PP). Additionally, staying at an Inn on the map, only heals a percentage of your characters’ health. Understandably these mechanics are in service of the rogue-like genre. But it may also come as a surprise for turned-based RPG players.

Royal Frontier Final Thoughts

Even with the above concerns, Royal Frontier remains fun to play run after run. Players who enjoy Mario RPG combat, but get bogged down in all the dialog and exposition, have a lot to enjoy in Royal Frontier. While punishing, the engaging combat will hold a players’ interest well beyond the budget priced expectations.

Score: 8.0

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