You’re Not Dreaming, It’s Fire Emblem with Deckbuilding – Dream Tactics Review

Home » Game Reviews » You’re Not Dreaming, It’s Fire Emblem with Deckbuilding – Dream Tactics Review

Dream Tactics is a 2D tactical RPG made by indie developer Spectra Entertainment. It’s a fun mix of GBA Fire Emblem with deckbuilding mechanics. The artstyle is one of the big highlights of the game. The character sprites during cutscenes are good, but the sprites as well as the maps are especially well-designed.

The gameplay is fun and has sections where you explore maps outside of combat. You can find treasures in chests which contain rewards such as new equipment, cards, and currency. There are boxes scattered across all the worlds for you to break which carry currency.

dream tactics bai gaming screenshot 2
The world is colorful and fun to explore, with treasure chests hidden off the beaten path. The regions have distinct biomes and later regions get very dark and grim. (Image Credit: Spectra Entertainment Inc. & Freedom Games)

As far as I know the boxes aren’t missable and you can go back to re-explore finished regions. Treasure chests can sometimes be encountered during battles and have a timer, and if you don’t open the chest or finish the battle before the timer runs out then you’ll never be able to open the chest. Some timed chests might carry unique items, so there are definitely missables in this game but they are fairly presented to the player. There’s nothing like obscure dialog or story choices resulting in missables. You can save anytime as well if you’re afraid of missing out on a chest.

The deckbuilding aspect is the most unique part of the game. At first I thought it wouldn’t mesh well with tactical RPG gameplay but it’s actually fun, easy to understand and addicting. The easiest way to explain it is that instead of character classes having abilities, you instead choose commands from 5 cards you draw each round.

Outside of combat you build a deck of cards for each character. Some classes are more geared towards certain styles of gameplay at the beginning, but you can make more builds later on when you unlock more cards and equipment.

Luna, the bunny character, starts off with most of her cards giving carrots (a buff) from her card effects. These carrots raise her luck, which consequently raises her critical rate. She has other cards that let you gain more SP whenever you hit a critical (cards have SP cost) and there’s another card that lets you increase Luna’s attack range based off the carrots she has. You can turn Luna, who looks like a knight, into a sniper. It’s really fun and different than most tactical RPGs.

Although the game has its own naming scheme for buffs and debuffs, they’re pretty easy to understand and experiment with. Later in the game you can make very creative builds. There’s one piece of equipment in the game later on that lets you change Luna’s carrots from increasing luck to instead increasing her strength and I tried used her as a tank instead.

The equipment system is fun and really well-designed. Instead of equipping gear to a character’s head, body, legs, or shoes, you can equip as many kinds of equipment as long as you don’t exceed the equipment limit. It’s similar to the badge system in Paper Mario games. Each piece of gear costs either red or blue circles and your characters will have a higher equipment limit as they level up. In the beginning of the game your character might only have 3 red circles and 3 blue circles as their equipment limit, but by the end of the game they might have, say, 20 circles of each as their limit. Different kinds of equipment cost different amounts as well.

If you wanted to make a tank and equip 5 shields to a character, you can do so as long as you don’t exceed the equipment limit. Early on the game mostly has plain equipment that only increase stats, but later on you’ll find equipment with effects. You use these effects with your cards to make fun combos. I was able to make a fire mage who had 12+ movement and could dash through enemy units, so I had her spam fire across the end of the map while my regular movements approached the enemy’s front. When I was playing, it felt like the more I played the more creative the equipment effects became, and I felt the developers did this to not overwhelm the players and possibly protect the players from themselves.

The best part of it is that it’s very intuitive, even if you’re not familiar with deckbuilding games. If you really want to, you can definitely just use equipment with higher stats as well and get through most of the game with no issue.

As you explore the world map you will face enemies on the map. It’s not random encounters, it’s fixed encounters in set areas. Although you run into the battles with your character, the game allows you to re-position your characters on a starting grid and view where all the enemies are, and then you can start the map properly. Like any tactical RPG you move your characters on a 2D grid and your attacks will have ranges depending on the cards you use.

