Anyone who has played a tactical strategy game will tell you that losing squad members is an occurrence that sometimes you cannot avoid. One of the first screens that you’ll encounter after you’re welcomed by hauntingly beautiful melancholic metal. A menu screen oozing style out of every pore, and a tutorial that shows off the fluidity of the combo system. Lets you know that the game revolves around sacrifice and tough choices what Othercide doesn’t tell you upfront is just how deep the idea of sacrifice runs.
When you are trying to protect the world from an encroaching force from the void, intent on hatching its way through the fabric of our world to reap destruction, not everyone is going to make it. The standard boilerplate warning informs you to not get too attached to your Daughters lest they meet their maker. The developers over at Lightbulb crew have taken this concept and evolved it into more than just a warning screen. Sacrifice runs intrinsic to the gameplay, not only as a notion of “your characters might die” but at times you will willingly ask a Daughter to give her life for another who you have deemed more valuable. Sacrifice isn’t just a consideration while on the battlefield, it’s a core mechanic as to how you heal… It is, in fact, the only way that you can heal.
As you progress through synapses (the game’s term for missions), your Daughters will inevitably take damage either from the enemies or the skills you can choose to use in combat, reaction skills and interrupts cost a % of health to activate. Slowly over time, your health pools might start dwindling due to reckless use of these abilities, or being on the wrong end of a reapers claws, and you may find yourself needing to revitalise your Daughters. This can only be done through the sacrifice of a Daughter that is equal or higher level, leading to some awkward choices for several reasons. As you progress through synapses Daughters you use will gain traits, making them that cut above the rest, or in the case of Miracle the Blademaster, a walking death machine.
Traits can be pure buffs such as ‘Hawkeye’ or ‘Veteran’ or a trade-off like ‘Ethereal Flame’ and can make the decision of who to keep and who to sacrifice that little bit harder than just a straight choice. You only have 1 Blademaster available she needs some healing but your only other level 10 is your powerful Shieldbearer? That’s a tough choice to make. Add multiple skill choices while levelling and single-use ‘Memories’ you can equip on top, and you can end up with characters that while from the same class, are designed to fit very different roles that you may not be willing to part with.
One slight benefit to sacrificing a Daughter is that the recipient will gain a ‘piece of their soul’ as a trait, based on the class you’re sacrificing. The higher the level, the more potent the trait. Do not weep for the fallen however, not only because their sacrifice helps strengthen another, but also because for the chosen few, it’s not permanent. On your crusade to save the world from encroaching horrors, you may infrequently find ‘Ressurection Tokens’. These tokens can be used to bring a Daughter back from the grave, allowing you to keep a few key Daughters with you if they meet an unlucky fate or become a necessary sacrifice. In my case Miracle stayed with me for most of my journey due to her mobility. If you find yourself in possession of a resurrection token, you’ll be able to find your fallen Daughters within your ‘Inner Void’.
The Inner Void could be considered your base, your respite from the nightmares that haunt the battlefields you will frequently walk. Housed within you’ll find a codex containing lore and information on characters, memories and, events you’ll encounter, as well as allowing you to manage your Daughters. If you need more units you can ‘Germinate Daughter’ which costs ‘Vitae’ as well as equipping their skills with Memories, drops that you’ll find through your missions that can modify the skill. More damage, additional hits, buffing/debuffing units are just a few options you’ll have to make your Daughters even more deadly. You’ll find yourself spending a lot of time in your Inner Void, and regrettably, it feels like more time than you should have to in no small part thanks to the UI and how much it lets you “manage”.
Your Daughters cannot be re-arranged and maintain a different order in different sections of the UI. Your Memories cannot be re-arranged either, and there is no way to dispose of Memories you aren’t going to use other than burning them by equipping and this costs Vitae. Hovering over an equipped Memory will give you no information about it, if you are in the deploy screen this means you have to back out to the overview screen, then Inner Void, the Daughter in question, and then the individual skill in question. Oh, and you can only view one skill at a time.
The UI issues keep rearing their head not just in the management areas of the Inner Void. Issues with the movement grid not appearing at times added to frustration as did some debuffs not telling you their duration (Rooted I’m looking at you). These issues could all be cleaned up over time as none are truly game-breaking but in a game with auto-saves and big stakes deaths, spreading that fluidity and smoothness that is everywhere else in the game to corners of the UI would lift the game even higher. Like butter on toast, don’t just dump it in the middle, spread it out to make everything better and buttery smooth and oh is the combat buttery smooth.
UI issues aside, every aspect of the battlefield has a beauty and grace to it that feels so enjoyable. Reaction combos can set up some genuinely devastating sequences, preventing enemies from getting off an attack, locking them down with chaining attacks and keeping them exactly where you want them. You feel smart when you create a team of Daughters who complement each other skill-wise. Squads can be built around many themes; boosting each other, damage reactions, or just having high movement skills, so no one gets left behind to name but a few. All of these feel satisfying and allows a myriad of different approaches to how you accomplish Synapses and collect those much-needed Memories, Vitae and Shards.
Memories we’ve already discussed, slot them in and upgrades away. Vitae is the vital resource required to equip Memories and to spawn new Daughters to replace those who inevitably fall in battle. Both of these currencies are per run, once a run ends your pool of Memories and Vitae are gone, the only currency that carries over are your Shards. Shards are a consistent currency that you continue to add to by completing Synapses, spending them on ‘Remembrances’; powerful boosts that affect the whole run. Remembrances can be as simple as starting a run with a few Memories or a Resurrect Token, all the way up to allowing you to spawn Daughters at a higher level or skipping Eras of the game. Each Era consists of 7 days and culminates in fighting the boss of that Era, so once you’ve levelled up a couple of times those remembrances can help cut down on that monotony of starting another run.
Overall that’s what’s important. Even with the UI issues that can cause menu backtracking or slight confusion as to the exact nature of a few things, they never truly feel game-breaking. The core loop is fun, the skills feel enjoyable to execute. Combo loops make you feel smart and are satisfying to see playout like a Rube Goldberg machine once the marble starts rolling. Everything is also pushed that notch higher by the simply gorgeous art style and music choices, the standout tracks being the menu music; Soulswap, and boss music; Sacrifice. While it doesn’t quite reach that perfect status, it succeeds at so many other aspects that if you’re a fan of tactical games, Othercide will satisfy that itch.