Everyone loves an underdog story. And Redgi is most certainly an underdog.
The star of 2D action-RPG Tails of Iron, Redgi is actually a rat, and on a day that should be cause for celebration, tragedy befalls him. He gets up, dons his gear, and readies himself for a duel against one of his brothers – the victor to become the next king of the rat kingdom. He’s not expected to win – getting seconds in the kitchen is a sign of that – but against all odds he overcomes his bigger, stronger sibling. Celebrations are cut short, however, when frogs attack, killing the king and kidnapping the rest of Redgi’s family.
Left for dead, Redgi awakes to find his kingdom in tatters. He could just give up, run away and try to start a new life somewhere, but no; he’s going to fight to reclaim his kingdom. And so begins his arduous journey – though you’re in control, of course.
The opening hours of Tails of Iron are gripping. As Redgi’s story begins to unfold, you won’t mind that its characters communicate via squeaks and whistles, with text bubbles using pictures rather than words to communicate their messages. Besides, with the raspy voice of Doug Cockle – The Witcher’s very own Geralt – providing a rich narrative, “dialogue” between characters is merely meant to be functional, giving you a nudge in the right direction so you don’t get stuck. The result is an adventure that feels somewhat like an interactive fairytale – you’re controlling the pace of the story, and good old Doug is there to read it, page by page.
After picking yourself up and acquiring some gear, your first task is defeating the frogs that have invaded your kingdom. It’s after seeing off your froggy invaders that Tails of Iron really opens up, with Redgi doing all he can to restore his kingdom to its former glory. That means finding his brothers, helping those in the nearby town, and tackling any quests posted on the notice boards in the nearby areas. They’re things that a king should really be delegating rather then doing themselves. But he’s young and capable, and no-one else seems to be putting themselves forward to do the dirty work.
It’s here, however, that Tails of Iron falters a little. With only a small number of areas to visit, you’ll soon find yourself returning to them time and time again to complete fairly menial side-quests. You see, frogs aren’t the only threats to the kingdom, and so Redgi will find himself dealing with all manner of ghastly creatures to keep the peace. “Grubs have been spotted in the sewers,” a quest posted on a message board will read, “Go kill them”. “Mozzies have made a nest in the sewers, go deal with it,” reads another. No problem, you’ll think. But you’ll find that you can only pick up one quest at a time, prompting multiple visits.
Ultimately, though, it’s not much of an issue, because getting around in the world of Tails of Iron is effortless, and the whole affair is so absorbing. The game’s art style plays a large role in that, with its inky outlines and imaginative layering. Each and every frame is like a work of art, packed with bold colours and stunning detail. It draws you in from the get-go and then holds you for the duration.
By far the most engaging aspect of Tails of Iron is its combat. Inspired by the likes of Dark Souls, it’s brutal and unforgiving at times. Each and every encounter, whether you’re up against a gargantuan boss or simply a few grubs, is tense. There’s even an Estus Flask stand-in; Redgi can fill a container with bug juice, and glug it during gameplay to top up his health. There are some key differences though: one being that the action unfurls on a 2D plane with impacts your movement options, and another being that there’s no stamina meter.
Initially Redgi can only make use of a one-handed weapon and a shield, allowing him to block the majority of enemy attacks and deliver swift strikes of his own. Soon enough, however, he can also make use of a two-handed weapon, useful for breaking an enemy’s defences, and ranged weapons that make dealing with pecky flying creatures much less bothersome. All just a button press away, you can mix your attacks to adapt nicely to your current situation, opening up a surprising amount of depth.
That depth is further bolstered by the dastardly manoeuvres your enemies sometimes employ against you, forcing you to read the battlefield effectively. Attacks prefaced with red marks over an enemy’s head, for example, can’t be blocked, forcing you to either dodge or roll to avoid them instead. And then there are attacks prefaced by yellow marks, which are to ideally be parried to gain the upper hand. Put everything together and you have a combat system that keeps you on your toes. Challenging but not overly so; if you die, it’s generally because you screwed up.
The icing on the cake is the sheer number of weapons, shields and armour pieces available to Redgi. Some will be awarded for completing quests, others found as you explore. Many can be crafted. Each and every piece of equipment will change your stats in some way, whether its increasing your attack power or offering more resistance against incoming attacks by certain enemies. Your weight has to be taken into consideration, though. Some players may want to travel light, keeping themselves agile. Others will opt for heavy gear, cherishing the extra protection, and attack power, that it provides. And then there’s fashion to consider, with each item changing how Redgi looks.
Tails of Iron isn’t the biggest adventure in the world – while it has numerous maps to explore, they’re not particularly expansive – but it does have a lot of heart. It’s easy to warm to Redgi despite him not having a voice, which is quite an achievement in itself, and as you travel around his kingdom, fighting off bugs, frogs and other pesky creatures, you’ll come to care about his fate. It’s the combat that’s the real star of the show here though, encouraging you to keep an eye on the various quest boards even when the tasks they offer only send you to the same few locations.
Tails of Iron Review – GameSpew’s Score