The Wind and the Wilting Blossom is a bit of a strange one for wargamers, but getting past its roguelike overworld and RPG elements one finds an intriguing tactical game where planning around enemy moves is as important as positioning and the correct application of force.
Set in an alternate history Heian Japan, one in which Oya Taro Mitsukuni failed to put down the Heiji rebellion and instead unleashed a horde of Yokai, led by the witch daughter of Taira no Masakado herself, Takiyasha. She now seeks to consume all of Japan in the fires of hell for their affront to her family. A tale as old as time.
In practice it means players take on the role of Oya Taro Mitsukuni himself or a variety of unlockable heroes and legends of the period, including my personal favourite Murasaki Shikibu, author of The Tale of Genji, as they gather an army while fleeing the tidal wave of darkness pursuing them.
Gameplay is split between an overworld RPG, in which a player’s hero and their warband navigate through a ravaged Japan, encountering story elements that require decisions, recruit and equip their forces, and engage in tactical battles against Yokai and other undesirables like bandits.
The overworld gameplay is most reminiscent of FTL. Players travel between nodes as a wave of evil pursues them, devouring nodes and forcing the player to continue forwards towards Kyoto. The tension is ever-present, and decisions players make about where to travel will be seriously restricted by the oncoming hordes. Should you travel back one node to complete a quest, helping a farmer protect his fellows from a bandit king? Or do you leave them to their fate, prioritizing the quest to reach Kyoto above all else.
When attacks do happen, the game shifts to a tactical hex grid similar in style to Heroes of Might and Magic. Here the gameplay is like a puzzle, with one misstep often spelling the end of your current quest. The actual tactical back and forth of combat is really compelling. The Wind and Wilting Blossoms is liberal with information, so it is clear from the beginning how far everything can move and how much damage it can do. This combined with the fact that enemies attack based on a priority system, in that they will attack closer targets first, breaking ties with each character’s threat rating, and players can take some time to accurately plan out each combat.
To add to the strategy, some characters have an armour value that acts like additional HP. Armour is replenished after every fight, but health is not. Strategically placing units to take armour absorbing hits and planning when and how to engage with certain vulnerable units is entertaining and has an addictive puzzle quality to it.
As players venture further and further across Japan, the challenge naturally increases. This only serves to make the combat puzzle more interesting, and I never encountered a difficulty spike that seemed unfair. More esoteric Yokai, like flaming wheel demons, snake women, and invisible spirits that target the weakest unit, rather than the usual strongest, accompany more heavily armoured human opponents. It’s solid and keeps players on their toes.
When failure comes, and it will often, progress is wiped out and the player must start again from the beginning, selecting a new hero and loadout before again journeying into a Yokai-soaked Kyushu. Not all is lost though as any new elements players unlock, like new characters and equipment, will be available in each subsequent run. This basically boils down to a slow steady trickle of new tools to help make progress and engage with the strategy of The Wind and the Wilting Blossoms. While the rough and tumble Oya Taro Mitsukuni might not be to your liking, playing enough to unlock different starting gear and companions for him might do it. This also extends to new potential allies and gear, including some magic weaponry that inflicts status effects, becoming available at shops and during some events.
The story events are quite well written and rarely take one out of the overall narrative of the game. It is often impossible to guess what kind of outcome each choice will result in, but there is the tragic eventuality that players will learn the possibilities as they see the same events over and over. It’s bound to happen in any game that encourages multiple playthroughs but still relies on a (sizable) but finite set of story bits. I’m happy to report that even after several plays there were only a few repeats, but that number will definitely grow as players explore more of the game. I’m also a little disappointed that there doesn’t seem to be any appreciable difference in story between the different characters, but I’ve yet to unlock all of them. So far though, the opening narrative remains the same.
Visually, the game is simple but pretty. The Wind and the Wilting Blossom fully embraces the visuals of Japanese Ukiyo-e art. There is very little animation but what exists is serviceable. The main draw of the art style is that it allows for clean and clearly understandable visuals that help facilitate the flow of combat. The sound design is competent, and the battle music that you’ll be hearing a lot is decent.
Taken altogether The Wind and the Wilting Blossom is an entertaining adventure that takes a fun, if apocalyptic, look at Heian-era Japan and wraps it in a good tactical experience. With how much content is hidden away behind achievements, several characters, new weapons, new followers, new relics (these alter the overworld game) and randomly generating maps, this game nails that ‘one more turn’ quality that many strategy games employ.
The tactical combat is meaty, the overarching FTL inspired RPG is entertaining and strategic, the art is pretty, and the setting is unique. There’s a lot to like about The Wind and the Wilting Blossoms, and it makes for another good addition to the list of excellent strategy games making their way to Steam. Go check it out.