Having never heard of the Little Tail Bronx series, I was intrigued by Fuga: Melodies of Steel when I first learned of it. Despite its cute aesthetics, Fuga looked to provide a darker, more powerful story — something I adore in games. However, while I still had fun with the tank RPG, myriad small problems held it back from reaching its full potential.
In Fuga: Melodies of Steel, you play as a crew of anthropomorphic dog and cat children in the war-torn Free Lands of Gasco. Upon their village being attacked by the Berman Army, the starting crew of six is led to a cave where they discover a powerful tank known as the Taranis. Realizing they don’t really have a choice in the matter, they set out on a quest to save their families by piloting the Taranis and bringing down the Berman Army. Along the way, you’ll encounter more children, each with their own stories and motivations for joining your adventure, alongside some of the worst enemies the Bermans have to offer.
Unfortunately, the narrative didn’t really draw me in like I was hoping it would. There’s definitely some potential here, and most people would probably get more out of it than I would since I’m used to playing darker games like Danganronpa and Zero Escape. That said, it didn’t really grab me until the ending, as the first half or so largely just introduces you to all of your new crewmates and doesn’t connect much to the larger plot.
Fuga‘s gameplay has you travel along a path, with a number of encounters as you progress. These can range from healing or SP recovery to battles to ruin exploration for items. Occasionally, you’ll be given a choice on what path to take, based on the difficulty of that path. Routes with harsher chances of survival will lead to higher rewards. However, you can’t observe the map ahead of time, so judging what is at the end of these routes is a little problematic. These alternate routes tend to be relatively short though, so it doesn’t hurt you too much in the long run.
Most of your gameplay time will be spent in battle. These skirmishes can range from one to three waves of enemies and play like in a traditional turn-based RPG. Your team comprises three main gunners (plus three supporting characters) who take actions alongside the enemies based on the event timeline at the top of the screen. Gunners are divided into three classes: machine guns, grenade launchers, and cannons. This plays into the more strategic elements of battle, as each enemy has a certain combination of attacks it can take to trigger a delayed action.
To this end, party members can be swapped out almost at will, on the condition that you wait three turns before making another switch, further contributing to strategy. Your allies can be injured or knocked out in battle, making them unavailable for use until they rest at the next intermission. Conversely, as they participate in battles, your crewmates can enter Hero Mode, providing that character with a unique special effect for the next five turns, adding yet another layer to managing your crew.
Each chapter culminates in a boss battle, and it’s here that the main gimmick of Fuga: Melodies of Steel kicks in. If the Taranis falls below half health, you can activate an extremely powerful weapon known as the Soul Cannon. This weapon will tear through the boss, ending the encounter instantly — but to power the Soul Cannon, you have to sacrifice one of your crewmates, rendering them dead for the rest of the playthrough. Ultimately, I found even the hardest battles easy enough to avoid using this feature except for the few times the story forced me to do so.
The other main aspect of the game occurs during the intermissions, at the beginning, end, and roughly midway point through each chapter. These segments play out much like the Monastery segments in Fire Emblem: Three Houses. You’re given 20 action points to explore the Taranis with, performing actions that will help you in various ways.
For instance, you can plant and harvest crops and livestock, giving you ingredients with which you can cook and earn bonuses through the next intermission. You can fish for scrap items that can help you upgrade your weapons’ power, your health, and your SP. Lastly, you can converse with your fellow crewmates to get to know them better, all the while gaining affinity with them, allowing them to both provide passive benefits when paired with your active character and charge up a powerful Link Attack. Given your limited ability to take these actions, careful planning can be a lifesaver.
There is a New Game Plus mode, allowing you to start again from the beginning with all of your stats and affinity levels. The enemies, however, don’t seem to scale too much, allowing you to breeze through battles. I would have liked to see a bigger difficulty spike here, as the only reason I felt like playing it was to go for the game’s true ending, achieved by keeping all 12 crew members alive until the end.
Not all is great in Fuga: Melodies of Steel, however. The game as a whole felt a bit too easy, and thus the battles got a little monotonous towards the midway point. A harder difficulty or an Ironman mode would’ve helped a lot, as it’s too easy to reverse your mistakes with an intentional game over. Even getting the true ending on my first playthrough was going to be really easy, except that the game cheated me out of it with an unanticipated background mechanic. It honestly made me more frustrated than anything else in the game, especially when the game expressly told me how to get the true ending post-credits. Towards the end of the game, particularly in the final chapter, I also experienced a small bit of graphical glitches and some slowdown.
As it stands, Fuga: Melodies of Steel is pretty good, but it falls a bit short of greatness. It toys with some really interesting ideas but ultimately failed to fully capitalize on them. Even so, I did enjoy my time with it and look forward to giving it another go here in a few months when it’s a bit more removed from my memory. If you’re looking for a fairly short (about 15 hours) turn-based RPG experience, you can certainly do a lot worse, though I’d recommend waiting for a sale.
A Nintendo Switch review code for Fuga: Melodies of Steel was provided by the publisher.