Game: “Empire of Angels IV”
Owing to a certain chiseled Australian and backed by The House of Mouse, Norse mythology has seen a predominant rise in popularity over the last few years; with the Godof Thunder dominating the big screen, it’s only apt that the stories seep into the world of video games as well. God of War did it in 2018. Ubisoft took their Assassin‘em up series to Odin in 2020 and in 2021 we have Empire of Angels IV from developers Softstar and publishers Eastasiasoft, who have taken inspiration from the all-female warriors of the Valkyrie for their Strategy-RPG (S-RPG).
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Simple combat system|
|+ Straightforward story|
|+ Graphically solid|
|Negatives||– Questionable fan service|
|– Repetitive grinding|
|– Iffy translations & voice overs|
|Our Playtime||9 Hours|
|Available On||Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, PS4|
Starting life in 1993, this is the first console outing for the Empire of Angels but don’t fret, there’s no experience necessary to play Empire of Angels IV and that goes doubly for those who haven’t played many Strategy-RPGs before. As this requires no knowledge of any previous games, I’m just going to jump straight in and say that Empire of Angels IV is set in the Land of Asgard; the Namtar Investigation Team and it’s captain, Niya, has been tasked with investigating a plague that turns regular folk into violent obsessive maniacs. Before Niya can save the world, she has to gather a team of Valkyrie warriors to aid her in battle. Each one of the chosen fighters can be customised with a variety of jobs ranging from archer, sage, and mounted warrior; they can be levelled up throughout the game and each has their own strengths and weaknesses. The story might sound simple and well trodden but as there was only one focus, it never felt forced, was rather engaging and served a purpose.
The presentation of Empire of Angels IV was equally lovely with its two-pronged approach. The story portion plays out much like a visual novel; well drawn anime warriors appear on screen, narrating the proceedings in either Chinese or English voice overs with little input from the player, save for the occasional button press. When the battle starts, the game takes on a whole different appearance. Our previously 2D heroines take on a cute-chibi style 3D appearance that is reminiscent of the older Pokémon games. It gives the battlefield a grander scope without the developers having the challenge of making full 3D models of anime characters that will probably look outdated in just a few years. The cuteness of the characters is contrasted by oversized weapons that gave me a little smile during every single battle, and the Valkyrie are distinct enough that they can be found on the battlefield at all times. The same can’t be said for the enemies however, who are sadly a little generic in their appearance, with only a handful of enemy types on offer that range from big snakes, ogres, and possessed townsfolk to deal with. All of the enemy types are found early on and rather than encountering different baddies throughout the game, a palette swap is implemented… yes it’s that old video game cliché – “changing the colour of their clothes means they are harder”. It’s a small complaint that might be a little picky, as the whole presentation of Empire of Angels IV is really well executed and rather nice to look at.
Along with the enemy clichés, all of the usual S-RPG tropes are present and accounted for in Empire of Angels IV as well. Turn-based battles, moving one character at a time in a grid formation, and the ability to skip those pesky battle animations you’ve seen a thousand times. What’s surprising is that there isn’t a huge depth to combat – you can either spend some MP to hit an enemy, or use more MP to hit harder or carry out other actions depending on the skills of your chosen warriors… and that’s it. Empire of Angels IV didn’t bog me down with endless menus or statistics to look at, and gave me the freedom to make progress at my own pace with a control scheme that was easy to get to grips with. This simplistic approach might put some die-hard S-RPG fans off as Empire of Angels IV is more casual in its approach, but I found the game a nice change of pace as it was easy to pick up and hours can be lost in battle, which was handy as there’s a lot of battles to fight in order to get to the end screen.
As the story progressed backtracking to grind levels was required, and encouraged by the game, to meet the challenge of the next level. I couldn’t quite work out why Softstar chose to ramp up the difficulty every couple of battles instead of implementing a softer learning curve, though the apparent trade off was repeating a battle with a different team captain who was supposed to have different rewards and tasks to complete. It might sound like a balanced approach but rewards were already randomised so this was bit of a pointless sales tactic. The battle requirements were equally infuriating, changing from “Clear the battle with all party members” and “Finish the battle with none of your party retreating”. Repeating each level became a literal grind and a lazy tactic for the developers to keep me playing with the promise of a different reward.
While the Chinese voices were pleasant enough to listen to throughout the playthrough, the English settings on the other hand were far less refined. The voice acting was over the top anime style and made worse by not being able to change the language settings midway through the game. I found this out after a couple of hours and having to start a whole new file just to change language as I couldn’t bear the English dub. The translations too were incredibly formal and it seems that Softstar might have leaned a little too heavily on Google Translate, for example – your party wasn’t a party, it was a formation, and the opening scenes are vague to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, I understood what was going on, but it very much felt like the translations were in the formal English one would learn in school rather than in everyday use.
With eastasiasoft published titles, we’re aware that if there’s a game with any female characters, particularly in the anime style, there will inevitably be some form of titillation. Yes, some characters wear revealing clothes that would raise questions on any battlefield, and no matter how outdated this aspect is in the current climate, it’s simply how the anime style is. I’d be naïve to think otherwise, but that aspect of Empire of Angels IV isn’t the problem… Throughout each battle once an opponent is defeated, there is a two second animation of the female losing their clothes, flashing their underwear before evaporating into the ether. The small, cute style of the characters being almost naked for a few seconds was confusing rather than titillating. It left me feeling uncomfortable and simply put, it was completely needless. On top of the brief strip-show, cards are randomly gained throughout each skirmish that unlocks various character bios and vital statistics. Reading through the information I was left questioning why I needed to know the breast and waist size of each of my soldiers, but I was left wondering if they had been male warriors, would Softstar have included the size of their… weapon?
Empire of Angels IV is a tough game to recommend to the players who live and breathe Strategy RPGs. The stripped back nature of the battle system has no real depth to it, and the constant backtracking to previous encounters to grind levels will be annoying and takes a shine away from the story and visuals. By the same token Empire of Angels IV is the perfect introduction for people who aren’t used to the S-RPG genre. The battle system is straightforward enough to get the hang of and isn’t complicated in the slightest – enemies are just tough enough to make you think about how to approach each battle and with regular backtracking to grind those levels, it’s a good way of working out which heroines work well with your play style. Empire of Angels IV rather surprised me in how much enjoyment I got from it despite the endless grind and pointless fan service, but these factors are so prevalent that it’s hard not to be put off by them in the end.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.