I find few things as satisfying as a good strategy game. Figuring out how to best use the map, making clever use of special skills and abilities, and surviving the odds to complete a difficult mission can feel endlessly rewarding. I was excited to dive into Exorder, since it featured a great color palette and a female protagonist. Unfortunately, Exorder turned out to be aggressively mediocre.
It starts with the voice acting. Exorder has a great, charming style and bright colors, which makes it feel very approachable, and Prince Tristan has a hilarious little booty in the opening cutscene. Unfortunately, the voice acting undoes a lot of the charm. Princess Beyla has almost no personality to her voice, outside of what I assume is supposed to be quiet resolve. While I understand that fits the character well, she never seems to evolve past that one element, leaving her flat and rather boring. Even when things are most dire, when she is betrayed, and when all seems lost, she continues on, narrating the story between fights, in her near-monotone drawl. I really wish they’d found a way to liven her up and put a little more of a human edge. She feels very generic, to the point where she even drops a Spider-Man line, “With great power comes great responsibility,” during battles.
The controls for Exorder are simple and easy to grasp, almost to a fault. Characters have two skills at most, meaning you’re not going to be overly creative in your use of different classes. Battles open with one or more goals, which can include ensuring that certain characters survive the battle, lasting a certain number of rounds, killing a particular enemy, or reaching the indicated point on the map. There is a story woven around these battles, one which tells of determination, betrayal, alliances and misunderstanding, but it was not especially compelling, and since it is all told through Princess Beyla’s monologues, I will confess that I generally turned it out.
It’s worth noting that Exorder’s battles play out more like puzzle solving than they do actual strategy battles. Tactics are important, especially as enemies will often spawn behind you if you move beyond a certain point in the field, but it generally feels like the game is intent on making you learn the trick to the level and then starting said level over, rather than encouraging you to think strategically and recover from a bad situation. If you get behind or lose too many characters, you really are better off resetting your game and preparing your forces for the upcoming trick, rather than soldering on to fight your way to victory against all odds.
This game is not going to hold your hand; Exorder starts out pretty difficult and stays that way throughout the gameplay. You generally start out each level far outnumbered and will have to collect gold, by capturing houses, in order to recruit more soldiers or mercenaries. It took me several playthroughs of the first level to even figure out how to recruit more characters (which is accomplished by clicking on a castle for soldiers or a tavern for mercenaries, while no one is standing on the door/portal), as this was not explained in-game beyond the phrase “Use the castle to recruit soldiers.”
The character designs are bright and cartoonish, and really quite appealing. I had a blast uncovering new monsters to battle or hire, and this variety of creatures kept me interested, even if the maps were all visually pretty similar. One complaint I had was that hired monster mercenaries look the same, regardless of if they were on your side or the enemy’s. I often forgot which creature was under my control, and wasted many a turn, only realizing that I had an extra character which I’d neglected to use after an enemy had killed it. The soundtrack is great, it fits the mood of battle, and adds to the high fantasy setting.
You’re going to have to remember a lot of things while playing this game, not just which mercenaries are yours, but which characters you have already used on any given turn. While characters move and attack immediately, you only receive an indication that a character has taken their turn if they have taken an action; given that there is no option to defend, and that you’re often trekking across long distances, this can get confusing. Once a character has taken an action, their sprite is grayed out, but if they have simply reached the edge of their movement range, they will remain the same color, causing me to double and triple check characters every single turn. The movement system turned out to be one of my biggest complaints about this title, so settle in, because I have a few more things to say.
One of my biggest complaints about Exorder is the fact that you can’t ‘undo’ your movement. Moving a character is as simple as selecting them, which lights up a series of squares, showing you where you can move to. If you select a square, you’ll move to it automatically, without showing you pathing and without the ability to cancel your move. There’s no way to test your path or check if you’ll be in range to attack an enemy before taking action. I might understand this restriction if there were frequently traps that trigger upon being stepped on, but these never made an appearance.
Even more frustrating, once you’ve selected a character to move, the cursor does not move beyond the highlighted squares, and will often make odd choices, jumping to different locations, if you try to nudge it one square too far. This has resulted in my characters ending up in some of the strangest locations, requiring me to spend an extra turn or two just to get them back to where I originally wanted them to move to. I think part of the frustration around moving comes from the way the cursor behaves. Sometimes it moves faithfully from square to square, other times it seems to jump between major objectives, and it’s hard to predict which mode it’s going to be in.
Characters, both allies and enemies, will block the path of other characters, and the map designs generally encouraged bottlenecks. It was incredibly frustrating to move one character, only to realize that he’d stopped in the middle of a narrow passage, preventing anyone behind him from advancing. Combine that with the inability to undo movement, and it was a recipe for rage. Furthermore, once a character takes an action, be it attacking or casting a spell, they can no longer move, regardless of if they’d previously moved or not. This often resulted in my killing an enemy who was halting my advance, only to have my own character locked into place and unable to move forward, allowing another enemy to waltz right up next turn, once again blocking my path and getting free hits on my front line.
Exorder somehow felt like it was both overly simple and overly difficult. While there were interesting mechanics, like monsters who had the ability to create illusions of your existing soldiers which can do damage but die after a single hit, it is utterly lacking in many things which would have made it feel more like a strategy genre, such as different types of terrain, the ability to defend, characters who are weak to certain kinds of attacks or magic, and dealing extra damage by attacking a character from behind. It’s not a bad game, though it can be incredibly frustrating, and while it doesn’t come close to filling the Final Fantasy Tactics shaped hole in my heart, it seems to be happy just being a puzzle-based strategy game. Judging by how often I simply gave up on a playthrough, turned off the console, and came back to the game an hour or two later, it’s well suited to the Switch, especially if you’re looking for a brain teaser on the bus or train.
Exorder is a very pretty little game which feels like a puzzle game masquerading as a turn-based strategy title. Controls are simple to a fault, and moving around the map left me frustrated every single battle. While the game has a great style, the bright colors and fun designs are made just a little more dull by the bland voice acting you’ll be listening to before and after each battle.