Live by the Sword: Tactics certainly attempts to live up to the adage that if one lives by the sword, one is destined to die by the sword. Well, as long as the one dying is not one of the plot-essential heroes in the story. The game is a throwback to the 16-bit era of tactics games and, just like those games, is an equal mix of sometimes insane difficulty, almost chibi-like character design, and decent enough gameplay.
The story is generic as can be, following two heroes sworn to defend the kingdom and a young king. It’s a story that offers nothing new or interesting. Throughout the game, I was waiting for a twist to pique my interest, throw me for a loop, or just give me a hint of something not painfully rote – a moment that never came. In a tactics game, the story is one of the elements that drive you forward. As an example, the recent Triangle Strategy had a compelling story pushing you forward, and so to did the clear inspiration for this game, Final Fantasy Tactics. Live by the Sword: Tactics, however, never gets close to that high water mark.
Of course, the other element essential to a tactics game is the gameplay. Thankfully, Live by the Sword: Tactics has decent enough tactical gameplay. Your party of five, chosen from a group of seven, provides you with all the tools to claim victory. But again, the generic nature of the design philosophy comes through. You start out with a fighter, cleric, alchemist and archer, then add a magic user, thief, and monk/brawler. Each party member has access to six skills, but you can only take four into battle. This adds a little bit of complexity and decision-making before each mission, as you have to decide which might be the most useful. However, it isn’t that difficult to quickly work out what skills are overpowered and work best in combination with your party. It’s competent enough but, by sticking to such a genric roster, it doesn’t add much to the genre of high fantasy tactics.
Battles play out on tiny maps and ones with no real secrets to uncover through careful exploration. The mechanics of battle would normally be influenced by the maps themselves – think changes in terrain type, elevation, or secret interaction – but you don’t get that here to any meaningful degree. There are elevated positions that will give ranged characters advantages, but these are simple raised steps that are easy to spot and beeline towards.
When you are first starting out on your adventure, the battles feel challenging as you need to figure out how each of the many skills works, and how to pair up characters to make the most of their synergised abilities. However, as the game progresses, the challenge plateaus. The subsequent lack is made doubly so by the fact that the archer and magic user are useful to the point of being overpowered, ensuring they become automatic picks for each battle. On the rare occassions the game threw a challenging battle at me, I soon realised these were meant to be lost for story purposes – gaming’s equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru.
The visual style is a modern take on 16-bit era design. The characters have that chibi-like look that can be a bit too cutesy but, in this game, they work. It feels authentic to the era and it never felt strange to be slaughtering enemies while controlling cute little sprites.
Ultimately, Live by the Sword: Tactics has some good ideas but the execution isn’t quite up to standard. The small maps and limited tactical options soon boil down to simply building a party around the powerful archer and magic user – which then removes all the challenge and fun that this genre is known for. The one good aspect of this game, if you are able to play it on a Steam Deck, is that battles are short – making it perfect for quick bursts of mobile gaming. However, that is not enough to recommend Live by the Sword: Tactics over many other excellent turn-based tactics games available on Steam.
A review code for Live by the Sword: Tactics was provided to gameblur by the publisher.
Live by the Sword: Tactics (PC) ReviewLive by the Sword: Tactics (PC) Review
Ease of Play6/10 Normal
- Short levels are great for brief gaming sessions
- The visual style is a modern take on 16-bit era design
- Generic story and party
- Gameplay isn’t challenging enough
- Small maps add little dynamism to battles