The Strategy Role Playing Game (SRPG) category is a niche within a niche, and it isn’t often explored by independent game developers. That’s a shame, because the combination of genre fiction with the structure and rigor of chess rewards both sides of the brain. Sinister Games provided the Indie Mine with a fully-functional demo build of their new Windows SRPG, the somewhat awkwardly-named Telepath RPG: Servants of God. It’s a solid SRPG with a compelling story that should win over traditional tabletop wargamers, as well as anyone who enjoyed Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics.
In the same way that every board game shares a number of default mechanisms, every SRPG has in common a number of gameplay features that make it familiar and welcoming. Servants of God puts you on a square grid map, and by turns your troops and your enemies jockey for position and attack one another. Not every battle is a fight to the death, as different victory goals are stated for each battle. You might be required to hold a particular position, or to escape from a superior force. In between battles there are more traditional RPG game elements, in a mechanism borrowed from Shining Force III that puts a town and a barracks in place of a boring statistical menu. A player can expect dialogue exchanges that impart narrative, or free exploration segments where you meet new characters and discover new quests to complete.
Servants of God has some interesting and unique qualities that set it apart. Rather than a modern military environment (like Nintendo’s Advance Wars) or a western medieval world, the game is set in a fictional middle eastern universe that bravely evokes images of ancient Ottoman and Moorish culture. The detailed dialogue exchanges also imply that there are consequences to the different choices, as it’s possible to be polite or rude to your allies or to the various people you meet. These are the sort of details that indicate a lot of love and effort went into creating the game world, and making a player care about more than just moving soldiers around on a map.
A couple of design choices are a little worrying. Both battles and exploration show all the characters from a literal overhead viewpoint, in that you’re looking straight at the top of everyone’s head. That sometimes makes it hard to distinguish among your troops during a fight, and the lack of detail is only accentuated by the elaborate character portraits you see outside of battle. There also doesn’t seem to be any way to resize the game window or run in full screen, which might be a limitation of the Adobe Air environment used for development. It’s evident from the meaty icons, large fonts and the lack of drop-down menus that the user interface was intended to be ported to touchscreen devices at some point in the future. That means a player has to click the mouse a little more than you might in any other game intended solely for PC. There’s also a small problem with the pathfinding during battle, in that your troop movement limitations are calculated literally rather than relatively. In other words, moving back and forth twice between two spaces on the grid counts as five units of movement rather than just one, which forces you to reset and try to move your character again. That’s different from the way every other SRPG calculates movement.
But those are minor complaints that are mostly outweighed by the grin-inducing sense of fun you get from playing. Small strategic details like flank attacks and ranged weapon usage are exactly right. The conflict that drives the game is worldly and political, but the main character’s quest is a personal one about family. There’s even an in-game explanation for why you’re able to see the position of every fighter on the battlefield, which is a detail that isn’t usually addressed in an SRPG of any type or setting. What’s most inspiring about the game is the novelty of the setting, which never seems to wear itself out. The good qualities of the game thoroughly overshadow the issues.
A demo of Telepath RPG: Servants of God is available on the Sinister Games website, and the full game is expected to be released in February with a retail price of $24.95.
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