Review: Empire of Angels IV
By: Fernando Da Costa
Developer: SoftStar Entertainment
Available On: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PC, Android
Review Console: Nintendo Switch Lite
FEMALE EMPOWERMENT! - Introduction
There’s no denying that Strategy RPGs have carved themselves a nice little niche in the role-playing genre. It introduces a buffet of strategic thinking with its sometimes intricate battle scenarios. With such greats like Fire Emblem and Disgaea, there are massive shoes to fill, so newer additions better bring it. Admittedly, I’m not especially great at these due to my inability to have any patience. I want to always push forward, despite it usually leading to my death. That never deters me, though, and I continue to enjoy SRPGs of various types - all while predictably dying. A lot. Empire of Angels IV is, as the name suggests, the fourth in the franchise. What makes these games especially intriguing is that the in-game universe is composed exclusively of women. Now, excuse my language, but this must be said, this was previously on mobile. I know the vulgarity of that revelation probably offended many but is that outrage warranted? Well, I’m going to answer that.
DOWN WITH THE SICKNESS! - Story Synopsis
With the Valkyrie no longer embroiled in all-out war with the Mentu Kingdom, another epidemic has taken its place. It’s a disease dubbed the “Namtar Fever,” and it runs rampant, turning all infected into ravenous, bloodthirsty monsters. As a response, The Central Headquarters of Valkyrie have gathered a team of skilled female warriors. Their task is to determine the source of the illness and eradicate it. It’s during their adventure that they stumble on someone odd - a blue-haired woman neither have seen before. No matter how many times they interrogate her, every question asked falls on deaf ears. It seems her memories are clouded, making her past a mystery, even to herself. Unknowingly to the group, though, she sparks the trail that will, eventually, uncover the true evil behind the plaque-like sickness. Fight your way through tainted soldiers as you edge closer to the true origin of the “Namtar Fever.” What awaits our Investigation Team, and more importantly, who is this peculiar woman?
SHORT AND SWEET! - Writing
Empire of Angels I through III were released on DOS/PC and never crossed the ocean. The fourth is our first exposure, so localization is assuredly a worry. Fortunately, with confidence, I can say that EastAsiaSoft has been nailing it lately with translations - and this is no different. The plot, while straightforward, is basic fare. It’s not breaking new ground, but it’s serviceable. The exposition can be colourful, but the majority of characters are largely bland. They’re lacklustre and devoid of whimsy. That isn’t to say it’s completely hopeless, as a few do have a semblance of personality. Their speech patterns are distinct, making it easy to give each one a voice. You’d expect the voiceover work to aid with that, but cadence was hard to distinguish due to the language barrier. Further fallacies are drizzled on this literary cake, but they’re, thankfully, minor, often mistaken tense.
What truly shackles Empire of Angels IV down, despite the easily digestible narrative, is the absence of heft. I wasn’t invested in most of the cast. Now, that’s not normally make-or-break; however, it is when a few key plot beats rely heavily on emotional impact. These swerves, if you will, count on a connection being built between player and character. That immerses a person and goes on to give weight to any transpiring twists - that’s sorely missed here. I didn’t care what happened to my girls or the grief they went through. On a positive note, the general dialogue has some fun moments. I also appreciated the attempt to somewhat build on the premise of a female-only universe. They even made sure to address common curiosities, such as childbirth. It helped to ground the lore, but I do wish it was explored more than it was. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, this is but a minuscule detail. As someone passionate about fantasy, this helped give this world needed believability.
CLASS IS IN SESSION! - Gameplay
For fans of Fire Emblem, several of these mechanics will be familiar - chief among them is the class system. It doesn’t, however, operate by simply levelling a character like with its inspiration. It, instead, uses what’s known as Merit Points. These are earned through story-based missions and go toward a collective Star Rank. Once a certain threshold is reached, the rank then increases by one, granting current and future party members the ability to be promoted. In other words, if the total Star Rank is three, every girl can go up to the third promotion and that, in itself, is a choice between two different classes. A special shout-out goes out to the rather unexpected Sailor Moon style transformation between transitions. It was a fun riff on the all-female cast in Empire of Angels IV, reminiscent of that anime's all-female cast.
In total, there are three separate class trees to choose from: Magic, Melee, and Ranged. No one’s committed to a specific one either, fully capable of freely bouncing between them. Although, one is understood to be canon, and that’s shown by the presence of a fourth boost - the final promotion. This not only requires Merit Points but demands a distinct side-quest tied to that character also be beaten. It sounds frivolous enough, but the explanation to locate these is divulged early on. Without context, I initially waved it off as inconsequential because it doesn’t even work until late-game. I’d do as the tutorial suggested immediately after it first popped up but to no avail. I’d later try again after playing a bit more to the same outcome. Now, I eventually accessed those side-quests but only after already beating the entire game - and by accident. See, my Nintendo Switch fell from my hands, smacking me in the face. Before it fell, I managed to press the correct button as I tried hanging on to it. As I picked it back up, I noticed a side-quest was now available on the map. What this, essentially, boils down to is failure to convey information.
