There’s a tough contract coming up next week calling for my mercenary company to retrieve some valuable marble from a quarry – simple enough stuff, if not for the fact they must deal with a colony of volleyball-sized bloodsucking bats to reach the goods. Worryingly, my roster is looking a bit light at the moment: my star warrior, the down-on-her-luck noblewoman Monique, is busy running a new R&D group designing better weapons for the soldiers, and the two most powerful mages are pushing a new PR campaign to recruit some top adventuring talent. For lack of better options, we’re reduced to using greenhorns, filling the ranks with some promising-yet-untested talent in the hopes that the bloodbat slaughter will separate the wheat from the chaff and leave enough survivors that the company won’t completely fold.
Welcome to the world of Kanpani Girls, Nutaku’s latest mercenary-management simulator. In it, you’re the CEO of a company that’s a cross between Zac Snyder’s 300 and the Fortune 500 – recruiting hard-bitten mercenary warriors from a fantasy world and trying to balance a payroll at the same time. You’ll run as many campaigns from the PR department as you do from the war room, trying to bring in the top talent required for your group to succeed and prosper, all while exploring .
In Kanpani Girls, battlefield control of heroes takes the back foot – you can set up your warriors, choose their formation, and occasionally give them buffs with ‘CEO skills’, but you’ll never control them directly. Similar to Football Manager, the focus is on hiring, firing, and balancing a budget (with a key difference being that your currency is golden coins). As the game goes on, investing your resources outside the battlefield becomes critically important – your forces will stand little chance against the increasingly fantastical monsters that seem to be haunting this troubled world.
At the end of day, what makes Kanpani Girls work is its willingness to break out of the JRPG mold and introduce gameplay and style which shy away from cookie-cutter fantasy cliches. The enemies may be typically goofy and the girls vaguely resemble an all-female high school drama class, but forging weapons and turning them into a squad of hardened warriors actually feels pretty badass. Incorporating elements of randomness in character creation is a stroke of genius reminiscent of such classics as X-Com; my only complaint is that it could have delved further into the roguelike genre, matching randomly generated missions with its semi-random characters and opening up the story in less linear ways.
That said, it’s a great game, and you should be sure to check it out on Nutaku.com when it launches on the fourth of November.