Tails of Iron 2: Whiskers of Winter Impression

The few additions function well to expand what was already a very solid base, and…add a lot of extra thrill and challenge (and stress) to the pulse-pounding combat system.

2021’s Tails of Iron was a pleasant surprise when I played it a couple of years after its release: a 2D Soulslike set in a gorgeous dark fantasy animal world that’s only gotten better the longer it’s lived in my head. This year, publisher United Label and developer Odd Bug Studio are teaming up again to bring us Tails of Iron 2: Whiskers of Winter. After playing through the game’s prologue I can safely say that, while we will be exploring a new setting and accompanying a new protagonist, the combat ups the ante on what was already a hardcore experience for those of us hungering for an intense challenge.

The narratives of the Tails of Iron series continue to be both incredibly grim and dark. The story setup — indeed, a large part of how the prologue plays out — is in large part similar to the previous game’s. We find ourselves transported to the cold and inhospitable North, where armies of bloodsucking vampire bats have replaced the armies of brutal frogs from the previous installment to harangue the rat kingdom. Our new hero is Arlo, a young rat who seems to have a mysterious connection to the kingdom’s royal bloodline, but who is for now training to take up the mantle as the next Warden of the North.

The Northern Keep in peaceful tranquility…though not for much longer…

The shift in locale and, particularly, the types of enemies we’ll be facing this time, immediately conjures up visions of Game of Thrones‘ bloody clashes against its legions of undead hordes, and gives the game a spooky extra edge of the supernatural. Like the first game, things start out rather docile, with Arlo going through a normal day, wandering the peaceful keep he’s been raised in, and exploring the surrounding areas, culminating in a tutorial boss fight that re-introduces the series’ combat system. It isn’t long, however, before things go from good to bad to worse, and the initial peace is brutally shattered and slashed to bits, culminating in Arlo watching his family get slaughtered, leaving him to set out on a bloody quest for vengeance and justice, just like Redgi did before him.

Anybody who played the original Tails of Iron will already know the lion’s share of what to expect from its sequel and will be instantly familiar with how the game flows. That is particularly important when it comes to combat, as the new entry recreates the intense rhythms of the original’s battle system. All enemies, down to the lowliest footsoldier, hit hard, and cannot be taken for granted. Arlo is equipped with a shield, which can be used to block normal enemy attacks. But the sequel also sees the return of the color-coded special attacks, which are what gave Tails of Iron its unique identity when it came to the intensity of battle.

There’s something unspeakably evil and creepy about bloodsucking vampire bats!

All enemies have access to special attacks, which are telegraphed by one of three warning icons that players have to react to accordingly. This is especially true for the grueling boss battles, which are such a dance of on-the-fly decision-making that they almost feel like a kinetic puzzle one has to solve to emerge victorious. White attacks can be safely blocked, while red attacks break through any defense and must be dodged. It’s the yellow attacks that offer a chance at reprisal, since they indicate that Arlo can parry the move, requiring careful timing but also briefly knocking the enemy back if carried out successfully, in turn opening them up for a flurry of attacks.

However, Tails of Iron 2 ups the ante with one minor but absolutely critical addition: Arlo must keep his weapon sharpened to keep up his damage output. Doesn’t sound so bad, until one realizes that it may only take ten or twelve swings of Arlo’s axe or thrusts of his spear before the corresponding meter has fully depleted and Arlo’s weapon has become too dull to be of any further use until it is sharpened again. Since ten or twelve swings is nothing compared to a boss’s health bar, this means players will have to madly scramble to find windows of opportunity to 1) heal any of Arlo’s grievous wounds and 2) sharpen his blade, all while keeping up the manic dance of dodging, blocking, and parrying the boss’s attacks. It’s a clever way to increase the game’s challenge considerably with a small and simple tweak to the established formula.

Bosses are memorable set pieces the second time around as well.

The game still has the same hand-drawn, beautiful art style of the previous game, with a detailed map that gets filled in as you explore. Doug Cockle, Geralt of Rivia himself, also returns as the frequently heard narrator. Unlike Redgi before him, Arlo does have one new tool for exploration at his disposal: he can throw and attach a grappling hook to certain environmental obstacles to pull himself up onto high platforms or across wide gaps. I can imagine that the grappling hook may play a part in some future combat encounters, but this was not evident in the demo. However, the playable prologue did feature two full boss fights, including one that would summon multiple additional mobs into the arena at several points throughout the battle; the encounter was tough as nails, and required a good dozen-plus attempts before I finally bested it to conclude the demo.

After the pleasant surprise the original game offered, I am quite eager to get more of it with the sequel. For those worried that Odd Bug Studio would reinvent the wheel, that is not the case, as the game plays and presents almost identical to the previous entry. The few additions function well to expand what was already a very solid base, and in the case of the sharpening mechanic, add a lot of extra thrill and challenge (and stress) to the pulse-pounding combat system. The Northern Wastes may be cold and dark, and filled with unspeakable horrors, but Tails of Iron 2 is sure to heat things up when it releases on PC and all major consoles later this year.


Disclosure: This article is based on a preview build of the game provided by the publisher.


Pascal Tekaia

Pascal joined up with RPGamer in 2015 as a reviewer and news reporter. He's one of THOSE who appreciate a good turn-based JRPG grind almost as much as an amazing story.

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