[PlayStation 5] Iron Danger Review

by Ajescent

Iron Danger from Daedalic Entertainment and Action Squad Studios brings us an interesting tactical RPG in which you can manipulate time. Check our Iron Danger review!

I love a good RPG, especially when there is a tactical tinge to it -that just puts me right in my element. Give me a team of rambunctious and too-cool-for-school peeps – usually kids – give me a grid-based system, and leave me to find the best way to destroy my enemies. Believe me, I’m going to have a good time. But let’s be honest: not all tactical RPGs are created equally. A lot of them try their darnedest to be outstanding in their field, and more often than not, they tend to fail, ending up as another run-of-the-mill game with nothing to separate them from the competition.

A lot of them try to have a gimmick that differentiates them from the crowd. Disgaea has its stacking system and the ability to hit enemies for millions of points. Valkyria Chronicles allows you to move freely on the map as long as you have to AP to do so. Those are just two distinct examples in the genre. Needless to say, the genre is packed with greats. What does Iron Danger from Action Squad Studios and Daedalic Entertainment have to set itself aside from its peers?

What if you had the ability to go all wibbly, wobbly, timey, whimey for a second? Okay, let’s start from the beginning. Iron Danger is a tactical RPG set in a steampunk world based on Finnish folklore. You play the role of Kipuna, who, less than two minutes into the story, finds her idyllic life in the countryside ruined by pesky warmongering northerners. Less than 5 minutes after that, she falls down a hole only to land on a large spike that impales her heart… giving her a second chance at life. Except she dies, gain. Kip is having a very bad day! Turns out, the shard, though piercing her heart, has given her not only the ability to control time but also to set things on fire… which is nice. This is where the main gimmick of Iron Danger comes in.

Iron Danger Review - 1

At first glance, the combat does not feel turn-based as most people will be used to in normal TRPGs. Instead, everything operates in real-time. Should you fail to react appropriately, expect to get hit a number of times over and over again. However, the player can pause the action at any time by pressing the Touchpad or the R2 on the DualSense controller. This allows you to adjust your characters’ actions/reactions to incoming attacks before they hit or even attack enemies to interrupt them even before they can act against you. The flow of combat becomes a fascinating experience since, at any given time, you control two of a rotating cast of characters.

Whilst you control character A, you leave B in the open to a number of attacks, and the enemies can be quite ruthless! Upon finishing character A’s actions, you are able to rewind time and adjust B’s actions/reactions to get them out of danger, lure enemies into attacks, traps, etc., thereby negating the attacks they would have received had you not intervened. The combat is definitely unique in Iron Danger! At any time, you can freeze the action, and you will be presented with a time track for both of your playable characters.

Those who know editing software or audio mixing will instantly be familiar with the layout. Track 1 belongs to character A, and Track 2 belongs to B. Each action that both characters can take covers a certain amount of time on the track. You are able to play with time up to exactly 14 beats. Each half-second is represented by a block on the track, leaving you with exactly 28 blocks of space to plan your moves and actions. You are able to go back and forth on the tracks, adjusting each character’s actions and responses to the action as it unfolds, but be careful because you could accidentally skip too far into the future.

Iron Danger Review - 2

Anything above that 14-beat mark is lost and becomes canon. The game becomes a fine balancing act as you try to keep both of your characters alive while also aiming to defeat your opponents. For example, a single sword slash from Topi, one of your potential party members, costs 2 blocks of time on his track (1 second). During that time, he is open to attacks due to being preoccupied. You can either choose to take the hit or keep fiddling with that second of the fight to position everyone in such a way that he can successfully use the attack and avoid getting hit.

Combat is very interesting because it becomes a fine balance of risk and reward as you try to position your team members in such a way that they can be effective and never be affected by the enemy. Needless to say, the combat is complex and varied as there are a good number of different enemies to meet and fight along the way. Whilst not a very long game, Action Squad still found a way to cram a reasonable amount of variety into the enemies. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the characters and their abilities.

As you progress, characters will level up, and you will be given the opportunity to either level up existing abilities or learn new ones. Kipuna can learn a whole wealth of abilities covering a few elements, the other characters feel a little lackluster as it can be argued that, save for one or two abilities, two of the characters are indistinguishable from each other. Minor aside: any idea how the others are able to rewind time? Kipuna’s ability is explained, but how the others are able to rewind time even with Kipuna far away from them is sorta… hand waved away. Maybe Kipuna is so powerful she has eyes everywhere?

In addition to abilities, you can often come across items such as oil barrels, grenades, and so on that also prove to be useful in combat. Whilst I maintain a couple of the characters are uninteresting abilities-wise, the combat is varied enough that very few items and abilities feel wasted. There is an element of finesse to the combat that you do not get anywhere else that makes every move you make feel like it matters. Everything feels calculated, only because you spent at least three minutes going back and forth trying to figure out the best move, only to realize that a simple step to the left was the right one all along instead of a fancy fireball or whatever. To put it simply, the combat is amazing.

Iron Danger Review - 3

For the most part, the rest of the game feels just shy of me being able to call it amazing. There are a few bugs here and there that mar a great experience. In one instance, when trying to exit a cave, the game refused to acknowledge my button press, and I had to restart the whole section before I was allowed to leave. Another example was how, in quite a few instances, there was invisible debris on the ground that hampered movement, causing much trouble when trying to navigate during general movement and also trying to dodge attacks efficiently during combat. While by no means a dealbreaker, it is annoying, however, when invisible debris somehow manages to block attacks against a nearly 20-foot robot, and I am expected to believe my arrow is not capable of reaching it. Needless to say, the game lacks a little bit of polish here and there.

There is credit to be laid at Action Squad’s doors, for sure, though I dare say it is not for the voice acting. Maybe this is just a nitpick, but a lot of the voicework just did not sit right with me. A big chunk of the acting felt a lot like people just reading lines and not actually emoting as you would expect, and, on several occasions, it felt as though some of the actors were struggling to maintain the accents they chose for the characters. It more than once pulled me out of the experience. In addition to that, some of the characterizations of the characters come out of nowhere, completely changing their personality on a whim. Whilst the story overall is interesting, it just feels a little jarring how the story swings in some places.

Apart from that, the presentation is excellent, the visuals are of good quality, and the world design feels beautiful enough to feel homely and appealing enough to actually encourage you to pay attention to the story, even if the story itself feels a little lacking. The gameplay is fun in its own right, even if the difficulty ramps up at certain points, especially towards the end. All in all, Iron Danger is a fun game, even if you are not a fan of tactical RPGs. It’s one I definitely recommend. Iron Danger is out on PlayStation 5 at a $19.99 price tag.

Iron Danger Review - 4

This Iron Danger review is based on a PlayStation 5 copy provided by Daedalic Entertainment.

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