Tails of Iron revolves around the war between the Rat Kingdom and the Frog Clans. Our hero, Redgi, is one of the heirs to the rat throne — and Tails of Iron lures you in with that storybook beginning, with a happy, prosperous kingdom and two princes fighting for the right to wear the crown. Redgi has just won and is savouring his moment of victory when the frogs invade, at which point that storybook start quickly gives way to death, danger, and destruction everywhere. Rats and frogs might be the stars of the show, but Tails of Iron’s story doesn’t feel small; it’s still a tale of epic proportions — made even more awesome as it’s narrated by
Geralt Doug Cockle. Tails of Iron’s medieval storybook art style makes for quite a contrast when it comes to the game’s gory combat — and its story, which travels to some intriguingly dark places. It’s not just the combat that’s gruesome, either; it never feels as though you’re completely alone when you explore, with unsettling squelching, scurrying, scuttling noises letting you know there’s all manner of creepy crawlies just out of sight.
Tails of Iron instantly hooks you in with that drive to retake and rebuild your kingdom, and Redgi’s subjects won’t hesitate to demand any resources or money to make that happen, sending him off to find resources while exploring, or earning money by undertaking errands from message boards. The world of Tails of Iron is beautiful, and alive with ratfolk and other creatures scurrying around their own business in the background while Redgi trots past. Everything from background vistas to minute details are intricately fleshed out, ensuring that world feels full and vibrant. There are lovely little details sprinkled throughout, too, from the Clanger-like squeaks of the characters to the hand-drawn homage to the rats who provided the real-life inspiration for the game, which you can find in the menu. After the frog invasion, the story starts you out with attempting to rescue your brothers, and it’s a sweet ode to friendship and family, with Redgi determined to protect both his brothers and his kingdom. It’s not all fighting, though; Redgi is ready to help any of his subjects, whether it’s returning a lost toy or finding a wheel for a broken cart. Any blueprints he finds can be returned to the smith, while ingredients, though rare, can be brought to the chef for a meal which bestows a permanent health boost. These extra RPG mechanics add variety to Tails of Iron, and it’s a nice change, after gruelling fights and underground exploration, to return to the Crimson Keep where our ratty subjects are happily going about their business. Doug Cockle’s narration, meanwhile — which sometimes sounds like Geralt reading a bedtime story — is excellent, picking up on the emotion of the story and adding to its instances of humour.
Combat and exploration make up the main gameplay loop, with Redgi fighting all manner of enemies throughout the game, from zombie frogs to huge mosquitoes. The combat feels weighty and satisfying, especially with the final execution of an enemy that’s been causing you no end of trouble. The dodging mechanic took a little getting used to, as it felt slow and unresponsive at times, and it could lead to some frustrating situations — such as being trapped in the corner during a fight, unable to block or dodge unavoidable moves. Sometimes, too, it felt as though the dodge wasn’t registered, which led to some frustrating deaths. On the other hand, like in Hollow Knight, you save at benches, and there were enough of these scattered around that I usually didn’t lose too much progress when I died. Combat becomes more varied as Redgi gains more experience and becomes more practiced at blocking, dodging, parrying, and attacking. New mechanics, such as poisoning or attacking with ranged weapons, mean that you’ve always got a new strategy to try out if you just can’t seem to beat a particular enemy. Timing is important, and you’ll often also need to take some time to learn an enemy’s movements or the reach of their attacks. The combat truly is unforgiving, and while that can sometimes be frustrating, it also makes it all the sweeter when you finally best your opponent. The same is true when you finally spot a weakness after a long and arduous fight, and figure out a winning strategy.
One big plus of the game’s combat systems is the variety of gear and items you could find or unlock, letting Redgi try out spears, swords, axes, bows, and more, while also carefully choosing what armour and helmets he wears to ensure he was best prepared for whichever situation he was about to scurry into. Each piece of armour or weapon has different stats, like defence and weight, with some having added resistance to a certain enemy type, meaning you’ll spend a fair amount of time strategising what armour to pair with which weapon. There are more than enough pieces to keep you interested in swapping around your playstyle, while still being spaced out enough to make each new piece feel like a welcome acquisition. Now, let’s talk about those bosses. They are numerous and difficult. Each has its own weapons and style of fighting, and while Tails of Iron seems to share some frustrations and rage-inducing moments with Hollow Knight, that enemy difficulty makes it all the more satisfying when you finally beat them, especially with each boss’s unique execution animation.
Tails of Iron feels pretty generous with its achievements, especially at the start, which is a nice touch considering how hard other aspects of the game are. Some of those achievements are cumulative, and unlocked naturally just as I played through the game, but some will likely take you longer — such as the achievements for collecting all weapons and armour, or for collecting all ingredients in the chef’s book.
Overall, Tails of Iron ties together a beautiful medieval world with RPG mechanics and a brutal combat system for a challenging adventure RPG you’ll be thinking about long after you put the controller down. Combat is brutally difficult, but although you’ll often be left howling at a defeat, Tails of Iron’s charming world and in-depth combat customisation will have you back before long, ready to try again. Oh, and just one more time for good measure: Damn you, Clubba!
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