DON’T FALL NOW! - Gameplay
Everything discussed up to this point solidifies one thing - there’s a grand sense of customization. And while there’s no arguing that a morsel of it does exist, it’s largely an illusion - it’s worthless. I get the intended purpose - its methodology is to give the player the ability to adapt to any situation. It, unfortunately, fails to tap into the inherent strategy that this genre carries. There’s no actual reason to use those non-canon trees. The story canon ones are plenty powerful enough, nullifying the need to experiment. Okay, for transparency, I did, in fact, have to toy with it for a single battle. My whole play session also lasted over 20 hours. Since individual battles last mere minutes, utilizing this feature is a drop in a deep bucket. Empire of Angels IV struggles to realize the full potential of this idea. To be horribly blunt, it feels more like padding than anything fleshed out. This then goes on to spotlight another massive issue - the balancing is atrocious.
Grinding is frequently seen as a hang-up amongst the JRPG fandom. It’s both tedious and repetitive by nature and can sometimes take forever to gain a level. Well, I’ve got both good and bad news on that front. Unsurprisingly, the bad news is that grinding is still a huge factor in Empire of Angels IV, but it’s not terrible - that’s the good news. See, you’ll be pleased to know that raising your level takes about ten minutes, give or take. It’s quick and painless, alleviating the annoyance that many have. Experience points are a nonissue, but the same can’t be said for earning money. Those aforementioned promotions cost a pretty penny, so gathering enough through combat is where the time-sink has moved to. This is, sadly, exacerbated by the immense active roster. In other words, there’s a new grind nuisance in town, and it’s ready to eat away at your life.
Oh, and here’s some horrible news - that grinding, in general, is fruitless. Sure, characters do get a slight stat buff with each level. While those increase, however, no abilities are learned. This is a nitpick but hear me out. I loved when I grinded and discovered a new, better magical spell or technique. It was a small dopamine rush that had me excited. I can only guess that this was removed because of the mobile roots. Each class does have default abilities, but that’s it - nothing more, nothing less. Once you change classes, your character loses the privilege to harness any of those skills. It’s like they have a momentary lapse of amnesia. To add to that, enemies still pack a serious wallop no matter what. For example, at level 60, several of my team were left at, or even entered, death's door against foes that were level 45. You’d expect attacks to weaken as you become stronger, but nope, that’s not the case. Hell, most of my foes have a brutal area-of-effect attack that deals massive damage - it can even one-shot a few of the girls. I rarely got a Game Over all the same, but that’s only because I consistently used the maximum number of deployed fighters. I tried less, and, well, that didn’t go over too well. Using items isn’t possible since they don’t exist in Empire of Angels IV at all. I had to ensure that at least one healer was in my party. Let me repeat myself - the mobile roots are glaring, and the omissions it brings are unacceptable and dilute the genre.
SCARE MY HICCUPS AWAY! - Performance
Knowing Empire of Angels IV was previously on phones, combined with its visual fidelity, you’d think it wouldn’t be demanding. The character models are Chibi style and are quite adorable. The environments aren’t extensive either, being quite modest. Nothing about it screams overly taxing. Yet, rather baffling, there’s a handful of instances where stuttering strikes. One such moment is when executing attacks. Ironically, I noticed it way more when switching off battle animations. For some reason, it’s not as prevalent with those switched on. With each action taken, there’s a slight hiccup before connection. These delays extend to transitions too. When jumping between enemy and player, the game struggles. It’s nothing substantial, mind you, and doesn’t render the game unplayable, but it’s worrying, and this is why.
When going into the next Chapter, Empire of Angels IV can outright lock up. As a disclaimer, this happened once throughout my 20+ hour session. The strange part is the circumstances that triggered this seems random - I did nothing out of the norm. This tells me one thing: poor optimization is likely the culprit. I want to stress that this occurred only once, but that incessant stuttering is worrisome. After all, before the lock-up, those preceded it, so there’s precedent for thinking they’re related or the cause. I, thankfully, can report that there's an obsessive auto-save feature here. As an added safeguard, you can manually save anywhere at any time too. I highly recommend using this, as even with auto-save, it’s possible to lose a good half hour of progress still.
AND THE ALL-GIRL VERDICT IS…
Empire of Angels IV sits firmly in the quantity over quality camp. There are a lot of moving parts, but most everything is devoid of substance. Its mobile DNA is intact and feels out-of-place on a console. It doesn’t even seem like much was changed before the jump. Perhaps this next bit is an elitist mindset, but with no towns to explore, equipment to interchange, NPCs to talk to, or abilities to learn, this doesn’t feel like a JRPG at all. It could be argued as one for beginners, but I played Final Fantasy at eight years old. There’s no excuse that this game couldn’t be more bulked up. The story itself is linear and not overly long. The main reason I spent so much time playing is because of the grind. I also set personal goals for myself to prolong my session. By the final scenario, I was twenty levels above the enemies, yet they still packed a serious punch. I’m thankful that while Fire Emblem is clearly an inspiration, perma-death wasn’t borrowed because I lost many girls to cheap deaths.
I can’t recommend Empire of Angels IV to veterans of the genre. It will pass the time, and I like the premise, but both the unbalanced nature and other cons are just too overwhelming. While I’m a fan of the character art, it’s not enough to save this from a 4.
Thank you to EastAsiaSoft, who provided a code for the purposes of this review