Chroma Squad Review
SRPGs are funny things in my house. Every time I play, finish and review one, I always feel like I'm done with genre. Don't get me wrong, SRPGs are some of my favorite games of all time - Valkyria Chronicles, Tactics Ogre, Jeanne D'Arc, Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem and more recent favorites Attack of the Slimes and Stella Glow all stand out as some of my most fondly remembered gaming experiences. But when I finish one of these, I almost feel like I've run a marathon; hours of careful planning, learning and using units effectively, following (often) beyond engaging storylines and pushing through hundreds of hours of gameplay can really drain a person. But wouldn't you know it? Every time a new one rears its imposing head, I almost always jump at the chance to review it. The latest one to come down the pike is Chroma Squad, and while it isn't the most memorable in a genre of games with titles that will be revered for years to come, it's absolutely bizarre premise, addictive gameplay and off-the-wall systems make it one that is fairly easy to recommend.
The premise of Chroma Squad is one I simply guarantee you've never seen elsewhere, and unless there is a sequel, you'll never see again. The story is as follows - five stuntmen decide to quit their regular gigs and start an all-new television show in the same vein of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (and a whole bunch of other shows most of us Americans have never laid eyes on). So each battle is essentially a grid- and turn-based recreation of the Power Rangers formula; fight goons, fight a major monster and eventually triumph using your giant combo robot. If you've ever seen an episode of the Power Rangers, you know how it plays out, but the SRPG mechanic does more for the formula than any of the lame Power Rangers titles I've played and reviewed in the past.
The gameplay is standard fare for SRPGs with two main wrinkles tossed in. A teamwork mechanic becomes necessary to master early on, as two characters working together can unleash more damage, move further or heal one another. Positioning is everything in SRPGs, but Chroma Squad takes it further with a Chroma Fusion finishing move that requires four of your team to surround an enemy while a fifth pulls off the special and flashy finisher. And since it wouldn't be Power Rangers without the giant monsters and robots, these sequences are handled with timed button presses, kind of like some of the giant battles in later Mario and Luigi games. It would be a mistake to assume the battle system has the depth of, say, a Tactics Ogre or Fire Emblem, but the tools given to the player are more than enough and great fun to work with.
The game, were it just battle after battle, wouldn't be quite as memorable if it weren't for the action between battles. There is the standard upgrading of characters, weapons and armor, sure, but there is also a neat simulation aspect to the whole thing. You can upgrade you TV studio, reply to fan mail, manage contracts and build your fanbase. Doing so gives you bigger payouts for each show (map) completed, and grants access to even more upgrades for every aspect of the game. The premise of starting a Power Rangers TV is show is interesting, fighting in one is fun, but simulating the rest of the business around it is downright fascinating. It's the simulation aspect that transforms Chroma Squad from a serviceable SRPG to a truly unique one.
If I've got two complaints with this otherwise impressive indie game, here they are: there is little do to than just play the game straight through, beginning to end and the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. First things first, the game doesn't offer any sidequests, extra battles, nothing really, that deviate from play one show, manage the sim stuff, play another show, etc. until the end. A handful of sidequests, extra objectives or even outside chances to beef up your guys would have helped flesh out the game a lot, and I was sad to see this stuff missing. Even with multiple endings, without any real deviation in the game it felt almost pointless to play it more than once through. Secondly, the game, even though it has pixel-style graphics, still somehow manages to be rather boring visually. The animations are OK, but the environments can be large swaths of single color nothingness. Hey, at least the music is pretty decent, but no soundtrack could make up for blah stage after blah stage, some of them even being nearly identical. One blah is bad, but two? Or three? No thanks.
To say I enjoyed Chroma Squad is a bit of an understatement; I really dove into the sim stuff. The battles, though on the simple side, keep the part of me who loves SRPG combat more than interested from beginning to end. The extremely linear progression of the game and the backgrounds left a lot to be desired, but Chroma Squad is still an easy, if not rabidly enthusiastic, recommendation to anyone who loves SRPGS, the Power Rangers or just wants something a bit on the strange side.
Final Rating: 72% - A bizarre premise and addictive gameplay wrapped in blah.