Some of my all-time favorite games are Strategy RPGs. Whenever a new title in the genre is launched, I feel obligated to give it a try just to see if - just maybe - it could end up being joining the ranks of the games I am most fond of. God Wars: Future Past interested me from its very first announcement, showing heavy mythological Japanese influences and artwork. I was not much a fan of the developer's last foray into the genre, but I was hoping for the best with God Wars.
God Wars opens up in a land of three nations ruled by three great leaders - Amaterasu, Tsukuyomi, and Susanoo. Due to long-lasting strife between the three, the spirits of Mt Fuji have been enraged, causing all manner of natural disasters across the region. Left with little option, Tsukuyomi decides to offer her daughter, Sakuya, as a sacrifice to the volcano in an attempt to quell the spirits' rage. Additionally, Sakuya's sister - Kaguya - is forced to live alone, separated from her nation and family.
The proper game continues 13 years later when a series of circumstances frees Kaguya from her imprisonment. Unaware of what has happened over the past thirteen years, she then sets off to find her long-lost mother in order to find answers.
God Wars strongest facet is the Job and Skill system that it employs - which is exactly how things should be. There is a multitude of classes to choose from and each offers the type of abilities you would expect in a game like this: heals, attacks, status effects, etc. However, what is especially interesting is that the jobs available avoid falling into the typical set of classes. Many jobs offer both offensive and defensive abilities along with several status afflicting (or healing) skills. Rather than just having a team with attackers, healers, and the like - the capabilities of each individual character on the field is impressively varied.
As in common in the genre, you can equip two jobs at a time, so mixing and matching abilities sets is a big part of coordinating your party. It's also worth noting that damage and healing alone will not be enough to find success in the game. Enemies will often throw status effects and debuffs your way, and if you are not equipped to counter them, you will not have an easy go of things. God Wars is not an especially easy game, and poor preparation is just asking for frustration. The game rewards proper party management.
Each character in the game also has unique a set of skills - both active and passive - that only that particular character can learn. This means no two characters are the same and each can offer something that no other character can.
I want to reiterate that I was very pleasantly impressed with what God Wars had to offer with respect to class variety and skills. The unit balance felt appropriate, the set of abilities was novel enough to be interesting, and I really enjoyed configuring and setting up my units. However, the more I played the game, I began to enjoy it less and less.
Unfortunately, almost all narrative elements of God Wars falter in some fashion. To put it succinctly, the story follows a pattern resembling a giant wild goose chase. Your party sets off to find a certain character, only to bet turned away to find another character. That person tells them to go to a certain place, and your party goes there only to learn they need to go back and get a magic item. You get the idea. Rather than a compelling sequence of events, the plot beats of God Wars feels more like a series of distractions.
God Wars's dialogue is also often weird to read. I'm not certain if it's the writing in general or the localization effort, but character interactions feel forced and clumsy. They'll often repeat each other awkwardly, and sometimes certain plot points are so abruptly stated-and-reacted-to in a way where plot progression simply doesn't feel natural. Most characters are simply present to provide quips of exposition throughout the game rather than actually being presented as fully-fledged characters.
On top of the that, the game's English voiceovers sadly do not do the dialogue any favors. I appreciate games having as many language options as possible, but considering the heavy Japanese aesthetics of God Wars and the (very) numerous namedrops of Japanese deities and locations, it's probably best to play with Japanese voices as well. Perhaps it makes the awkward dialogue easier to swallow.
Narrative problems are sadly the not the only issues found in God Wars. Both map variety and quest design also stumble, which is especially disappointing considering the game's job system is well done otherwise. While there are a handful of legitimately interesting maps here and there, I felt too many were simple field areas of similar shape and size. The vast majority of maps are also on the small side, allowing a max of six characters from your party. I simply felt that too many maps played too similarly from one to the next.
While some of God Wars artwork feels especially appropriate for the mythological lore the game tries to tell, it doesn't translate too well the game. Character models amount to low-detail chibi units, and the rare anime cutscene is typically short and minimally animated. Some scenes are done via a sort of comic-panel presentation, but even these feel a bit stale.
Probably the most disappointing element of God Wars outside of its plot is how it handles sidequests. Basically, as you clear story chapters, you can find more requests at the shrine to undertake. These request literally amount to replaying the previous maps two or three times each with a slightly different enemy set. That's it. There's no story motivation or dialogue at all and the maps play in the nearly same way the did the first time. It's hard to ignore these requests because of the loot and EXP they offer, but they quickly felt like a chore to complete.
I'm not exactly sure how long a game God Wars is - the game doesn't actually tell you how many hours you clocked on your save file. I do know that it felt long and that's usually not a good thing. For about the entirety of the second half of the game, I just wanted it to end. I was tired of the goose chase narrative flow, tired of redoing maps over and over for sidequests in order to get equipment, tired of hearing the same battle music replayed so often in many of the combat encounters. The skill system was genuinely interesting, but not interesting enough to alleviate the game's other issues.
God Wars has a surprisingly cohesive job and skill system under the hood. However, the rest of the game falls short in too many places to make it an easy recommendation in the genre. If you can't get enough tactical RPGs, God Wars can be worth checking out but it's not a stand-out in the genre.
Versions tested: PlayStation 4
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.