Friday 1 April 2022

Royal Frontier Review (Steam)


Thomas G.J. Sharpe

 Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there yet? Neeeeeearly there? Yet? Royal Frontier is a close-to-casual roguelite RPG battler, that however fun and charming it is, manages to be a bit… too… laboured for me. Obviously, Darkest Dungeon isn’t for everyone. The bleak punishment blended with pitch-perfect aesthetic is not exactly accessible to all tastes. Royal Frontier, which works on a lot of the same lines, but is going for fun, light-hearted, and much more gentle adventure. And this is good. I can really see this working on the Switch as something to dip into for a bit of a relaxed challenge.

Frontier shares its DNA largely with Paper Mario; RPG-lite. Without the draw of the Mario world, there are stock characters, enemies, items, and settings. As an overview, a caravan is attempting to traverse the land, and you pick a route filled with encounters with enemies, loot, mysteries, and shops. You pick three characters from a roster that you expand through runs and equip blessings (the carry-over element to fuel the “next-run” loop). Classes have different abilities, but the blessings mutate the run.

As your caravan trundles into enemies, turn-based combat begins which see you juggling special abilities (that use power points), items to affect the battle, and little pop-up cues to enhance attacks or spells more effectively. The characters bob about in colourful, evocative, yet simple, animations and designs, with bold palettes and a nostalgic glow. After enemies or events have been overcome, your characters gain XP, you can juggle inventories, and choose from rewards.

So far, so good. The trigger mechanic is a nice way to keep the player engaged and paying attention, and there is just about enough happening on screen to give some nice visual feedback on hits, statuses, and atmosphere. The music is apt and not intrusive. The pace, however, I found to be too slow for me. As this is on the simpler side, there are fewer choices to make, and so even as you stack up runs, the enemies always felt like HP reservoirs. Myself, I would have preferred a little more of a lean into the twitch reaction mechanic to make crits more essential, as an idea.

After your heroes have all perished, and you start a new run, you earn new blessings and characters, yet it still felt sluggish to me, even as I became more powerful. The UI ticks over a little too lugubriously with its ornate boxes showing me rewards, battles went stale quicker without more dynamism. I began to resent going back to the start, rather than that crucial just-one-more feeling.

I am sure, however, that this will solidly scratch an itch for those looking for something more cheerful, more light-hearted to sink a few runs in. The price (on Steam £5.99, at time of writing) is also an absolute win. There is enough in the blender in this to be compelling, but for me, a dash of something to spice up the pace would’ve put me up a point on the score.

Overall 7/10

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