Fuga: Memories of Steel

Somehow I missed out on this absolute gem of a game. Maybe it was the relatively high price tag that made me hesitate; Fuga goes for $25 even when it’s on sale. It also doesn’t look, feel, or play like just about any other game I’ve ever played before, which is in itself something that stands out.

The settling for Fuga is intriguing as well. At first I took it for an alternative history game, wherein you were playing a group of children during either the first or second World War. The enemies wear helmets and symbology that resonates with the various German Reichs, the main characters all have French sounding names and style of dress, and everything just fits along with that different timeline. The exception to this being that the game stars various anthropomorphic animals, focusing primarily upon dogs and cats.

This only serves to make the various kids cuter.

There’s actually a lot more going on here, with hints dropping that this is actually some sort of post-apocalyptic society. There seems to be something there, with some hint coming in the final hours of the game that these kids and their world are some sort of second chance at having cognizant life on the planet. That some sort of advanced AI or divine being or some combination of the two has helped developed these civilizations with the hope that the sins of the past would not repeat. It’s a surprisingly deep story, and it pretty much was like that throughout.

You initially start with six children who are all in a remote village, led by the “oldest,” Malt, who happens to be a whopping 13 years old. These children are as young as 4, yet the war has thrust them into a position where they have to face death head on. Through a twist of fate, they discover a powerful hidden tank known as the Taranis hidden near their village. They hide there to avoid an attack from the Berman Empire (see what I mean about the German similarities? That’s barely a difference!). A voice on the radio tells them that they can use the impressive tank to fight back, to free their families, if they just rally. So we get our group of literal child soldiers, who become terrors and champions of war.

This is Mei; she is four and will steal your heart before MURDERING YOU.

The game is interesting, as it’s sort of a turn based RPG in many ways. Your tank takes up the left screen, with the various enemy forces filling up the right. The children man three different guns in pairs. Each child specializes in using one of three types of guns: the blue machine gun (light), the yellow grenade launcher (balanced), and the red cannon (heavy). It’s up to you as the player to figure out which child to put in front and to have them use their skills and partnerships to fend off the enemy.

It’s intriguing, as I’ve never seen a battle system quite like it. It clearly takes some inspiration from Final Fantasy X, with the bar at the top showing when people go, and there even seems like a bit of Grandia mixed in there. Hitting with certain attacks can delay the enemies’ turns, which can be critical to achieving success. It’s a system that relies on simple ideas, gradually building into something more complex and nuanced. Despite the fact that every conflict entails the tank on the left, I found myself actually enjoying combat, which is rare for me. It was even just difficult enough to test my ability to strategize and raise these kids.

Basically you follow a path through the game, a literal straight line. The various conflicts are nodes across that path, but there are also more helpful ones, like more materials to upgrade your tank, spots to heal you, and even spots to outright rest. You’re given the option of choosing different paths, which usually boils down to taking the dangerous route or a safer option. With one exception, I picked the dangerous route and loved the challenge and the rewards it granted me.

Why yes, Mei is consistently adorable.

There are also these moments of rest and respite, where you can explore the tank and talk to the other children that you’ve recruited along the way. In this way, you can help the children bond together, as well as taking care of their physical and emotional state. If a child grows depressed from the fighting, you can talk to them to sooth their mind and soul. If they’re wounded, you put them to rest and tend to their wounds, so that they can recover. And if they need a boost in morale, you can fix a meal or fulfill other desires and goals. It’s a wonderful system that helps you to grow more attached to the children, though I did find that some tasks were a bit less useful than others.

And the game wants you to grow attached to the children. Early on, they introduce a rather unique mechanic into the mix: the Soul Cannon. This attack is incredibly powerful; it will literally win a battle for you if you choose to use it. It can only come out in dire circumstances, when you’re facing the boss of a given chapter and find yourself low on life. But it is absolutely guaranteed to turn the tide of the conflict.

It just happens to cost the lives and possibly souls of one of the children.

This is an emotional decision, and it’s one with actual weight. In addition to losing a potential party member to run your tank, you lose an actual adorable child, watching them die. The game forces you to encounter one of these circumstances, to put the children through this and see the awesome attack and the price paid. They do generously spin back the clock to a previous save, but it’s a good way of demonstrating a possible mechanic and its cost.

Naturally you can’t get the best ending if you use the cannon, and I didn’t find myself even wanting or debating using it, with the possible exception of one boss fight. I got surprised by a countdown and ended up dying to a shot I wasn’t anticipating. It was a cheap move, but it also sort of made sense. The mostly generous checkpoint system means that you don’t miss out on much, and if you play smart throughout, you won’t need to restart all that often.

