I’ve been a fan of strategic tactical RPG games ever since I first played Final Fantasy Tactics on my GameBoy SP many years ago. Since then we’ve seen franchises such as Fire Emblem, XCom, The Banner Saga, Wasteland and even Mario via the creative Mario Vs Rabbids, but I still have fond memories of the simple small ‘arena battles’ we saw in Final Fantasy. A few days ago saw the console release for Wintermoor Tactics Club, a game which combines reality with fantasy as it tells an intriguing story of acceptance and survival – I had to play this!
Wintermoor Tactics Club is developed by EVC, a small indie development studio which, as we see a lot these days, is a team that consists of ex-AAA game developers who have come together to create their own independent games. From the looks of it, this is their first title as a studio and it makes a pretty good first impression, in my opinion. The publisher is Versus Evil, a team I’ve worked with a number of times in the past – they don’t really need any introduction. However, it’s interesting to note that they are the publishers behind the highly successful Banner Saga trilogy as well, a game whose ‘gameplay’ segments are very similar to what we see here.
So, with schools re-opening amid the slowdown of the pandemic (yeah, ‘slowdown’), let’s grab our pencil case, backpack, notebooks, and 20-sided dice as we head to Wintermoor Academy and see if the game brings back fond memories of the beloved Final Fantasy Tactics…
Wintermoor Tactics Club is the story of Alicia, a young student who inspires to one day become a famous fantasy author. As such, the club she chose to participate within, during her years at Wintermoor Academy, is the ‘nerdy’ Tactics Club, a group of students who spend their free time playing the popular ‘Curses & Catacombs’ desktop fantasy adventure game. Along with her fellow team-mates, Colin and Jacob, they immerse themselves within the lore of this knock-off ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ RPG as they write and reenact the fantastical battles and stories as their alternative personas, the Mage, Paladin, and the Rogue respectively.
Things were going well, the Academy had a number of different clubs for people from all walks of life, all doing their own thing independently – until one day! The principal, Principal Enfield, suddenly announced that every club within the academy is to participate within a mandatory snowball tournament, a tournament which sees that the losing team of each round is disbanded and their after-school activities are shut down immediately. He clearly has a motive behind this rather unusual act, which you find out as the story progresses, but initially, all you know is that he’s gone slightly crazy in his search for the ‘Ultimate Club’ on campus!
Thanks to the strategic and tactical minds within your club, you engage each round of the tournament as you would one of your C&C adventures, playing it out like a turn-based tactical RPG as your fantastical personas (even though in reality you’re simply engaging with the opposition with snowballs and not lightning spells). You must grow as a team, both mentally and physically, as you enrol new students into your club, unlock new skills, and enhance your powers so that you can take on and emerge the victor in your next battle. One wrong move could be the end for your club and possibly Wintermoor Academy itself…
Wintermoor Tactics Club has two gameplay mechanics, the exploration and story side of the game and the combat. Let’s take a look at the story first.
The game, after the introduction, is focused on preparing yourself for the inevitable ‘snowball fight’ against another club – this is presented as an exploration and interaction segment where you get to wander the various school buildings and talk to people. You can simply make a B-line for the main story events and progress quickly through the story by following the guidelines on what to do next, or you can take your time and talk to people, listen to their issues, and help them come up with solutions – basically, take on a bunch of side missions.
If you complete these additional missions, which are usually just talking to various people or finding a lost item, then you’ll unlock new moves and skills for your characters during battles – so it’s well worth the time to help everyone you encounter with an issue. You can also, once you reach a certain point with each character, participate within their unique challenge battles via your C&C desk in the clubhouse, these also unlock new moves as well as their ‘ultimate attack’. Again, these are all optional but worth completing and are mandatory for the trophies.
There’s a lot of students to talk to and I often forgot who was who – as some missions simply say “go talk to ‘insert name here’ and get more info”, yet I have no idea who they actually are. This isn’t too much of an issue as the map screen places little markers to let you know where your goal is, but a later mission requires you to name certain disguised students – I struggled with this as I couldn’t remember my own teammates’ names, nevermind non-playable NPCs!
