Reviewed by Abram Buehner
- Developer: Hexage
- Publisher: Hexage
- Release Date: 26/09/2019
- Price: $5.99 / £4.99
- Review code provided by Hexage
Sometimes, I turn on my Switch and look for a game that will engage me intellectually, whether that takes the form of mechanical challenge or dynamic storytelling. Other times, I turn on my Switch and look for a game that’ll just let me beat a bunch of stuff up. Reaper: Tale of a Pale Swordsman from Hexage unequivocally fits into the latter category. This mobile-turned-console action-RPG seeks to provide bite-sized, stylized hack-and-slash fun. While it largely fulfills that charge, systemic repetition prevents the experience from being all that it could be.
As soon as I booted up Reaper, its bold aesthetic was immediately apparent. Visually, the game’s world is blanketed in a clean, minimalist style which established an almost tranquil atmosphere. Reaper utilizes a rather soft, saturated color palette and a near-chibi design for its characters to further its laid back nature. While the game is an undeniable visual success in a vacuum, this airy vibe is diametrically opposed to Reaper’s gameplay which is the antithesis of relaxed–yet I never found the stylistic inconsistency jarring. To the contrary, the fact that Reaper’s violent gameplay is set within the context of such a pleasantly vibrant world oddly enhanced my attachment to the project. There is simply an omnipresent curiosity and visual identity inherent to slicing through droves of cutesy enemies that feel wildly out of place for the gameplay systems which the player engages with.
In many regards, Reaper has the trappings of an dungeon-crawler and the sensibilities of a Musou. The game unfolds in two distinct phases: its overworld exploration and arena-like combat instances. The former involves choosing dialog responses to quests which strike at Reaper’s surprisingly robust lore and worldbuilding. I found myself continually surprised by the quality of writing and depth of background information present in Reaper. While it wasn’t always memorable, it remained engaging as I explored the land. Based on your interactions with the myriad characters and factions on the overworld, your titular Pale Swordsman will traverse to different locations, confronting any foes which block his path. Should such trouble arise, Reaper’s core gameplay is put on display.
Slicing it up
Similar to dungeon crawlers such as Diablo, Reaper’s combat revolves around utilizing set abilities to demolish waves of oncoming enemies, looting their bodies, and upgrading your character’s loadout. While the inputs and combos are never mechanically challenging, the strategy is derived from balancing the game’s skull system. Allowing the Pale Swordsman to auto-attack enemies builds up skulls, which can be used to augment the power of his special attacks, which range from ground-based slams, to arial spins. Considering that each enemy type takes extra damage from a particular skull-enhanced special, balancing this system is integral to success in combat.
This success translates into Reaper’s equipment and stat-based metagame. Dead enemies drop both gold which can be used to purchase new gear as well as experience, which will level up your Pale Swordsman and allow him to gain boosts to his abilities. Both aspects, the gold and the experience, feed into the heavily Diablo-inspired, incremental, statistical progression which further empowers the player. In turn, this makes Reaper’s Musou elements more apparent, as the strengthened Pale Swordsman will find himself facing off against, and tearing through, droves of enemies with relative ease as more upgrades are added.
The simple, tactile mechanics of Reaper in conjunction with its progression systems create a rather enjoyable yet mindless combat experience. The more you play, the deeper you’ll fall into a sort of zen state in which, like Musuo titles, you play out a digital power fantasy as you rip through the opposition, downing droves of enemies at once instead of engaging thoughtfully with the opponent one on one. That said, the game does push back against the player enough for the gameplay to never become mindless, however finding a solid strategy and sticking with it is far more effective than experimentation, which may be a detriment to some. That said, falling into the rhythm of combat is, to a degree, ethereal and very well suited for short bursts of gameplay.
That latter point is incredibly important, though, because Reaper shares some of the Musou genre’s uglier points as well. Longer play sessions reveal the inherent repetition in Reaper’s gameplay loop. Quests begin to blur together along with their respective quest givers and locales. Strings of battles begin to feel tedious as the same enemy archetypes challenge the player in derivative and reskinned battlegrounds. Sonically, the game is just as repetitive over time, as the game’s few music tracks become agitating over time–even if they sound fundamentally solid on the first or second listen. Reaper simply lacks the depth of content to subvert the player’s expectations or roundly engage the player during extended playtime.
Bearing that repetition in mind, there is still a fair amount to enjoy here with Reaper: Tale of a Pale Swordsman. Especially in shorter bursts, the game is a mechanically solid and visually engaging action-RPG with surprisingly deep lore. The issue, though, is that the game’s lack of depth leaves it feeling rather middle of the road in the context of the Switch’s robust library. There are other games of this ilk on the system which are more engaging and feature a larger suite of options. That said, at its low price point, considering what the game does right–and it does quite a bit right–Reaper is at least worth a look. The game succeeds in the context of a short commute or during a bit of downtime, but in the context of protracted gameplay sessions? Probably not.
- Minimalist art style
- Interesting lore
- Great for short bursts of play
- Repetitive combat
- Tiring in longer play sessions
Reaper: Tale of a Pale Swordsman is not a game that succeeds fully in the context of long play sessions. Its repetitive combat outstays its welcome after a few bouts, but while the gameplay satisfaction lasts, Reaper is a worthwhile action-RPG. Played in short bursts, there is much to enjoy as the Pale Swordsman fights his way across his aesthetically minimalstic land.