What is it? Work menial jobs by day to fund robot fights and maybe escape your dark past.
Expect to pay: $14.99
Release date: Out now
Developer: Ota Imon
Publisher: Raw Fury
Reviewed on: GTX 2070, 16 GB RAM, i7-10875H
Link: Official site (opens in new tab)
A dog, a gangster, and a witch walk into a bar. This is where you'd expect me to say “Stop me if you've heard this one before,” but I won't because you haven't. Wolfstride from Ota Imon is different from other games—a self-described RPG for grown-ups that wallows a bit too frequently in immature humor just because it can. While the mech fights are lacking and Wolfstride never fully builds on its narrative promise, the carefully considered setting and unique cast make it a refreshing spin on an often stagnant genre.
With its action-heavy opening, you'd be forgiven for thinking Wolfstride was faster paced than it is. The curtain first rises on one of those mech battles, where your loveable doofus pilot Knife Leopard (aka “Pineapples,” for some reason) faces off against a hardened criminal type in a rigged robot fight. Elsewhere, Dominic Shade, the hero, tries fleeing from two yakuza—a cat and a dog—who want him to convince Pineapples to throw the match. Shade refuses, and with one squeak of the yakuza's deadly dog toy, Pineapples' mech explodes.
That's as much action as you'll see for a long while. Shade, Pineapples, and Duque, the team's grumpy canine mechanic, settle into a routine of exploring Rain City, meeting new people, and desperately throwing themselves at any opportunity to earn money. You have 63 in-game days to fix your shattered mech, Cowboy, and prove yourselves in the Ultimate Golden God tournament. But the way Wolfstride gradually rolls out its story means much of that time feels wasted.
Some days only have one task, so you trudge through Rain City's empty highways to the scrapyard, have a short conversation, then plod back to the hangar and turn in. Shade gets access to a few part-time jobs eventually, which function as money-earning methods as much as they do ways to break up the repetitive action. While the goal is pouring that money back into Cowboy for arena fights, Wolfstride is a slice-of-live visual novel about a group of shady middle-aged heroes down on their luck more than it is an action-packed RPG.
Focusing on an older, and frankly unlikable, cast of characters was refreshing and kept me far more interested in seeing how Shade's story unfolded than the mech fights did. The thing is, Wolfstride is never sure what to do with itself and leans too heavily into the “immature” part of its "immature grown up RPG" tagline. Every time I started settling into the story, Wolfstride threw something ridiculous and unnecessary at me—an entire character arc revolving around a robot called "Peepoo," for example.
If you don't giggle gleefully at a job called “Boy who Delivers Special Messages,” shortened to BDSM, you'll probably find yourself skipping through a good deal of Wolfstride's dialogue.
Despite their predilection for spouting obnoxious jokes, however, I grew to care about the bizarre people of Rain City. The city itself plays a substantial role in that attachment: a jazzy, multicultural metropolis with a surprisingly distinct sense of place. One derelict street feels much the same as another early in Wolfstride, but as you unlock more areas, it gradually gives you greater insight into Shade's world and how he ended up where he is.
Mechs and the City
Two massive junkyards, a mech hangar, and a hospital dominate the map for your first week or two, leaving no room for doubt that mecha fights are the soul of Rain City, for better or worse. The downtown district is full of failed dreams and abandoned shops, so The Midnite Rider, your local watering hole, genuinely feels like a friendly oasis at the edge of life's bleakest landscapes. It's owner, Joy, will fix you a drink and then you can take a load off. There's even a calm mountain view tucked behind a torii gate on route to the hospital. It serves little purpose for the most part, save as a reminder of what the region was before crime and robot wars took root.
The environmental storytelling helps flat and static characters seem interesting. Few other casts exist for comparison, with the closest being Yakuza: Like A Dragon's band of misfits, but Wolfstride's characters seem even more relatable than Ichiban and his friends. You feel the struggle when Joy talks about life's hardships and her need to bring in the money because you see it every time you travel anywhere in Rain City.
Pairing this nuanced approach with Wolfstride's childish humor feels like wasted potential, and I'd have liked to see Ota Imon spend its talent on creating deeper characters and a more involved narrative.
I'd also have liked to see more of the mech fights themselves. While they're not as detailed as Super Robot Wars or even the mech fights in Trails of Cold Steel, there's a solid combat system waiting for you once you finally get back in the cockpit. Wolfstride makes you balance between brute force and carefully planned defense in a continuous dance of give and take. You move forward on the movement grid to claim a power bonus, but enter the range of your foe's long-distance attack as a result. They push you back, but now they're close enough for you to retaliate with a powerful, up-close attack. And so on until one of you destroys the other's chest core.
The only downside is you see most of what Wolfstride has to offer early on. A dearth of skill types and a small battlefield mean there's little room for experimentation or strategy, which is a shame. Wolfstride's combat is as fresh as its take on RPG casts, and I hope Ota Imon gets the chance to create a more expansive system in the future.
For all its loud and visible faults, Wolfstride still manages to captivate with its flawed heroes and confidence in its own story. Dividing the narrative's focus between off-kilter humor and an interesting tale of regret and redemption was not the best choice, but this scattered approach doesn't stop this being a memorable tale.