What I found really fun and rather unique is that during this stage you get to write the background and situations the new team members find themselves in. In order to invite new members into the club, they have to play out a mini 3-episode game of C&C and you get to pick who the antagonist is and what the reasons are for the conflict. Your choices within this alter the individual’s story as well as who they’ll fight against, with a trophy if you always fight the same enemy!
Also, each ‘day’ the students have new things to say and the cat calendar offers a new ‘pun-of-the-day’, so the game feels alive and active, which is great.
The battles within Wintermoor Tactics Club are turn-based strategic tactical missions which are played on small arenas over the course of around 3-5 turns (on average). If you’ve played Final Fantasy Tactics or The Banner Saga then you’ll feel right at home with how this game operates. Each turn you can either move and attack or simply attack, you can’t attack then move, so you need to strategically plan out where you want to be once you’ve attacked so you don’t leave yourself open. However, unlike some games, you can undo your movement turn as many times as you want during a mission and reset the actual turn twice per-mission.
Instead of giving each character AP or some form of MP for their fantastical attacks, you have a combined ability bar which increases as you attack the enemy. Once you hit five or ten bars on the scale, you can unleash one of two more powerful attacks which will really turn the battle in your favour. Each character, of which there are seven over the course of the game, are very different, each with their own attack styles, skills, and special attacks. So, once again, it all comes down to strategically picking the right people for the fight you’re about to enter to ensure you have the abilities and attacks which hurt the enemies the most.
One thing to mention here is that even though you have up to seven people in your club, you can only take three of them into a battle with you – no more, no less. There’s no XP, no levelling up, and no additional bonus for using certain characters (unless it’s a mandatory character), so it’s all about picking the people you like and those who can actually hurt the enemies. I found myself often taking certain characters into battle only to find they couldn’t even damage the enemies due to the nature of their attacks – this resulted in often having to restart and change my line-up.
Although the characters themselves don’t technically go up in level, they do still ‘progress’ as the story goes on. Aside from the aforementioned bonus moves and abilities you gain via completing each character’s challenge missions, you also gain new ‘upgrades’ for helping out the students around the campus. You can only pick one or two of these at a time, with a bonus third one if you have two enabled at once (later on), each of which does things like increases the amount of damage of a certain attack if set criteria are met, increases your move distance, or simply boosts your defence. There’s a bunch of unique upgrades for each character, allowing you to mix-and-match based on the bonuses you want.
Each mission grades you based on players lost, damage taken, turns taken, and the number of tactics powers used. Each offering up to two awards for each if you don’t exceed the set criteria or one if you’re slightly over. The more awards you get, the higher your overall rating. Now, in order to progress the story, I was never stopped for only having a met a few points and getting a few awards, which is great as there are no progression blockers in place, but you’ll have to get at least an S on all fights if you want the platinum.
Thankfully, you can opt to replay any battle once you’ve completed them via your clubhouse table. I found that in order to get an S you need to have at least six awards on each mission, so some of them may take a while due to being quite tricky. There’s a slight puzzle element to the game as picking the right team is almost as important as how you go about completing the fight itself, so it’s great that you’re free to experiment once the game is done and you’re trying to gain the shiny platinum trophy.
Another nice feature is that you don’t need to get all eight awards at the same time. If you get four, for example, and fail on the damage taken and turns taken ones, you can replay and just focus on one or both of those, it’ll then unlock those awards and add them to the four you already have, giving you eight – I like it when games do this. It’s still quite tricky in the later levels though! Also, scrolling through the long (very long) list of past battles is quite slow and cumbersome – it doesn’t even keep your place once you’ve finished a battle and want to move on to the next one in the list (or retry the same one as there’s no ‘retry’ option).