The main discerning feature is that unlike a traditional deckbuilding game you control your units on a tiled map before you use your card abilities. Your cards can also interact with the map, such as affect your movement range or introduce hazards such as fire that can hurt both player and enemy units.

dream tactics bai gaming screenshot 3
The battles take place on the same world map you traverse. Most fights in this game are short (10-20 minutes) except for the boss battles. (Image Credit: Spectra Entertainment Inc. & Freedom Games)

In addition to cards that attack an enemy, there are also cards that buff, debuff, and heal. Your cards will scale off of your character stats, so physical moves would usually scale off of strength and magical moves would scale off of intelligence. If you don’t like the hand you draw in a round, you can mulligan a few of them (discard and draw new ones). If you don’t use your mulligan it will build up each turn and there are equipment and card effects allowing you to get more mulligans. I had to heal one character but didn’t have a card that let me heal my allies, but thankfully I had many mulligans allowing me to keep re-drawing until I got a healing card.

There’s no perma-death as well (the developers have said they may add in an ironman-mode as a difficulty later on). There’s not many playable characters in Dream Tactics. Only 4 characters are allowed into a battle and you recruit an extra character per world (5 worlds). No perma-death is fine with me since it’s not a Fire Emblem where you have 30 characters in total. As far as I know there isn’t a revive effect within the battle itself, so once a character falls in battle you need to finish the battle to be able to use them again (in other words it’s Fire Emblem’s Casual difficulty, not Phoenix difficulty).

If a character dies in battle, they will always get experience for leveling as well. Most of the fights in this game are mandatory fights where you need to clear out the enemies to be able to move to the end of a region, but there are a few optional battles in corners as well. This is helpful as you really do need to level your characters for the endgame fights and you thankfully don’t have to redo the entire fight if one of your characters fell in battle during the final turn.

dream tactics bai gaming screenshot 4
The game features many different environments such as caves you can fight in. The short fights you encounter remind me of a modernized version of Fire Emblem: Gaiden (or its remake Fire Emblem: Shadows of Valentia). (Image Credit: Spectra Entertainment Inc. & Freedom Games)

While exploring maps you can find trap sections that feature movement without combat. It’s similar to platforming, except it’s in 2D without jumping, so you need to time your movements around the trap patterns. If you hit any traps about 3 times then you will be warped to before the trap section.

It’s not bad or hard since most trap sections don’t take long to complete and the hitbox is very fair, but personally I didn’t like them. I know the developers wanted to add more content in the game to mix up the variety and I can tell they tried to make the trap sections fair and fun, but I just didn’t feel they were necessary to the game. I think I would’ve enjoyed more battles instead or dialog with NPCs.

This game doesn’t really have any substantial sidequests either. There is some dialog where you can get rewards, such as one NPC asking you to go through a trap section without getting hit, but I didn’t find any sidequests. It would’ve been an incentive to revisit old areas if there were sidequests along with optional battles.

dream tactics bai gaming screenshot 11
The trap sections are a big downside to the game. In this image you need to avoid gears moving in a pattern. They’re not difficult to complete and you’re given as many retries to complete them as you want with no penalty, but I didn’t feel that they fit into the game well. Some trap sections overstay their welcome. (Image Credit: Spectra Entertainment Inc. & Freedom Games)

There aren’t any random encounters in this game. If you go into a battle that’s too hard, you can retreat out of it with no penalty. After the first world, you gain access to the Nexus where you can choose different worlds to explore. If you are stuck in a hard world, you can usually warp out back to the Nexus (it’s not possible to get soft-locked).

I wish there was more content in the nexus. You have access to the shopkeeper and the teleporters to various worlds, but that’s about it. It would’ve been nice to have more activities or NPCs in the hub world. It may add too much complexity, but being able to craft, upgrade or buy new cards would’ve been interesting additions to the game. More optional battles and challenges that you could access from the hub would’ve been interesting to see as well. Although the recruitable characters have their own plot arcs in their own world, it would’ve been interesting to see the original three characters have their own plotlines or sidequests too to unlock their ultimate cards, rather than it just be from equipping an item you get.

dream tactics bai gaming screenshot 8
After the first world in the game, you gain access to the nexus where you can go into different worlds. (Image Credit: Spectra Entertainment Inc. & Freedom Games)

One small criticism is that recruited characters only have dialog in their world and a couple of lines in the endgame. You gain a new character during each world and you go through their plot arc, but when you enter another world then that character you recruited doesn’t have any dialog anymore. Only the first three characters you control have lines of dialog throughout all the regions.

I understand why the developers did this, namely because you can explore any world you want at anytime and they didn’t want to account for having each recruited character in each region. But it would’ve been nice if new recruits had just a few dialog lines in each world here and there since there aren’t that many recruitable characters.

