There’s Beauty in Madness
I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into when I volunteered to review The Revenant Prince. Based on the little that I had seen and read about it, it looked like a fairly polished JRPG with interesting combat mechanics and a morality system reminiscent of that found within Undertale. But I soon learned that it was more than that—so much more. The Revenant Prince is a fever dream made up of ambition and a genuine love for some of the best classic JRPGs around (and also Undertale, which is great but not exactly old) that, through what seems to be a large amount of work on the developer’s part, was realized in a very bizarre way.
Even after having (mostly) played all the way through the game, I still couldn’t provide you with the finer details regarding what it’s truly about. It’s that weird. Yet, despite it containing a level of weirdness that borders on being abrasive at times, I still found myself strangely enamored with it throughout its entirety. Truth be told, the reasons why are kind of weird and complicated. But hopefully, through this review, I’ll be able to make them clear to you.
The Hidden Truth
You know how a lot of older JRPGs have that trope where one of the main characters had their village destroyed by an evil empire? Well, that’s how The Revenant Prince begins. Except you’re the one doing the village-destroying. Talk about defying expectations from the get-go, huh? But I’m getting ahead of myself, here. Essentially, the beginning of The Revenant Prince follows Troy, a new recruit to the Lumerian Army, as he participates in his first-ever raid/mass murdering of innocent villagers. Although he goes along with it initially, he soon realizes that he doesn’t have the stomach to be the bad guy and confronts his superior Olga about it. But Olga’s not having any of it. Enraged by his insubordination, she decides to make an example of him by taking his life, but Gabriella, Troy’s childhood friend, gives Troy a chance to escape by drawing Olga’s ire onto herself. And, although Troy does make his escape, it isn’t long before he, exhausted from the ordeal, collapses into the white, snow-filled world around him.
As you can see, the first half of The Revenant Prince (or at least what I’ve just described to you of it) seems to fall in line pretty well with what you would expect from a game based on traditional JRPG classics. Sure, you don’t start as the hero at first, but neither did Final Fantasy IV‘s Cecil—it’s not as weird as you might think it to be (although it’s a bit more intense, I’ll admit). But the further you go along, the more obfuscated progression becomes. After hitting a certain point in the story, the progression goes from being incredibly streamlined to being about as open as it can get. There are several places that you’re allowed to go to, which each contain a considerable amount of significance to the story, and you can even go into the final dungeon if you feel that you’re ready. I was confused by this—so confused that I turned to the Internet for help. I figured that if I found out more about the creative process, then I’d be able to understand why things such a drastic turn. And, after only a bit of searching, I did.
Chrono Trigger. The Revenant Prince draws inspiration from Chrono Trigger. This, in itself, isn’t a big deal. There are plenty of games out there that do that. But it isn’t just the story that this game was inspired by, but the pacing as well. After understanding that, I realized what The Revenant Prince was doing—it was letting the players end the game whenever they saw fit, just like they could fight Lavos whenever they wanted to. Once again, I’d have no problem with this if it was like this from the beginning, but it’s not. And that’s not okay. As much as I like games that grant players a significant degree of freedom, The Revenant Prince‘s approach—one which randomly gives freedom to players after several hours of gameplay without even outright telling them so—creates a lot of narratives dissonance. Look, I appreciate the ambition. Genuinely. But I shouldn’t have to look up the fact that the devs like Chrono Trigger to realize what they’re doing. Despite how negative this sounds, though, I promise it comes from a well-meaning place. If Nomina Games has the knack to make a more open-ended JRPG, which they do, then they should have made the whole game that way. And, yes, I’m aware of the large amount of pure, unfiltered Undertale injected into this game as well, but I’ve already dedicated enough space to this section.
A Prayer for the Wayfarer
As strange as its narrative pacing is, the world of The Revenant Prince is rather well-done. As much as you could argue that it’s been done before, traditional JRPG world layouts aren’t nearly as common as they once were, and are always welcome when done correctly in my book. To that extent The Revenant Prince more than delivers, not only hitting every important trope—like the scorching desert and the cozy snow-filled town—but comes up with several novel locations as well—with the weird cave that simultaneously serves as a puzzle-based funhouse, generator, and bar being one of my favorites. It’s the perfect mix of normal and new. And, surprisingly, its all paced very nicely!
The Revenant Prince also dabbles in questing quite a bit, too. For the most part, there’s not a lot to say about the game’s quests. Most of them are what you’d expect them to be (i.e., killing monsters, gathering items, etc.), and, mechanically speaking, you could confidently call them balanced. What stuck out to me, however, was the subject matter of the game’s quests. While, once again, most of the game’s quests aren’t anything too strange, there is a handful sprinkled about that get really dark—like the one that ends with the quest-giver committing suicide by jumping off of a cliff, leaving her shoes behind for the player to take. I don’t get all hot and bothered by darker subjects in games—in fact, I welcome them if they’re done well. But, much like with the narrative pacing, the way the game goes about sprinkling these in is strange. Jumping from collecting flower petals for an old lady to finding a keepsake of a person that you murdered for their friend creates enough dissonance startle almost anyone—myself included—and there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to why The Revenant Prince does this. I will admit, however, that it worked wonders for keeping me interested.
Those Without the Will to Live
As with other parts of the game, it’s very obvious where the main ideas for this game’s combat come from. Working in a manner very similar to Chrono Trigger (as well as certain Final Fantasy games), The Revenant Prince features good ol’ ATB-based combat, albeit with a unique twist. Since you’ll only be fighting as Troy throughout the game’s duration, players are allowed to equip up to three unique weapons (yes, that includes a shield), with each weapon type coming with three different skills. Rather than Troy himself having an ATB gauge, each of your weapons does—with various attacks having different recharge times. Using a skill also consumes BP for that weapon, meaning that, unless you’ve built up a high max BP, you’ll have to be careful about when and where to use skills.
Remember when I said that I didn’t have enough space in the first section to talk about Undertale? Well, I’ve got enough space now, and that’s good considering that combat is (surprise, surprise!) also heavily inspired by Toby Fox’s hit RPG where nobody has to die. While the actual fighting in The Revenant Prince is standard fare, actually finishing your enemy off works differently. While getting an enemy to 0 HP in this game still takes them out of the battle, it doesn’t immediately kill them, but instead pacifiers them. And what do you do with a pacified enemy? Well, that’s up to you. Kill them if you’d like, spare them if you’d like—the choice is yours (you get money, loot, and EXP either way!). And, while your alignment doesn’t seem to be as noticeable in this game as it does in the source material, I suppose that it still works just fine.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that The Revenant Prince is too ambitious for its own good in some places. It’s a game that tries to do a lot and meets with varying degrees of success along the way. If you’re looking for a perfectly streamlined RPG, this isn’t it. However, if you’re open to a unique experience and are willing to take everything in stride, then The Revenant Prince might be what you’re looking for.
Final Score: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Nomina Games; Developer: Nomina Games; Players: 1; Released: August 13, 2020; ESRB: N/A; MSRP: $9.99
Full disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.