STAFF REVIEW of Revenant Dogma (Xbox One)

Friday, October 5, 2018.
by Royce Dean

Revenant Dogma Box art I suppose you could say that video games are pretty important to me. After all, they have been part of my life longer than the amount of time that this years college graduates have been alive. Various toys have appealed to my ever evolving brain's senses over the years. Like most newborns, I enjoyed pleasant shapes, happy colors and anything I could put in my mouth. That poor chubby orange cat didn’t stand a chance. As I got older I transitioned into Hot Wheels and Tonka trucks... anything that could get me rolling in the dirt and my mother rolling her eyes as she loaded the washing machine for the 15th time that day. When I hit grade school I was all about Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. You know, the kind of thing that if you played make believe hard enough you’d end up punching Jeremy in the face by accident and walking to the principal's office to explain yourself. This was also the age where card and board games started to appeal to both me, and my parents wallet. I needed that 1st Edition Charizard after all. When I hit high school the toys “proper” started to fade out, but I'd still pick up missing figures for my Beast Wars Transformers collection here and there, or grab a particularly neat looking LEGO set if I was feeling saucy.

But, as I look back at all those years, one staple was always there during all these phases, and that was video games... save the era when I was pooping myself and chewing cats. One might think that it’s a perfect life for someone such as myself to end up writing cleverly structured reviews about the things that I hold closest to my heart. You’d be mostly correct. Unfortunately, when writing said reviews you don’t always end up with a winner. The truth is that not all games are good. So, when I get playing a game that isn’t great, it hurts my heart that way a thousand double bacon cheeseburgers never could. Sometimes you get Monster Hunter World... and sometimes you get Revenant Dogma.

Revenant Dogma is as simply defined as a JRPG. JRPGs are an enormously popular genre all across the world, but nowhere more so than the country that the “J” in JRPG comes from; Japan. JRPGs are a much different creature than their western counterparts, not only in the way they look, but typically in how they play too. JRPGs, with an almost 100% totality, sport the anime look, whereas western RPGs are mostly dark with a protagonist that has a scar on his face or something. Many people like both, but many more usually subscribe to one over the other. Looks aside, that's mostly because the two “types” of RPG play wildly different from one another. Western RPGs are much more action oriented, whereas JRPGs tend to lean more heavily into slower, methodical, turn-based strategy. Revenant Dogma is certainly of the latter variety, but its so plain, generic, uninspired and boring that even a diehard JRPG devotee would probably favor this months Red Dead Redemption 2 over spending even a minute playing this game.

First impressions for Revenant Dogma are... not good. The game opens up with basic artwork and some story telling, all of which combine to serve as your first warning. The opening to the story feels stiff and uninteresting. It gives some detail, but falls into the trap of making everything sound 'world-endingly-grand' without also handing you something smaller to hold onto and get started with. Imagine hearing a story about a world changing war, gods and holy warriors without knowing where exactly you fall into the whole thing... that’s Revenant Dogma. As you continue, and by that I mean actually get into the game, things don't improve. The game, at least while you adventure, is played in a top down vantage point like many classic JRPG’s of yore; like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. Only these classic RPG’s look as good, or maybe even better than this 2018 game. The controls are serviceable and responsive, but the walk cycle doesn’t line up with how quickly you move leading to a “sliding” effect.

All of this might be forgivable if the combat was something more than everything else, but unfortunately it's not. The combat itself isn’t necessarily terrible, but its largely generic. Your party and the enemy party take turns attacking one another in accordance with stat values that determine who gets to go in what order. There are some stand out elements to the combat, but even those mechanics have been done a thousand times over by higher quality games. For some reason your party, and your enemies party, stand in different formations which is a strange decision at best. Yours stands in a standard line, four members across, as you can imagine from literally any other JRPG you’ve played since the early 90’s. But, your enemies party stands in a boxed formation. What this means is you can only attack certain enemies with certain attacks at certain times.

To give you an example, party members with melee weapons can only attack the front two baddies until those enemies die, making way for you to attack the back baddies. There are some abilities that let you attack multiple baddies at once, or just ones in the back or just ones in the front. This is where the vast majority of Revenant Dogmas strategy comes into play. Why this comes off as a strange decision is that it's unequal on both sides. Why not have both sides line up as usual? Why not have the heroes party take a box formation? Instead, what you can do is move your heroes between standing in the front and back “rows”. What this serves to do is alter how much damage you both deal and take. But, unlike the box formation of your enemies team, you can’t move another hero in front of a character that has moved into the back. No matter what you do, you’re stuck to the line.

