Creeping Toward Progress
Having been raised on the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics (and, yes, I mean the entire trilogy), it’s definitely not a long shot to say that I’ve developed a specific taste when it comes to the tactical role-playing genre. I like carefully crafting a team to my liking, leveling them up, and decking them out with the best gear. To me, the slow gr Sure, it’s an unmistakably Japanese way of making an SRPG, but it’s both fun and successful—so successful that many Western tactical role-playing games have done the same and have also found success with the formula. Over the past five (perhaps even 10) or so years, however, I’ve noticed something of a shift in the Western SRPG market. Not content to simply mimic styles of the past, Western SRPGs seem to have branched out, morphing into something that’s less Japanese SRPG, and more tactical/survival-based—and Alder’s Blood all but cements itself perfectly as yet another step in that direction.
So, the first thing that you should know about Alder’s Blood is that God is dead. What? No, that’s not me making a religious declaration. I’m talking about this game’s story, silly. Sorry, let me try this again; Alder’s Blood takes place within a morbid, sordid world in which God—who once blessed and watched over humankind—has died. But that’s not where this tragic tale ends. In this world, God has—or, rather, had—a physical body. And, just like when anything else dies, God’s death has transformed Him into little more than a literal rotting husk of His former self. Having no control over His own powers anymore, the body of God has decayed and blackened, leaking Corruption—a dangerous manifestation of pure darkness—throughout the world, bringing with it a horde of feral, hostile creatures intent on devouring every last human. But with this despair has come one, final, glimmering source of hope; Hunters. Walking the line between human and (once again, quite literal) spawn of darkness, Hunters—though feared by much of humanity—have made it their mission to combat the darkness, lest the be snuffed out like the darkness itself always intended.
Truth be told, I think that Alder’s Blood’s story is one of the strongest things that it has going for it right now. Although it can be a little dry at times (which actually isn’t a bad thing in this case, in my opinion), I appreciate not only how it approaches world-building, but the lore surrounding the world itself. It doesn’t feel like that many games today dabble in Lovecraftian horror—which I, myself, have always been a sucker for—and its decision to intertwine said horror with a pseudo-Wild West motif creates an atmosphere that doesn’t totally feel like anything else that I’ve seen or played. And, even if the game’s storytelling isn’t your thing, it’s still worth trying to push through things just to see just how dark and strange things will end up getting.
Fighting Darkness with Darkness
I wasn’t entirely in love with how combat worked in Alder’s Blood, but I’ll be the first to say that it was, without a doubt, incredibly unique. At a glance, it might seem like the oh-so-many fights in this game carry out as they would in any other SRPGs—and, when looking strictly at the fighting portion of these encounters, they do. But, as one quickly learns while playing Adler’s Blood, fights are less about the actual fighting and more about stealth. The first few fights aside, it is, without a doubt, impossible to win by playing this game the same way that you would play most other SRPGs. Enemies are typically a fair bit stronger than you (and the weaker ones can alert stronger ones), and the player is almost always overwhelmingly out-numbered. Thus, the only way to win is to out-smart them.
Getting the jump on your enemies is very much an “easy to learn, hard to master” concept. And this is because the game’s stealth mechanics ask the player to do more than simply hide their party away in tall patches of grass. Like many real-life beasts, Corruption-created creatures don’t simply use their eyes—they can hear, and even smell you, too. Not only does this mean that you’ll typically have to rely on quieter means of killing or incapacitating them (knives make much less sound than guns, after all!), but you’ve even got to pay attention to which way the wind is blowing so that you don’t get sniffed out while attempting to remain hidden in the shadows. Oh, and did I mention that your characters use stamina to perform actions and can tire out very quickly? Or that hanging around and killing enemies for too long can cause other, even more fearsome enemies to show up? No? Well, those things happen, also.
To say that the player has a lot to worry about during combat is an understatement. You’ve got to play every move very carefully to survive—and, sometimes, even that’s not enough. Now, I’m not going to say that the constant, unyielding force that Alder’s Blood places against its players is impossible to overcome. It’s not. But it is very difficult, and sometimes feels like a bit of a chore. I get that this isn’t a normal SRPG—you’ve got to be crafty if you want to survive. But Alder’s Blood really, really, really wants to make sure that you never get a leg up on the competition because they, on top of all of this, add in a Hunter Corruption mechanic which, in essence, causes the player to have to hire a new party every so often as their previous party becomes unusable. Fortunately, you can sacrifice your old party members to transfer some of the EXP over, but the rate at which the player has to do this (or at least the rate which I, myself had to do it) felt a little ridiculous. Like, come on. It’s okay to cut the player a break somewhere, you know?
If you thought that life outside of combat was going to be any easier, you would be wrong. When not literally fighting for your life, you’ll at least be fighting metaphorically, thanks to the game’s survival mechanics. While out on the road, players are able to set up camp whenever they please. Fortunately, setting up camp itself is (for once) as easy as clicking a button. Deciding what to do within camp, however, takes a bit more thinking. While the camp is up, players can engage in several activities, including resting to recover HP, crafting new weapons and items, and scavenging—with the items and supplies being scavenged differing depending upon where the player is camping out at.
Unfortunately, while the player may have things to do, the game won’t necessarily let them do so without trouble. With each day that passes, the player is subject to attacks from roaming creatures. While these attacks don’t actually stop your planned activities from happening, they can, depending upon the kind of attack, either damage scavengers, or force the players to complete a battle. There is a way of mitigating the chances of this from happening by assigning your units to guard duty, but this, of course, means that you won’t get as much done elsewhere. And, since characters are consistently becoming more and more corrupted, you don’t exactly have the leisure of time—meaning that, even while relaxing, you’re essentially still fighting an uphill battle.
When All-der’s Said and Done
Alder’s Blood is about the least SRPG-y SRPG that I’ve ever played. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. Imbuing heavy stealth mechanics into something that is, by nature, tactical, seems very foreign to me—and I’m sure to many others as well—as each primary element seems to fly directly in the face of what the other is about. I wasn’t sure how it would before playing, and, even afterward, my thoughts on the matter still aren’t entirely concrete. However, I can say this with absolute certainty; Alder’s Blood is undoubtedly unique, and, if you’re fine wading through the problems that exist, like being challenged at every single turn, and don’t mind hanging around for the devs to patch things which don’t work as well as they’d intended (which they’re very actively doing right now, so good on them), then you shouldn’t have too much to lose by checking this game out. Even if things aren’t perfect now, this game’s dark and macabre game seems to have an at least somewhat bright future ahead of it.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC; Developer: Shockwork Games; Publisher: No Gravity Games; Players: 1; Released: March 13, 2020 (Switch), April 10, 2020 (PC) ; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: A Switch review copy of Alder’s Blood was provided by the publisher.