When I was first given the opportunity to review Tails of Iron, my first thought was that it would be a simple, quick, cute hack and slash game with an artistic storybook feel. I was so wrong. This game has given me enough to write about and I truly recommend it to anyone who likes hack and slash, RPGs, and souls-like games as well as adult, dark story and atmosphere. Odd Bug Studio…bravo!
The most cliché of stories is given a unique interpretation and life with its storybook-esque art style and anthropomorphic animals. As childlike as it may seem, it is far from it. This is no fairytale! Players follow the experiences of Redgie, prince of the rats as he is well on his way to prove himself worthy to sit next on the throne of his kingdom. Unfortunately, he and his city were attacked by a long warring Frog Clan and their leader Greenwart. Watching the violence felt like an episode of Game of Thrones. The action does not shy away from the blood, guts, and graphic display of medieval war. I was absolutely shocked and entertained with how real it all felt to me given the way the art and characters are presented, then BAM, Red Wedding.
The story is complementary to the gameplay. Sword fighting mechanics are slow, methodical, and decisive. Redgie battles frogs, bugs, and even zombies. It’s not a large variety of creatures but many have their own styles of combat. Some frog soldiers carry spears, while others use bows and arrows, axes, or swords. Bugs will sometimes burrow beneath you and strike from underground while others shoot projectiles or rush towards you in a flash. Redgie can use a variety of techniques to gain the upper hand. Players must pay attention to enemy/boss attacks and patterns very well to precisely dodge-roll, block, or parry them. Hit the block button at just the right time to stagger them, leaving them open to attack or to counter their special moves.
There are some, however, that are unblockable and cause massive damage, so rolling away or past them helps. For example, many bosses have an AOE attack that can really hurt and stagger Redgie. The fighting is very challenging, especially with the boss battles which gives it the element of a souls-like without losing all your gear or currency. Save points are also generous. Your health bar does deplete fast when hit so players still need to be wary of the fight. There’s even an Estus flask-style health system where Redgie carries a bottle that can be refillable and used multiple times throughout his journey between save points.
Mastering all of these techniques and enemy patterns can be overwhelming once the difficulty curve spikes after receiving your bow and arrows. You don’t just fight one enemy at a time and as many do in Dark Souls, you cannot pull one at a time. Each area will have you battle 2-4 enemies at once before it allows you to progress further. Players must juggle between dodging an archer while battling a big axe wielder, so choosing who to take out first is key. Keeping track of your own stats is important to survival. Yes, this rat has stats! Players must balance between the weight of a weapon or armor piece versus its damage output or reduction. The heavier Redgie is, the slower he is to dodge but he can take more damage. The heavier his weapon, the slower his attacks swing but they hit harder.
Some armor also allows for specific damage reduction/resistance from enemies such as frog or grub resistance. These are important factors to consider when fighting specific bosses that are giving you trouble. Bloki Magu for example was a pain to deal with during the first few attempts at this boss battle. Once I equipped a high resistance armor for frogs, he dealt much less damage which allowed me a fighting chance to learn his moves and execute his green arse. The armor sets are designed very well and give a great medieval aesthetic to them as well as the weapons. I do wish the bow had a better aim assist on since sometimes when I think I got a clear and close shot, it missed horribly. It is, however, something to adjust to. You can raise stats as well once you save your brother, the cook, by giving him certain ingredients to make delicious dishes to eat.
All the seriousness aside, there is a fantasy/whimsical side of it all. The narrator is with players every step of the way as if he were reading a storybook to you. If anyone notices the raspy deep voice, it is none other than legendary voice actor Doug Cockle, the voice of Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher series. His skills give an epic atmosphere to the events unfolding through Redgies journey. The rest of the “cast” however can be a bit irritating. None of the main or NPC characters have a voice. Dialogue is shown as a message bubble with images while the character talks by making flute or recorder noises that tend to be annoying very quickly. I would have just settled for The Sims-like blabber or even some subtle humming. I get that it was meant to convey a bit of light-heartedness to the characters, but I couldn’t get past the noise.
Honestly, this is my one and only complaint in a sea of pure joy and entertainment. Tails of Iron gives such a great classic story with a fantasy setting, great combat, and challenging gameplay. This is one of those games where bosses are difficult and you may have to take a break for a few hours, but that urge is always there to come back and finish the job. Beating each boss makes you feel accomplished and upgrading/building your armor gives a great sense of progression. Even though this game could be completed in about 10-15 hours, I truly would not mind paying a full price tag for this hidden gem. It has a lot to offer, full of potential, and I would love to support future Odd Bug Studio games!
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Tails of Iron for the PS5 provided by Odd Bug Studio.