The developers of Wintermoor Tactics Club have added in a few helpful options for those who are finding the game a little too hard or just want to play the story. First of all, you can boost all of your characters’ health bars up to 200% or even reduce them to a measly 10% if you want some extra challenge. Similarly, you can reduce the health of the enemies down to 10% or anything between 10 and 100 in 10% increments. Additionally, you can enable a ‘no-fail mode’ which means you’ll still take damage but your characters will never die, removing the threat of defeat from the game.
Personally, I’d say play the game with the default ‘100%’ options and then adjust them to suit your needs as you go, instantly putting it on very easy mode takes the enjoyment and challenge out of the game.
A strange issue
for the most part, Wintermoor Tactics Club runs great on the PS4 Pro, but there were two issues I noticed (which have been reported). First of all, in one of the later levels if you perform a certain attack on a certain enemy then press ‘end turn’, the game crashes – this should be resolved soon. If it happens to you, just load your save and do a different action if it’s not been patched yet. The second issue is a strange one though, the game gradually gets slower the more you play it!
Initially, moving from room to room, or to the School’s map, takes around 2-5 seconds as it’s only a 2D game. But, after playing for about an hour, or replaying a number of battles in succession, the game gets slower and slower at loading the new areas or battles. For me, it got to the point where just going to the map took over 60 seconds. This can be resolved by saving, closing the game fully then re-opening it and loading your save. However, this shouldn’t be happening and the devs are looking into it. It gets very annoying when it happens but at least the workaround at the moment isn’t too fiddly.
Aside from the above unusual issues, the game runs great on the PS4 Pro and looks very sharp. All of the characters within the game – both your playable ones and the NPCs – are unique and well-designed, each having their own personality presented through the dialogue. There’s no voice acting within the game, which is a shame, but the dialogue is well-written and interesting to read. The game has a deep subtle meaning hidden within the fantastical battles and daily school-life segments, it’s all about survival and dealing with issues within school whilst being inclusive and accepting of others no matter what their background is.
Despite having no voices, the game does have some really cool music which I’ve actually got on whilst writing this review. You can buy the soundtrack separately on various platforms (including PSN – although it’s listed as a ‘game’ and not an actual soundtrack, for some reason), or you can buy the deluxe edition of the game which includes the soundtrack. I’ll probably pick it up shortly as I thought the tunes were quite catchy and fit the atmosphere perfectly.
In terms of trophies – the game is very easy, especially if you fiddle with the difficulty sliders. There are a few missable trophies which will require a second playthrough if you miss them (as I found out), but you can get them all in a single playthrough if you read up on them first. As I said earlier though, to get the most out of the game, leave the difficulty at the default and simply adjust it if you’re struggling or for a final clean-up at the end.
As a fan of Final Fantasy Tactics, I really enjoyed the mechanics and story within Wintermoor Tactics Club. The short combat missions were great as they didn’t last too long yet they let you experiment with multiple character load-outs and various unlockable skills which you get as you progress in the story, keeping every new battle varied and exciting. The story which holds the game together was well-written and intriguing, keeping me hooked until the end as I really wanted to find out what was ‘really’ happening at the Academy. It’s a shame there’s no voice acting but the music created the perfect atmosphere and fans of tactical strategic games will really enjoy the mechanics during the battles.
If you love games such as The Banner Saga, Braveland, Spaceland, or even the Xcom series, check out Wintermoor Tactics Club today on all platforms. Not only is it lots of fun, but it’s also full of cat puns…
Wintermoor Tactics Club£15.99
- - Interesting story which combines both fantasy with the real world
- - Fun combat with lots of unlockable abilities and upgrades
- - The soundtrack fits the atmosphere perfectly
- - Options to adjust the gameplay to suit your skill level
- - Cat puns
- - There is a strange slow down issue (which should hopefully get fixed soon)
- - No voice acting (not really a negative but I would have loved some voices)
- - May be a little too easy for veterans in the genre, even with the difficulty sliders
- - Not meowly enough pawsome cat puns