May 4, 2015 9:54 AM | John Bridgman
Get your colour-coded uniforms and your best bad special effects ready, because Chroma Squad by Behold Studios, perhaps best known for Knights of Pen and Paper, has escaped from Kickstarter and has teleported its way onto Steam. Gather your actors with attitude and set out to produce your own sentai series, from its most humble beginnings to the dramatic final episodes of the show's run. The combat, faithful to the sentai genre, involves beating up waves of generic minions who fall quickly to basic attacks before progressing on to boss enemies which often require a bit more strategy and have more involved attacks. In a very flavourful twist, you are rewarded for performing a special teamwork attack with all your squad to finish off the bosses.
Your team members can work together to cover ground faster or doing multi attacks on the enemies. This teamwork is vital, as the more teamwork you perform, the more you can impress your audience. And rather than amassing experience in typical RPG fashion, you are looking to establish a fan base. The more impressed your audience, the more money and fan influence you acquire, which go to various upgrades to your squad and studio. As you progress, you'll need your upgrades to continue impressing and growing your fanbase.
Meanwhile, you are presented with a meta story around your studio and your previous director, who accuses you of stealing ideas. You get to decide how to handle this and your episode structure through the in-game seasons is affected by this. You also get to address fan-mail, budgeting woes, and sometimes more unusual requests you receive through the studio's e-mail.
The game has a very stylish pixelated isometric art style which serves to transition between the management sections and the combat smoothly. The sprites are large and distinct, much like they were in Knights of Pen and Paper, and they show off action well. In fact, the character sprites show off dialogue well, because in proper sentai fashion, your team poses dramatically with every line they deliver. Its soundtrack sounds like it could definitely have come from a 90's series, paying homage to its genre.
As an homage, it's quite satisfying, with references to some classic series and moments in those series. Fans of sentai will likely pick these up, while those who aren't won't be put off by them. In a more interesting turn, it also addresses some of the problems the genre has. An early mission includes a serious discussion in-game about sexist tropes that the genre is known for, and why simply recreating them as tribute isn't necessarily the best way to go about them in homage. This bit of progressiveness is a nice inclusion, though it may be diminished by the description of the weak minions as "lame".
Chroma Squad offers a lot of entertainment for the player. The big cast of characters to choose from to create your squad, as well as crafting for your costumes, props, and the prerequisite giant robot, provide a variety of ways to play through the game, and the strategy RPG elements are engaging enough to keep you playing. The director challenges in each level, such as defeating a number of minions in a turn, or healing a target amount of health in an episode, keep you from playing every combat the same way and keeps things fresh as you go along.
Fans of either SRPGs or management sims, as well as fans of sentai shows should definitely check out Chroma Squad. If you're not a fan, I still think there's a lot going on here that is worth your consideration. It's an interesting tribute to sentai, as well as a very thoughtful, well-designed game mechanically. At times thoughtful, funny, and thanks to a system in place to encourage you to shake up your style of play, it seems to never overstay its welcome.