I’ve got to say, I’m a fan of Circle Entertainment. Each 3DS eShop title they’ve published offered plenty of fun, and relatively little strain on the wallet. When I was studying at university, like most students, I didn’t have a whole lot of money to spend on games so I took a chance on Fairune. It was an interesting RPG title that cost a couple of quid at most. To my surprise, it turned out to be very entertaining though it only offered three or so hours of gameplay. This time, I tried out Circle’s new Tactical RPG, Mercenaries Saga 2: Order of the Silver Eagle, developed by RideOn Inc., and I am pleased to report, I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. For only £3.99, you’ll have a hard time finding a better way to spend your eShop credit than on this title. Mercenaries Saga 2 clearly takes a lot of influence from Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem Awakening, and that’s no bad thing. Sure, it’s less fancy than either of those titles, but it still offers just enough strategy to please hardcore tactics fans, without overdoing it for newcomers to the genre. Although I’m by no means an expert in the genre, Fire Emblem Awakening is one of my favourite games, and I had relatively few problems grasping the mechanics of this game. Mercenaries Saga 2 doesn’t try too hard to reinvent the wheel, so you’ll know what to expect if you’ve played a tactical RPG before. Battles take place on a table top style grid floating in space, in a style reminiscent of the Supergiant Games’ title, Bastion. Players use a combination of melee, ranged and magic attacks in a turn-based system to fight a range of enemies. There’s no perma-death, so fallen characters will retreat from battle if they aren’t revived within 4 turns. They then become available to be recalled once more for the next mission. The game suffers from one major weakness- it often fails to explain basic gameplay mechanics, leaving the player to figure things out for themselves. One combat mechanic grants characters standing on higher terrain an advantage over enemies on lower ground. Of course, the game didn’t feel the need to explain this in any of the tutorial levels and it wasn’t until I was 2-3 hours into the game that I noticed my attacks were doing significantly more damage when I attacked from above. The game also fails to explain how the majority of the stats affect the character’s abilities. For example, characters have both an attack, and a strength stat. The attack stat presumably indicates how strong that character’s physical attacks are; but then, what does the strength stat indicate? Perhaps a veteran RPG player would be able to understand this system with little to no explanation, but the average first time player would be left absolutely clueless by this system. The game features a class system, similar to the one used in Fire Emblem Awakening. This grants the player a degree of control over how the characters develop. Characters can learn new skills, and upgrade these skills, by spending experience points earned through battle. Upgrades makes them stronger and more effective, but also increases the cost of using them on the battlefield. Sometimes, it’s better to hold back on upgrades, until your character has developed slightly more magic points to spend. I found this give and take system to be one of the games biggest draws. Characters move through a range of classes, allowing them to unlock new skills. Skills carry over from class to class, provided the classes are all connected to the same branch of the class tree. This is the weakness of this class system- in Fire Emblem Awakening, moving characters from class to class allows a huge degree of control over their character development, which sadly, this game fails to match. The combat, while for the most part well handled, suffers from a couple of minor issues. My first gripe is with the camera during combat. The ground is often uneven, so it can be tricky to locate your character with the cursor on particularly rough terrain. The ability to rotate the camera would definitely help to solve this problem. The other issue is with the cursor during battle. The grid is set up in such a way as to require moving the cursor diagonally with the d-pad, which can be a chore on the DS. The analogue stick would offer a solution to this problem, but the stick isn’t precise enough. I often found myself sliding past the squares I wanted to look at or pulling the cursor in the wrong direction by accident. Luckily, the combat issues didn’t deter me from continuing to play, as the plot really succeeded in keeping me hooked. The RPG genre often relies too heavily on cliché plotlines. How many times have you been sent on an epic quest to collect a magical artefact scattered in several pieces across the land? Chances are it’s too many. RPG plotlines are often convoluted and difficult to follow, but Mercenaries Saga 2 gets straight to the point. The story centres around a band of knights, called the Order of the Silver Eagle, led by the ever loyal Claude. An assassination attempt is made against the Prince, so Claude and his band of knights are sent to fetch medicine for him, and from there, they get caught in a domino effect. That’s pretty much it. As the journey progresses, new characters join the party, although some of the new characters fail to establish themselves as anything more than unnecessary padding, particularly towards the end of the game. The story would have been dramatically improved by reducing the number of characters in the main party. I certainly didn’t grow attached to these characters in the same way as I did to the characters introduced in the early story. The writing is strong, with the exception of the odd translation error. At one point, there’s even a moment of sitcom-esque comedy, based around a classic comedy of errors. I won’t repeat the joke (I’d just murder it) but what I will say is, it definitely made me laugh out loud, a feat which is rarely accomplished in a video game. Comedy is a bold move that can easily backfire if you’re not careful and I’m glad to say Mercenaries Saga 2 succeeds every time it tries without ever pushing its luck. The game features strong visuals, embracing a retro 16-bit SNES-inspired style. This succeeds in both explaining the narrative and providing the characters with plenty of emotional depth (even those characters I struggled to grow attached to.) The character portraits are charming, using a palette of matte, faded tones helping to give the overall aesthetic an aged quality. Unfortunately, the same static red background texture acts as the backdrop for every battle and every in-game menu screen. It does grow boring quickly, but as it’s never the main visual point of focus it doesn’t mar the experience too much. The audio cues are simple, but classic, and they compliment the visual style well. The soundtrack is accomplished, with a good consistent style, taking influence from the regal plotline. The title menu music is particularly good, with a sombre tone that really stands out from the rest of the tracks. My only criticism is that some of the combat/battle music does begin to feel repetitive, as the same rhythms keep looping over and over throughout entire battles, without letting up for a moment. If you’re not sure whether tactical RPGs are for you, I’d say this is just the time to give one a go with Fire Emblem Fates coming to the 3DS in the very near future. Mercenaries Saga 2 is a perfect way to dip your toe into the genre. Circle Entertainment and Ride On Inc. really have succeeded in creating another unexpectedly high quality eShop title. Seriously, it’s £3.99, and it provides 20+ hours of entertainment. In terms of value for money, that’s tough to beat.