Editor’s note: Huge, gigantic, hat-tip to both @TalenLee and @JebWrench on Twitter for pointing me to this game. @JebWrench’s review of the game can be found here and I echo many of his own comments below.
Ever wanted to roleplay as a television producer before?
No? Well let me put it this way?
Every wanted to rolepay as something other than a traditional heroic archetype in a fantasy/sci-fi setting?
Probably got a few more hands up on that question.
Chroma Squad by Behold Studios is a super-fun game that I have fallen head over heels in love with. It’s another retro-styled title with intentionally drawn 8-bit graphics that use sprites as characters. In the game, you’re a TV producer making a fledgling sentai kids TV show. You act as the guiding hand of a group of stunt people who have quit their old show to make ther own, working out things like actor choices (classes), script decisions (plot progression), prop usage (gear), and audience acceptance (exp).
The parenthesis used in the last sentence are very deliberate too, because while the game is about you being a TV producer, it’s also steeped in the tropes of traditional RPG’s. It has classes, and exp, and gear, and you go and fight monsters (stunt people), and save the world (earn high ratings). The split comes completely in the writing and it’s this clever turn of the genre that makes playing it so much fun.
Traditional RPG combat occurs when you start “filming” your latest episode. The tactical elements of the game make it feel much more like a table-top miniatures game than nearly any other traditional video game RPG I’ve played, but the rules stay simple enough that it flows very quickly. The addition of a “Teamwork” mechanic that allows your party members to assist with party movement or fighting specific monsters (stunt-people in rubber suits), makes picking who you fight just as important as what you fight with.
To keep the combat from becoming stale and samey, combat objectives (orders from the director) require that you perform certain actions during the combat in order to improve your ratings and increase your audience. These can be actions like making sure a team member hits a boss every turn of the combat, or using double and triple attacks a certain number of times in a fight with the Teamwork mechanic.
It also subtly and sneakily answers the question of why these shows always start with the heroes out of costume fighting villains and then transforming into their super forms before eventually calling in the giant robots to finish the job. (Yes, this game has giant robot fights in it, why aren’t you playing it yet?) Every time the actors morph (to borrow a phrase from the genre) into their super forms their HP gets reset to max. This means that by using their weaker forms longer, fighting time gets stretched out. And knowing when to transform can turn the tide of a fight back to your favor, a dramatic turn around that also happens to explain why the heroes don’t just smush everything with their giant robots in the first moments of the fight.
The second half of the game occurs on a single management screen in between the filming of each episode. This is where you get to check on the actors, engage with fans via email, manage your budget, buy and craft props, and eventually manage your marketing. The goal is to maximize your fans and produce a long running TV series while not blowing your budget and paying your actors and studio.
Crafting is shockingly fun. There’s just something about making a cardboard prop helmet and seriously equipping it as a piece of gear that makes me happy. Crafting components include things like play dough, duct tape, and glue, and the props made get equipped as gear for your actors to use during the episodes. While you can buy gear instead of crafting it, the process of buying versus crafting and how they interact with each other, present some very interesting choices.
Buying gear gets you an item with a stock bonus to one or sometimes two stats. For example, you can buy a padded suit with a 10 point hp bonus. Crafting a similar piece of gear might get you a padded suit with a 5 or 8 point hp bonus and a small random bonus to one other stat, like a 5% dodge bonus. This presents us a real choice in terms of how we gear our actors. None of the crafted gear is so great that it necessarily outshines the gear you buy. And while crafted items don’t cost any money, drops for materials may not be prevalent enough for you to craft the piece you need/want. So buying doesn’t feel like a waste, because the cost for crafting is comparable and no items are so much better than each other that you feel like you’re missing out if you go the buy versus make route.
This makes choosing how to optimize your gear a choice about play style and game circumstances. A side effect of this is that it improves replay-ability as you’ll never get the same drops twice and those decisions will need to change as your playthrough does.
The fact that the graphics are so poor and yet the game is so much fun, just proves the point I’ve made all along. Graphics don’t matter provided you have a good premise and solid execution. A point that flies in the face of years of arguing from Triple-A developers that graphics are the end all be all measuring stick of a game’s quality. And as a friend pointed out, speaks to the amazing disappointment of the Triple A industry and how they fail to serve the markets that this game so readily fills.
The game is steeped in sentai tropes and that only enhances it’s charm for me. I was a bit too old by the time the Power Rangers became a full on mega hit, but since there’s a direct line from them to Voltron (where is my Voltron tactical RPG, Triple A studios????), and the rest of Japanese Sentai, it’s very easy for me to slip into the game and just enjoy what they’re trying to do. And while the Sentai genre has it’s own share of bad tropes, the game developers haven’t shied away from pushing back against the worst of them, attacking the damsel in distress story line head on in an early “episode” of the series. Also allowing me to make up my own cast choices, I can cast an all women team or all minority team or anything else I want.
It’s rare when a game comes along and I drop EVERYTHING else to play it exclusively, and I try to pay attention to what attracts me to the game when it does happen. Chroma Squad hits all the right buttons for me. From a compelling and challenging combat experience to a clear cut and well defined management piece, to writing that respects and has fun with it’s roots while taking on the worst traits of it. Story elements are laced throughout both the combat and management phases of the game and the writing makes such clever use of the genre, that it’s worth a play just to take it all in.
At 15 bucks, if you’re a fan of RPG’s or Sentai, you owe it to yourself to grab it. It’s on Steam and it’s small footprint means it should be playable on nearly any system. It’s also nice to engage in a simulated combat experience that’s more about looking good than maximizing damage. With Chroma Squad, I don’t have to save the world, I just have to look good while I fake it.