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The exact sequence of actions to get free control over the combat camera and then inspect individual enemies, their current status effects, and their abilities is so arcane, it’s probably tucked away into some distant corner of the Necronomicon.
Maybe this is my lack of experience with games of this kind talking and for someone who’s been playing them since the 90s all of this feels perfectly natural, but to me, wrestling with the game’s controls oftentimes felt like trying to juggle with one hand tied behind my back.
Combat and Character Building
Now that you’ve been warned about Fell Seal’s controls, let’s finally get to the game’s main attraction - its tactical combat. First of all, I want you to temper your expectations. You know how in something like Jagged Alliance you have these huge open maps with lots of cover, line of sight blockers, and multistoried buildings? And how you can split your squad and attack these maps from multiple angles in order to pin your enemies down and put them in a disadvantageous position?
Yeah, forget about that. In Fell Seal, an average battle arena size lies somewhere between one and two full screens, and you can only deploy your squad in a couple of pre-determined positions. On the flip side, these arenas are extremely dense. Verticality is very important as well. All your characters have a jump stat that decides how quickly you can traverse any given map. On top of that, skills also have a height stat, so you have to consider not only how far your target is, but also the height difference between the two of you.
If I had to describe Fell Seal’s combat system in as little words as possible, I would compare it to a less elegant but more varied Into the Breach.
And in general, this particular take on the tactics genre still feels less feature-rich than its western-styled counterparts. You don’t have anything like attacks of opportunity, few things apart from some debuffs affect accuracy in any way, ranged units don’t have any penalty while fighting in melee, and in general your toolset is more limited.
But at the same time, what Fell Seal does, it does really well. Both your characters and your enemies are fairly fragile, which puts you in constant danger of overextending and forces you to carefully consider your moves at all time. Your enemies have access to the same tools as you do, and generally have better positions at the start, leading to some tense moments.
More often than not, both you and your enemies need a few rounds to get enough mana to unleash the more devastating abilities. This creates this dynamic of a careful dance, where early on you poke and probe at one another, trying to get the upper hand before going all in. You add to that some optional objectives, like chests with rare loot hidden off the beaten path, that force you to divert some resources away from fighting, and consider that each of the game’s arenas was carefully designed around some central idea, and you’ve got yourself a neat little exercise in tactics.
Due to the game’s smaller arena size, battles generally don’t overstay their welcome, which greatly helps with Fell Seal’s pacing. Instead of one more turn, you want to play one more fight, and before you know it, it’s 2 a.m.
The game’s consumables should also be mentioned. A lot of people these days seem to struggle with the so-called too good to use syndrome where they just hoard all their consumables thinking they’ll need them later, and then end up never using them. To help people like that, Fell Seal makes its consumables per-encounter. So, if you drink all your potions and throw all your rocks in a single fight, you’ll get them back for the next one. In fact, there’s even a class primarily focused on using consumables and making them stronger.
The overall difficulty level of the game is up to you. Fell Seal does this thing where you have some difficulty presets, and then you can manually customize them to your liking, which is pretty great. The default Veteran setting starts off extremely easy, but after a few fights kicks things up a notch, forcing you to put at least some thought into creating a functional party.
This last part brings us to my absolute favorite thing about Fell Seal - its character building system. The game has a total of 20 basic classes that range from Knights and Rangers to Peddlers and Plague Doctors, some special classes for story characters, and a number of secret classes you can unlock by finding or crafting special badges.