One of my favourite things about the impossibly busy world of indie gaming is that if you look hard enough, there’s a variant of just about any genre crossover that simplifies each half down to a few key components. That’s what you get with the beautifully named The Wind And The Wilting Blossom – a Banner Saga-lite crossed with an FTL-lite roguelite and this isn’t helpful.
It’s essentially a tactical RPG, in the sense that you explore over-world maps facing random events, visiting shops, and have turn-based hex-set battles with your team of heroes. But all the time you’re being pursued across this alternative-history Heian period Japan by an encroaching evil force, and should it catch up with you it’s a total game over.
However, these aren’t quite Fire Emblem-level battles. In fact, if anything my main complaint here is that things are too simplified on the battlefield, with the limited abilities regarding upgrading party members, varying attack types and especially the lack of buffs and spells. Yet on the other hand I’m brutally aware how gut-wrenching it already is to lose, and lose what I’ve built up from the restricted offerings there are. And most importantly, I’m compelled to try again.
Also rather importantly, this is a really beautifully delivered game. The art isn’t exactly breathtaking, but its use of Ukiyo-e designs is fabulous, and works extremely well. The writing is strong too, its tiny missives doing a great job of weaving atmosphere as I explore the lands, choosing paths across each map. Such routes must cross the key “Story” points, but also let me roam freely with the knowledge I must reach an exit before the purple evil clouds the whole area. Strong writing like this:
“Desperate for refuge from the repellent creatures and dishonorable brigands roaming the land, the party crosses through the four torii gates to enter the ancient grounds of Izumo-taisha. Walking through the groves of cedar trees, Ōya Tarō Mitsukuni feels a sense of tranquility that he thought lost. Mitsukani’s shoulders relax for the first time in… he cannot remember how long.”
is followed up by choices that direct your encounters, loot and such like:
“As the party rests, Mitsukuni takes a stroll in the quiet grounds, passing small statues of white hares secreted away in gardens and behind trees. There is a priest here, offering small talismans, and in the Sogano-yashiro, a smaller but still carefully maintained shrine, Mitsukuni spots a man with wild hair and energetic slate-colored eyes. Mitsukuni also considers returning to the Hassoku gateto pay respects…
1. Mitsukuni speaks the with the priest.
2. Mitsukuni approaches the wild-haired man.
3. Mitsukuni returns to the Hassoku gate.”
It’s just a lot more interesting to read than the standard, “Blarg The Elder bites the head off a rabbit and decides to…”
It turns out that my first attempt was one heck of a lucky run, as subsequent goes haven’t gone nearly as smoothly. First time I died because I didn’t get the Story mission on a map and the purple cloud that pursues consumed me – user error. But since it’s been tougher encounters, single bad tactical choices in a battle, or runs of misfortune. Which is exactly what you want from a roguelite.
There’s definitely an issue with how much you have to play with the earliest set before more unlocks, however. The game had some time in Early Access, so I’m surprised it’s not more friendly at the start. But there’s a learning curve, and I was soon getting better to grips with how to succeed. It’s still early days for me, but I’m really enjoying the process, despite the significant simplicity of the battles.
Add in some lovely music, and I’m having a great time. I love these simplified versions of larger genre, and while I certainly do wish for more complexity in the battles, I’m still hooked on having yet another turn after each failure.