I love the Mercenaries series. I’m under no illusions about them being great games, but I love their no-frills approach to GBA-era tactics JRPG action. We’ll probably never get another Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy Tactics, so this’ll have to do us. With Mercenaries Rebirth: Call of the Wild Lynx, we’re up to the fifth game in the series, and they remain an incredibly comfortable, nostalgic experience. Each title hearkens back to that golden era of the tactics JRPG genre, and while you’ll barely remember each one once you’re done with it, genre fans will have a good time with them each time while they last. Rebirth is no different there.
You will have heard the plot of Mercenaries Rebirth before: there’s a princess who is being hunted by her mother-in-law, who in turn is obsessed with making her son king of the realm. To do so, the pesky princess needs to be dealt with. Fortunately for that princess, she bumps into a gruff mercenary with a heart of gold and so, after enlisting his protection, she dons a miniskirt, cuts her hair (which apparently makes her look different but to be frank it just makes her become so pretty), and picks up a sword so she can embark on a glorious new career as a mercenary heroine.
Rebirth comes from mobile specialist, Rideon, and like its predecessors, it tells a limited story with some clumsy (if not downright childish) text at times. Despite that, I fond myself becoming quite fond of the experience, quite quickly. The art is really beautiful, for a start, which helps to set the scene, and given how uncomplicated the combat system is, the narrative being so simple gives Rebrith a quaint and twee quality, which in this instance I mean in the positive sense of the term.
There’s very little to do other than fight one battle after another, with the story battles being bookended by short narrative sequences, and as you play on you’ll unlock a host of additional battles to train in. These additional battles are really just there for experience grinding, and you’ll need to do a lot of that, because the balance is very broken in Rebirth. With most story missions, there will be a “recommended” level listed, but you’ll want to be a level or two higher than that, and coming off the previous story quest, you’ll usually be a level or so behind. I generally needed to play those extra battles 2-3 times each just to keep the party levelling along at a good clip.
I didn’t really mind, though, as I wasn’t that invested in the narrative, and I was playing Rebirth for the same reason that you’ll play any game in this series – it’s a no-frills and clean tactics RPG. It’s the kind of thing you might expect someone to come up with if a “Tactics RPG Maker” existed like the RPG Maker series does. Again, this isn’t intended as a backhanded comment, as I genuinely enjoyed this, it’s just that I enjoyed it because I enjoy tactics JRPGs and this one is so 101 about it that it’s impossible for me to not enjoy it.
It’s a visually attractive game, thanks to the quality of the character portraits (generic though they are, they are nice to look at), and the sprite work in-game is of a high standard. Battle maps are nice and large, and though that AI is almost absurdly stupid (enemies will almost always wait for you to come into range, and are very unfocused in how they direct their attacks, rather than attacking in patterns or based on timers), there’s a nice level of challenge there. Especially if your group is under-levelled. Each character has their own utility on the map, and I did like the way these abilities were spread out. For example, a frontline fighter is one of the key healers at the early part of the game, forcing you to sometimes trade off between character preservation and damage output.
Unfortunately, there aren’t that many different abilities per character, and a simple experience point system determines how those skills level up. The equipment system is also very under-baked, and coupled with the under-cooked skills trees, Mercenaries Rebirth does struggle to keep the player’s energy to invest into it. I also went back and looked at my review of the previous one, and I must say that where that game had a noble idea behind its narrative, as much as the writing quality let it down, this one doesn’t try to any of the same extent. There are the predictable twists, and I did like how the mother whose crusade kicks all of this off was less “evil step mom,” from early-era Disney as she was an actual motherly character, but the writers weren’t trying to be poignant here.
After so many great and forward-thinking RPGs and JRPGs in the past few months, it has been genuinely nice to play something that gets back to the basics, as Mercenaries Rebirth does. Don’t go in expecting a great game, because it isn’t that, and if it’s like the previous four, you’re going to largely forget about it altogether by the time the hypothetical Mercenaries VI rolls around in a year. But I do firmly believe there’s a place for these kinds of games, as they’re a low pressure, undemanding and brightly entertaining celebration of a genre that we all love.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb