Over the past several years, Rideon has carved out a nice niche for itself with the Mercenaries series. Taking after titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, these games have long offered up simple and faithful examples of the tactical RPG experience. The fifth release, Mercenaries Blaze: Dawn of the Twin Dragons, fits well within this lineage, though it doesn’t do anything to notably evolve what’s come before. Even so, it’s an enjoyable release that demonstrates a clear understanding of what makes a tactics game tick.
Mercenaries Blaze: Dawn of the Twin Dragons takes place in the kingdom of Euros, which sits in a sort of ‘eye of the storm’ with wars and battles raging all around it. You take on the role of a nobleman named Lester who – along with his band of fellow mercenaries – is tasked with rounding up illegal immigrants and pressing them into service at designated work camps. At the outset of the story, Lester believes wholeheartedly in the goodness of the Crown and doesn’t understand why the refugees put up such a passionate fight against their incarceration, but as you can probably guess, the slowly unspooling narrative reveals that the state he’s employed by perhaps isn’t quite as benevolent as it seems.
Although the writing can come across as stilted and wooden in many places, Mercenaries Blaze: Dawn of the Twin Dragons deserves a lot of credit for tackling some unconventional themes with its narrative. Tactics games typically have something to do with the political battles between warring factions or nations, but seldom deal with more nuanced and sensitive topics like racism and xenophobia in this way. And though the dialogue may come across as stilted in many places, the characters in your party nonetheless all have believable relationships with each other and these even somewhat contribute to the overall theme.
For example, Lester’s right-hand man, Alvah, is a privileged and legal immigrant who often has to face the moral and social implications of hunting down his own people. Especially compared to previous entries in this series, Mercenaries Blaze: Dawn of the Twin Dragons presents a nice change of pace with its storytelling, then, and we believe you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the attempt at telling a different story here.
Gameplay takes the shape of a typical tactical RPG, and this is perhaps where Mercenaries Blaze: Dawn of the Twin Dragons is the most let down. Each chapter begins with a bit of story content that inevitably leads to a battle of some point, and you then command your squad one at a time on an isometric grid to overwhelm the enemy team. Each character has a basic attack and a litany of special skills that differ according to their class, such as how healers can cast protective or healing magic or knights can use powerful sword attacks that inflict special debuffs. More of these are unlocked as characters level up and grow into their classes, and after certain milestones, you can then ascend them to the next class rank on a small tree that gives you a little bit of choice in how you can grow your characters.
So far, so similar, and that’s both a great benefit and great flaw in Mercenaries Blaze: Dawn of the Twin Dragons. Simply put, this is about as vanilla as tactics games come. Progression is relatively linear, combat is straightforward, and there are no frills or additional interesting systems to make the gameplay more entertaining or unique. It holds together perfectly well over the dozen or so hours it takes to see this release through to completion, but it’s the sort of game that fails to leave any meaningful impression on you afterwards. On a platform where you can experience tactics games as wacky and in-depth as Disgaea or as narrative-focused as Fire Emblem or as tightly-designed and intense as Into the Breach, Mercenaries Blaze: Dawn of the Twin Dragons comes up a bit short in making a convincing case for itself.
This ‘vanilla’ problem is also carried over in the art style, which is about as drab and uninteresting as they come. The character portraits are exquisitely well-drawn and detailed, but the environments and sprites themselves are cast in varying shades of dull brown, grey, and green. There’s no imagination here; no flavour – nothing that really tries to swing for the fences and impress the player with artistic aplomb. This has a knock-on effect of lowering one’s interest in continuing to play, as the ho-hum gameplay isn’t necessarily gripping, and there isn’t really anything to look at that’s all that visually stimulating.
We feel it’s important to highlight that Mercenaries Blaze: Dawn of the Twin Dragons isn’t a bad game by any means. It’s just aggressively okay. It does precisely what it sets out to do, and it doesn’t explore any farther than that baseline. Those of you who don’t take well to the ‘anime-ness’ of Disgaea or the increasingly-hard-to-ignore ‘Waifu Simulator’ aspects of recent Fire Emblem titles will no doubt take well to what Mercenaries Blaze: Dawn of the Twin Dragons has to offer, then, as this is probably the most no-nonsense modern take on the genre you can find. Sometimes simplicity is for the best, and we’d encourage you not to dismiss this title simply because it lacks ambition.
Mercenaries Blaze: Dawn of the Twin Dragons is the tactics game for fans of tactics games. It has an interesting story and a single-minded focus on just delivering a simple and easy to follow SRPG experience that’s free of any extraneous plot or gameplay elements. This is its greatest strength, but it’s also its greatest weakness. Those of you that need a little more something to go along with the deliberate and measured pace of a tactics game will be left wanting, as Mercenaries Blaze: Dawn of the Twin Dragons is just 'OK' in this regard. We’d give this a recommendation to anybody who’s looking for a short and simple SRPG, but would also say that with the caveat that you manage your expectations before jumping in.