The overarching story isn’t that good, but the character dialog within each individual world is actually pretty amazing. There’s a lot of references to SRPGs and Fire Emblem within this game, such as with the “Grail Mercenaries” enemies (reference to the Greil Mercenaries in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance). If you’re familiar with tactical RPGs and their tropes you’ll have a really good time with this game. The developers break a lot of standard tropes in this game and it’s nice to see a different kind of protagonist and setting.

dream tactics bai gaming screenshot 5
The dialog for both the playable characters and enemies is downright hilarious and is a nice addition to the game. (Image Credit: Spectra Entertainment Inc. & Freedom Games)

Most traditional tactical RPGs always feature a prince trying to reclaim their kingdom and it does get tiring, so it’s great to see Dream Tactics try its own story that doesn’t involve taking over kingdoms. The first world especially reminds me of Disgaea where you’re destroying towns and cities full of pillows.

After a while, though, the dialog can get stale at times. In later worlds you’ll very often see Neru talking to a new person, with Luna then getting mad and saying “Neru, I need to speak with you in private! Don’t be so trusting!”. The plot arcs of the individual worlds do get a little tiring after a while and the gameplay does become somewhat formulaic after finishing several worlds. I’m not sure what would be the best fix for this – maybe having more smaller worlds would’ve been a better idea.

dream tactics bai gaming screenshot 1
The dialog and characters are great. I liked Neru’s innocence clashing with Luna’s hardened attitude. I like how Neru’s character design and card effects all have to do with sleeping. More expressions on the characters faces would’ve been appreciated, but the sprite work is certainly up there. (Image Credit: Spectra Entertainment Inc. & Freedom Games)

Without spoilers, the overarching story is about defeating an evil entity and is pretty plain. There are flashback sequences that are really great and expand upon the lore of the world well, but they are few and far between and I wish there were more of them. The story isn’t meant to be the highlight of any SRPG but it’s a nice bonus to have. This game really is more about the gameplay.

dream tactics bai gaming screenshot 9
Although the earlier fights are very simple, battles later on have many kinds of enemy classes as well as trickier map design where you need to plan strategies carefully. The distinct biomes of the different worlds fit nicely into the battles. (Image Credit: Spectra Entertainment Inc. & Freedom Games)

Without spoiling anything, my only disappointment was that after beating the final boss the game went straight to the credits. I’m not sure if it was because I was given an early build of the game or if I didn’t meet some kind of ending requirements, but I definitely would’ve appreciated a quick epilogue with the characters talking or having a party. Considering the number of cutscenes you see throughout the main game I found it very surprising the developers didn’t add a quick ending scene.

The quality of life features in this game is phenomenal. I played with an Xbox One controller and anytime I saw any kind of item or effect I didn’t know I could press the Select Button and the game would then let me see what the effect did. This let me plan my builds effectively. You can highlight enemies and see their stats and special effects as well. It’s really amazing because I don’t believe I saw any scrolling textbox. The developers managed to properly condense a lot of information into small boxes!

dream tactics bai gaming screenshot 6
The game explains all off its mechanics well. The presentation and UI is extremely well-done. The developers were able to summarize all of the information into easy-to-read boxes. (Image Credit: Spectra Entertainment Inc. & Freedom Games)

The enemies and bosses don’t use cards to attack you. They’ll always use an attack specific to their class. The game clearly lets you know if an enemy uses physical or magic attacks, as well as if they can attack multiple times. At first, I was a little disappointed because I thought pillow enemies were only going to be for the first world and that more kinds of enemies would be introduced. Almost all of the enemies in the game are pillows, but it worked out well because the designers kept making crazier and crazier pillow enemies in the later worlds you explore.

The other worlds I went into had medieval pillows, archeological pillows, industrial mining pillows, cult pillows, and more. The enemies will use the kind of tactics you’d see in any tactical RPG to defeat you. Some enemies will heal each other, some can buff each other, some have siege magic attacks to attack you from afar, and more.

There’s a robot pillow class that’s powerful, but needs to wind up first before it can move and attack your characters. The balloon pillow looks hilarious in a good way, it’s a flying unit that can traverse most of the map to attack your weakest unit, but it isn’t particularly dangerous. The developers really managed to create very interesting enemy units! There are enemy reinforcements on certain maps as well, but they’re usually telegraphed with doors on the map, and the enemies will only spawn in and need to wait another turn before they can attack.

