By: Brian Gunn
Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire is the debut title from Whale Hammer Games. It’s a strategy title that is obviously inspired by The Banner Saga series. Does it stand out enough to make players overlook that its inspiration is so recent?
Tahira is a pretty standard isometric strategy RPG mechanically, and so it controls fairly well. For the most part you’ll just be selecting party members and pointing to where you want to go, and navigating a few menus. These are time worn staples of the genre, and there’s no attempt to reinvent the wheel here.
At first glance, players may think Tahira owes a little too much to The Banner Saga games, and they wouldn’t be far wrong. The perspective and art styles are incredibly similar, though Tahira does manage to strike out on its own in a few ways with more NPCs and spectacular scenes.
The setting also ends up feeling somewhat unique, with zones inspired by the Middle East being fairly prominent, which isn’t something you see every day in fantasy RPGs.
There’s a decent selection of music on hand. There are, of course, the traditional epic scores during big military scenes that are rousing, as well as some unique tracks that feel more in line with the desert atmosphere the game carries. No voice acting is present, and sound effects are solid, if unremarkable.
Tahira starts off with an intriguing bang as the titular character receives a ghostly message from her father. It seems an ancient intergalactic army has arrived to claim the world and now Tahira, a runaway princess, must claim her throne and attempt to throw off the yoke of these invaders.
This army of conquerors, despite seeming to have space travel, is portrayed in a more traditional fantasy sense, wearing imperial armor and calling to mind British or Roman imperialism rather than alien origins.
These broader story points are often very intriguing, but the smaller moments tend to bog down the narrative. Tahira spends much of the opening act introducing a lot of characters that either don’t register at all or are fairly annoying. This is often because of an odd writing style.
Despite an overall fairly serious story, many of the character interactions are going for a witty banter vibe and largely failing. Not only is much of it not very amusing, it tends to bring about a pretty big tonal clash with the rest of the game.
The Banner Saga‘s visuals aren’t the only thing translated into this game. Battle system mechanics like health and armor resources are all present here. Not only does it make Tahira feel fairly derivative due to this, combat was never that series’ strong suit in the first place. To its credit, Whale Hammer Games does offer a few unique twists.
Battles are all scripted scenarios in this title, which allows for wider level variety, and I especially liked the game’s ambushing system where you can hide units until you’ve drawn an enemy in. Additionally, some of the classes feel a bit more distinct, and the story characters all feel appropriately strong rather than just more important versions of a class archetype.
Tahira is a largely linear affair, and so there’s no army to manage or characters to sculpt to your play-style. Expect to bounce between long stretches of story with long stretches of battling, without much to break the rhythm. Thankfully, there’s a very generous auto-save system in place for when the pacing issues make players want to take a break.
Tahira: Echoes of the Astral Empire is an admirable attempt, but overall it’s one that flounders. It is hard to recommend in a world in which The Banner Saga exists and is superior in nearly every respect.