What I do like is that the game pretty well tells you what you need for that best ending. Not blasting away the literal soul and innocence of a child is a pretty big hint, but there’s another qualification. You must have all the children bond with one of the twelve particular recruits that joins you. This is literally told to the player, which is a nice touch that I don’t see in games like this all that often. Usually you have to look up the proper ending with a guide in order to find it. I did when the game was forcing me to sacrifice a child, wanting to see if there was a way around it.

The game just wonderfully weaves its themes and motifs throughout the entire story. It sort of plays out through the eyes of the children you encounter, but these are children in wartime. Some of them have already lost their homes and at least one parent, and they fear losing even more than that. Fuga never lets you forget that these are actual beings with emotions and fears of their own. Even late in the game, children will still be doubting themselves and talking about their fears and worries. They’ll celebrate small triumphs together, even as you push onward.

There’s a weight to the game’s narrative and how it plays out. Everything feels purposeful, and you feel involved, as you know that the dire choices can help push the narrative forward, but with that inevitable cost. The game clearly wants you to dig into its mechanics, and it’s actually impossible to see all the various bonding conversations and events in just one playthrough. Fuga’s fifteen or so hour length also lends itself to repeated gameplay, and it really feels like the game has been built around multiple playthroughs.

This all just comes together for an absolutely brilliant game that hits on so many levels. There’s almost nothing here I can find fault with. I even liked that the only two options for voice acting were Japanese (which is likely where the game was made) and French. I selected the latter for that added layer of authenticity to the game, and it did help draw me in, enough that even if the sequel has English voice acting, I may stick with the French.

I’m really struggling to figure out a flaw in this game. Part of me wants to say there’s too many kids, but you get 12 throughout the game, and those can technically be used as ammunition during boss fights. That almost necessitates that you have a good mix of children, in case the player has to rely on that Soul Cannon mechanic. The game is also generous in allowing you to switch between characters at any point during a fight, with little penalty. I found myself using all 12 of the kids in some of the final chapters, as they’d get wounded or exhausted more quickly fighting those harder fights.

I suppose it comes down some to two factors. One is the various activities, and another is that a lot of the kids don’t really push beyond stereotypes in their development. In the first, there’s a few activities that feel half-baked. Above you can see me using Mei to explore a set of ruins. There you can gather a lot of materials, and everyone you take gains a decent amount of experience from the venture, which can help level up kids that you may be leaving out of battles.

However, the exploration is… not good. You wander around a flat plain, and you’re given a toy gun which is somehow capable of blasting down walls or eliminating enemies. They sort of feel more like puzzles at first, as each ruin gives you just enough ammunition to handle everything within it, from chest to creature to trap. But this was often a bit frustrating, and it felt like a chore every time I had to do it.

As for the various children, there is development for a lot of them. We can see maturity throughout the story. They do have to be careful with the various events though, as they don’t know how often you’re going to use the Soul Cannon. This means that a lot of that development is left to bond conversations, and it doesn’t always work. Some characters, like Malt, Mei, and Britz, are beautifully developed through conversation and gameplay. But others, like Hack and especially Boron, barely move beyond anime kid stereotypes. Given how well the writing is elsewhere, it feels like this is a bit of a missed opportunity. that being said, I didn’t get every bond for every kid, as I focused on the ones needed for the good ending, and on characters I liked (like Mei).

I don’t feel that either of these relatively small elements really negatively impacted my playthrough of the game. There’s nothing here that’s going to make me not want to play through this again, to see those various bond conversations and to experience more of that battle system. It’s a truly great experience, and well worth the sale price, though I would balk at handing over the full $50 they’re asking for the game (I’m hoping the sequel has a sale, as I really want to play it).

10 essentially a perfect game with only the smallest of minor flaws, most of which are consumed by aspects that eclipse them. Makes me eager for its sequel, which drops in less than a month


2 thoughts on “Fuga: Memories of Steel

  1. love this
    This is such a well-written and engaging review of Fuga! I love how you delve into the storyline, the gameplay mechanics, and the emotional weight of the game’s decisions. My question is, do you think the game’s unique battle system and heavy focus on bonding and development of each child character might turn off some players who prefer a simpler RPG experience?


    1. The game actually does a pretty good job of introducing its various elements gradually, and there are the options of taking easier routes, which would help ease players into how the game works and everything. Fuga does a pretty good job getting players adjusted to how it all works and all; in some ways it’s actually less complicated than a lot of RPGs I’ve played.


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