Mercenaries Blaze: Dawn of the Twin Dragons

A Glimpse of Fate

I actually took some time to think about what the first game I would review for this site, and by extension review in this kinda semi-professional manner would be. Should it be Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the game I’ve sunk over 600 hours into and that I bought a Switch for? Should it be something like the Messenger, the semi-popular Metroidvania that I recently purchased and mostly completed (dang DLC)? Or should it be Pokemon Snap, which I’m thoroughly enjoying and would be popular enough that even my parents would recognize it?

Instead I opted for a budget title in a series that I’ve always described as “perfectly average.” That I picked up on a whim when it was on sale.

There are a handful of reviews of this moderately unknown game out there, so there’s already something of a consensus; the game is just like the rest: a little above average. The Mercenaries Saga has/have been going on for a short while, having started in at least 2015 (all the info I can find starts there with a 3DS title, but that’s Mercenaries Saga 2, soooo it had to be earlier). They’re all remarkably similar in structure, setup, and presentation.

In them, you play as a group of mercenaries with a name that probably sounded better in Japanese. Your group is working for someone, often a kingdom, and is tasked with something that gets your motley crew involved in bigger affairs, almost always connected to the supernatural.

All of this is told through a combination of turn based tactical battles and cutscenes. You get a talking heads and sprites cutscene, a turn based tactical battle, another cutscene, are dropped in a menu to tend to your troops, and then the whole mess repeats itself. The inspiration here is obvious: they’re ripping off Final Fantasy Tactics and Ogre Tactics as if those games insulted Rideon (the developer of the Mercenaries Saga) personally.

They’ve added nothing to the genre. They’re decent enough tactics in the battles to show that they’ve paid attention. You’ve got your diverse cast, various classes to work with, and some tactical development. Striking an enemy from the sides or behind does more damage, as does getting the high ground. Perhaps the most interesting innovation the games boast is an aggro system, where characters accrue aggro and are supposedly targeted more often by the enemy.

It sort of works.

The graphics look like an extremely polished Playstation game, with halfway decent spritework and attention to some detail. The sound design is… well, even with this title I ended up turning down the volume and playing through live play DnD sessions or episodes of Shark Tank. Again: the aesthetics burrow down into average like a Hobbit without any desire to go adventuring.

So why that long build up to this game? And why am I starting with this for my blog?

bask in the overwhelmingly generic title screen; marvel at its lack of originality

Because Mercenaries Blaze… is good.

Oh, it’s definitely got problems. It’s still following a lot of that same formula. Everything’s told through “talking heads” cut scenes where the sprite characters might communicate with one another. There’s still classes, characters that aren’t exactly anything new (but are ridiculously attractive; there’s a moment where one char takes a chapter or two off only to come back without his shirt on that’s wonderful, not to mention that his sister decides to lose a poncho for a cleavage enhancing corset when she joins).

They have added a new element into the mix. There’s effectively a “limit break” system wherein a meter builds up and your characters can unleash a “Blaze Exceed” attack (yeah, that name’s not gonna be a problem in their next title). These attacks are incredibly unbalanced, ranging from “resurrect every other character in your party” (nearly broken and saved me a few times) to “shout and the enemy moves slightly slower” (I never used it, not even to get a picture).

the main hero summoning his blaze power with all the prettiness at his command

Some of the battles are also a little difficult. As I mentioned earlier, I’m fairly skilled and experienced at these things, and there were a few battles where I whined to my cats “this is hard.” One or two felt frustrating in a bad way, particularly during a stretch where they decided I only needed my main “hero” Lester, his cleric friend Whatshisname, and two characters that I couldn’t edit or enhance.

So the actual mechanics are the best in the series, which is about like saying that the hot sauce is the best thing at Taco Bell.

The story is where things shift slightly. The main hero is Lester, a member of a fallen knight family who lives up to literally every trope you just pictured reading that description. He runs his mercenary band: a cleric who is so painfully generic that I’ve already forgotten his name, a cutie of a gunner named Connie, and Lester’s Twin Dragon and potential love interest (that would make this much more interesting) Alvah, who will later misplace his shirt to the delight of lovers of abs everywhere.

They are hired to… take in illegal immigrants because the government doesn’t want to get its hands dirty.

No, I’m not making that up. That’s literally what a Japanese company decided it wanted the fifth entry in its usually mediocre TRPG franchise to be about. They even go so far as to call the enemy units “Illegal Immigrants.” Like, that is literally their class description…. and they get the ability to throw rocks.

So, yeah, the game is obviously a little tone deaf here. It tries real hard to make this story work, attempting to combine this idea of racism through the brown immigrants and the white locals with monsters and an evil force that was “really behind the hatred all along” (spoilers: no it wasn’t). It’s an overreach for these guys and they definitely fall short.

But here’s the thing: the Mercenaries Saga is a group of budget titles. You can get the first three in a collection for $14.99 right now: This game sells for a whopping $19.99 when it’s not on sale (I picked it up on sale for $13.99… less because I use a website that already gives me a discount on Nintendo Ecash).

These are budget titles through and through. To have something like that willing to even entertain something like this is kinda impressive, really. The game doesn’t pull it off. It does have a kinda interesting story involving the main character’s choices (there are two paths relatively early in the game: staying a mercenary or becoming a knight; I picked the latter after reading some guides), and his relationship with his immigrant friend. If you ejected the weird immigrant angle it would be passingly interesting.

But they are trying. They probably should’ve used “refugee” or figured out a way to handle something like this in a less loaded way. But at times this game feels like you’re reading an essay from a well intended, semi-informed college student who wants both sides to get along. The immigration/racism in this story is because the characters are misled by evil: it even hits shirtless Alvah and Lester.

There’s a heart that worthy of at least some admiration. And the game around it’s halfway decent. If you’re interested in tactical RPGs at all, or are intrigued by a fantasy game from a Japanese company that uses the word “immigrant” way more often than it should, you should try picking up this game. It would even be worth it if it’s not on sale, but you definitely should if it drops.

A game like this? It deserves a better Fate than it got.

7 the game tries real hard, and does enough right that I may even replay it to see that alternative path.

(game is available on the Nintendo eshop and a few other places; images are from my playthrough of the game and used for review purposes only.

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