When you enter combat, the true horror of Revenant Dogma awaits you. The game shifts to a 3D style with character models ripped straight out of the N64 era. Granted, we have HD now which makes them look both better and worse at them same time because you can actually count the polygons on these bad boys. The animations of the characters are little better, but they are stiff and rigid with many attacks leaning into that floor sliding I was talking about earlier. What really seals the deal on these models though is the texture work which, at a glance seems like the highest quality element to these characters.

For the most part it is, but due to the lack of physical detail on many anime style character models, developers instead have to use rotating textures to convey emotion on what is otherwise a flat surface where the mouth is. This texturing fails to sell that. It is clear and awkward when characters change emotion in the same way a poorly cut film changes scenes. It’s jarring, doesn't look quite right and draws attention to itself with its lack of smoothness.

This is also true of the character artwork used when your party is conversing in the overworld. A common thing to find in JRPGs is the use of static character artwork that appears during conversations to indicate who is talking. Most of the time this artwork will be done in a way that helps them convey different emotions like happiness, anger, embarrassment or anything else they might feel when talking to another. Usually this means a few different poses like a forward lean or being physically taken aback. In Revenant Dogma each character gets one pose with an altered face that looks more sad or angry. This comes off as lazy. For some characters, specifically the beastial Fleon, this approach doesn't work and leads to his snouted mouth being bent and angled unnaturally.

What’s funny is that the music comes off as the best part of this game for the same reason I’d normally deduct points; I can't remember it well. It doesn't stand out as being amazing, but it also wasn't awful to the point I needed to bring it up. While it does loop too quickly sometimes, it's pretty good overall.

With a JRPG comes JRPG mechanics. Again, nothing special to report here but the usual fair. As you play the game you’ll happen across treasure chests that, when opened, don’t even look like they’ve been opened. Instead they simply disappear. A reason for this is given in game, but feels more like a sprinkled in excuse not to have an opened chest sprite which would take all of 20 minutes or less to make.

The common theme with Revenant Dogma is that it feels like they are taking shortcuts. The items you find fall into the usual categories; weapons, armour, medicine, accessories and quest items, along with a few others. These can be found in your menu screen where you’ll equip and heal your heroes using these found items. The menu has a total of ten different sub-menus to open, but it doesn’t need them. A few of the menu options take you to very similar places and could have been trimmed to reduce clutter. Both the items and equipment sub-menus can be used to equip your character, so why not just ditch the equipment menu? There is a customization sub-menu wherein you can augment weapons that you use in combat which, if i’m being honest shouldn't be there either.

The world of Revenant Dogma feels empty and a little sleepy. Having a vendor or an additional place you need to visit in cities helps to fill this vacant world with purpose. Instead you have inns and shops. At least there are inns and shops.

I like to think i’m okay at writing, but i’m no Lovecraft. To be fair, most people aren’t Lovecraft. I’ve never tried my hand at fantasy writing, and maybe I should, but I don’t know what all goes into it. I don’t know the ins and outs, the planning involved or the background work that gets laid out to make sure the final result comes off as both consistent and intriguing. But, what I can do is tell when writing is bad. That's something I think we’ve all been able to do since around fifth grade. The story and characters in Revenant Dogma fall flat and commit themselves to every trope in both fantasy and anime. From the get-go, the subtitle’s meaning becomes apparent. There is no subtlety.

Characters talk to one another not like they are talking to one another, instead they speak as though they are practicing talking to other people in a mirror using every line they can to make themselves sound cooler, edgier or funnier. At one point there was on-screen text for a sound effect instead of an actual sound effect. The characters themselves seem to make decisions that actual people, at least decent and actual people, wouldn't make. And of course there’s the obligatory mysterious busty girl in a mask that can’t speak for some reason whom has bound her soul to the protagonist to protect him and do his every bidding. Did I mention that the protagonist and his sister are orphans? All we need is a character with amnesia and we have the anime holy trinity.

I gave Revenant Dogma an honest to goodness shot, and a good portion of my time, but it just isn’t worth it. I get no pleasure from scathing reviews, but similarly I know that very few will get any pleasure from playing this game. Revenant Dogma feels like it was put together with RPG maker software by somebody with a genuine interest in the genre, but has no talent for detail or nuance. I appreciate anyone who has the kind of passion for games that I do, and even greater respect for those that put themselves out there and bringing a product of their passion to the market because they love the medium. Unfortunately passion and talent don’t always line up, and this is one of those cases.

If the developers of this game are reading this then I urge them to understand I mean no malice, but instead encourage them to take another stab at a JRPG. But for now, Revenant Dogma is good for no one and I just can’t give it a pass. If you’re in the market for a JRPG to sate your hunger, then you should keep looking for a little while longer.

Overall: 5.0 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 4.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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