Grotesque Tactics, developed by an indie German studio by the name of Silent Dreams in a joint venture with Headup Games, is a turn-based strategy game in the same vein as Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, or any of the other hundreds of games with "Tactics" tacked on to the title. But let me clear the air here: unlike the aforementioned games, Grotesque Tactics is bad. Not "bad" as in Big Rigs: Over The Road Racing bad, but more like "all I wanted for Christmas was a Nintendo 3DS but all I got was a Nokia N-Gage" type of bad. You know, the type of disappointment you get when you are hyped up on all the good things, but are let down on every level.
The plot is nothing to write home about. There are no plot twists, no overly-emotional scenes, nothing. Just you and your party against an evil empire. You play Drake, a drop-out from the Glory Military Academy. By a stroke of luck, the very fact that you were the only dropout in the history of the academy has saved you from death in battle at the hands of the Dark Church (the aforementioned evil empire). Being mopey and emo (and yes, the game makes use of "emo" way too much), Drake finds the courage to fight back against the Dark Church with the help of the Semidivine Holy Avatar, the stereotypical "I'm better than you, and women love me" beefcake of the game. Together, you and Holy scour the world rescuing maidens, recruiting party members, and completing side-quests. Like I said before, it's nothing to write home about.
On that note, I should mention the writing. I'm guessing Silent Dreams hired a 16-year old high-school dropout to translate the game for them, because even though the game has had an extensive grammar overhaul for the English version, the writing would make even a first-year college student cringe in terror. Grammar and spelling mistakes abound, and any hint of humor the game wanted to convey has been lost due to the horrid translation. For example, Candy, one of the three maidens you rescue and recruit, constantly says "Hihihihihi" instead of "Hehehehehe" or *giggles*. The only thing that would make that worse is if Navi from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was put in the game and constantly said "HEY! LISTEN!" every ten seconds. But even then I would have fond flashbacks to my time playing an infinitely-better game. Grotesque Tactics just makes me want to punch babies.
And then there's the humor. I'd like it to be known that humor is NOT universal; it is purely subjective. Unfortunately, the game is billed as a parody of other great games. If anything, Grotesque Tactics is a parody of computer game designing. There is a difference between parodying a game and simply referencing a game, and Grotesque Tactics references the hell out of other games. The humor is extremely in-your-face, much like playing an interactive version of the Meet The Spartans movie. While it's not as ham-fisted as UnEpic, at least UnEpic is a good game.
The entire cast is a tragedy upon game design. The main character is an emo who isn't really emo all that much except in certain combat situations, the supporting character is the stereotypical knight-in-shining-armor with sunglasses, the rogue is a goblin who joins you because you killed his buddies, and various other travesties. Oh, and if any reader of this review is black and you want to see how German game developers portray black people, play this game. The only way the token black dude could get more stereotypical is if he had fried chicken in one hand and purple drank in the other. Yes, this is what Silent Dreams considers a parody. Sad, is it not?
From the moment you boot up the game, you can already tell you're in for a world of hurt. The pre-game loading screen features Holy Avatar and the three maidens, but the whole thing looks like it was made in Poser. Then the game starts and the Poser-like art is replaced by anime character portraits. Holy is pretty much the ♥♥♥♥♥♥ of the group, while the three maidens and other female characters are in various states of undress. Let's not forget that while you are rescuing said maidens to recruit them, they are screaming about getting their clothes torn off. The character interaction, combined with the almost-ecchi artwork makes me believe that this game is the lead designer's attempt at a VERY bad self-insert fanfiction rather than a clever satire of RPGs.
And finally we come to the meat and potatos of the game: the gameplay. As I've said before, it's a clone of the various Tactics games you see or have seen on the market. Turned-based strategy on a battlefield with positioning. Nothing new, so let's move into what makes Grotesque Tactics stand out from the crowd (other than the sad attempt at German humor).
The really big thing about the game is the Obsession system. The game flat-out tells you in the tutorial that this is a limit break (I'm guessing Silent Dreams' thought process was "LOLOLOLOL! I MADE A FINAL FANTASY 7 REFERENCE! LAUGH, PEONS! LOLOLOLOL!"). Each character has their own way of increasing their Obsession, from hitting stuff (Drake) to getting hit (EVERY SINGLE PARTY MEMBER). Each Obsession does their own unique thing, but more often than not it involves the obsessed party member attacking another party member. West goes berserk, attacking anything in range (friendly or not), the maidens and the angel simply attack a party member, the goblin rogue blinds everyone in a radius (again, no thoughts to friendly fire) and warps to Holy, and Drake buffs nearby party members' attack rating but at the cost of halving his attack rating a few turns afterwards. Drake is obviously the most benefitial of the party, but that's not saying much considering everyone else is geared toward screwing you over.
Inside combat, you control all characters in order based on their agility. Outside of combat, however, you can only control Drake while the others automatically follow him. This works out fine, except for one major game-breaking bug that was the straw that broke the camel's back for me: Afflictions aren't removed once combat is over. In the battle leading up to getting the mage party member, West went berserk due to his Obsession. I ended combat right next to a treasure chest in a narrow 1x1 area in the forest with West blocking the only exit in or out. Since he was technically still berserk, he refused to move, and I cant move through party members. Needless to say, I was stuck and had to reload the entire damn mission. Have I told you yet how much I hate this game?
And lastly, I come to the deal breaker: the camera. Or, rather, the automatic camera panning. Any time there is dialogue or a character is moving, the camera will pan to that character. This isn't such a big deal if the damn thing would actually CENTER on said character. Instead, it trails behind a moving character. Trying to manually compensate for this means your camera goes out of whack and ends up 50 feet in some random direction. Again, this wouldn't be such a big deal if we could turn automatic camera panning off, or if movement outside of combat wasn't in real time. Alas, no on both accounts. This will, more often than not, lead to clicking the wrong square or giving you a fit of nauseua.