It’s really fun fighting all of the different classes of enemies and the fights still manage to be challenging and fun. There were a few difficulty spikes, namely the industrial mining world boss as well as the final boss (I won’t spoil story aspects, I’ll only talk about general mechanics that make it frustrating).

One region’s boss would run straight at you, and you had to avoid and withstand his attacks and trap him into a panel to stun him while also fighting enemies and reinforcements across the map.

The final boss was especially grueling, where it was a combination of fighting the final boss, then running through corridors full of enemies before the floors crumbled away, while also avoiding meteors, while also avoiding the doom status (each time an enemy or the boss hit a character it would build a doom counter, if it hits 6 the character dies, you have a spell to cure it but you can only use it 4 times).

The bosses definitely feel like final tests that test your mastery of the game, but at the same time a few of them felt too difficult. With the final boss, I was at my wit’s end because very powerful enemy classes such as pillows in tanks kept spawning at my rear and I ran out of the unique heals required for the final boss (only 4 were provided). I had to pull the strategy at the end of Ender’s Game with the final boss, where I had to sacrifice all but one of my units, unleashing every single powerful card in my arsenal and I barely managed to get some extra fire terrain damage on the final boss and scrape out a victory. I think this can be easily fixed if more unique cures were given at the final battle instead of just four, it just felt too tight of a timeline. The reinforcements were very difficult in the final part of the final battle as well.

I know I’m a game journalist, and I do live up to the label of not always being the best at games. If you’re looking for a hard difficulty and know how to master deckbuilding games, Dream Tactics will definitely be up your alley and you definitely shouldn’t take my complaints about the difficulty to heart. Your playtime will vary based on your proficiency in this genre and how fast you can complete the maps, but it took me 25 hours to complete the story.

Although I gave a lot of criticism, Dream Tactics is an extremely fun game with very beautiful sprite work. The dialog is hilarious, the sprite work is pure perfection, and the gameplay is very addicting with many different ways to build your characters as well as many classes of enemies you can overcome. The overarching story could’ve been a bit better, it would’ve been better to be able to use more than 4 characters in battles (I wouldn’t mind fewer but bigger battles) and the trap sections in particular weren’t fun to play through.

I really do like the explanations of the equipment, card, and enemy effects and it does feel like a modernized version of GBA Fire Emblem games but with deckbuilding mechanics. The map designs are really great, and no two battles really feel the same. Over the course of the game you’re given a large amount of equipment and extra cards, allowing you to go really wild with character builds. The gameplay is really addicting, and it’s fun to play a game that breaks tactical RPG tropes. If you really liked GBA Fire Emblem games and enjoy deckbuilding games, this is a game you should check out.

Dream Tactics

Our Score: Excellent

Pros

  • It plays just like a Fire Emblem game would but with deckbuilding mechanics. Extremely fun tactical RPG gameplay.
  • The quality of life features are amazing. The game explains all of its mechanics well and is never overly verbose.
  • Spritework is phenomenal and the tilesets on the maps are pleasing to look at. The map design is great, and battles never overstay their welcome.
  • There’s a wide variety of equipment and cards available, allowing you to make all kinds of builds. Although the enemies are mostly pillows, they actually have dozens of enemy classes you’ll fight, making battles fun.
Cons

  • There are difficulty spikes throughout the game. Some of the bosses of certain worlds are difficult. The final boss is downright grueling to defeat.
  • The overarching story is a bit bland. Newly recruited characters don’t have dialog except the world you recruit them and a few lines before the final boss.
  • Trap sections in the game don’t really fit the SRPG formula and overstay their welcome.

Brandon Harris
Reviewed on the PC

Brandon is a passionate gamer and reviewer who respects the artistic and technical prowess that goes into creating interactive experiences. He enjoys playing the guitar, volunteering, and traveling to experience different cultures.


Recent Posts

How to get through Misty Mountain Road in Neptunia Game Maker R-Evolution

How to make an Escape Game in Neptunia Game Maker R-Evolution

Getting Meta in GameDev – Neptunia Game Maker R-Evolution Review

A Clumsy Cute ’em Up – Rainbow Cotton Review

Clear Save Data to use for Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance (Carry Over 3 Demons)

You’re Not Dreaming, It’s Fire Emblem with Deckbuilding – Dream Tactics Review

← All Pages Archive

Leave a Comment