Does a great journey need a fantastic ending? Exploring the open world of Wings of Roldea, I wonder just how much direction a player needs, and whether FOMO applies to games.
The tale of Wings of Roldea begins in the academic city-state of Romenia, comprised of a large, independent academy of magic, where student and professor alike research spells and master the blade. Whenever someone from Romenia comes of age they venture into the nearby forest to ask the goddess for a blessing. Few receive it, yet Arma did, despite being the first outsider to attend the ritual. As an infant, she was found abandoned at the doorstep of the academy and taken in by the staff. She grew up in bliss, but all good things usually come to an end. The very night she returns from the ritual, Romenia is overrun by bandits. Saved by her mentor, Arma is one of the few who manage to escape through the academy’s portal.
Soon after, Arma wakes up in a remote village, having been found unconscious by some locals. From that moment, the game begins in earnest, and the world is your oyster. There are some directions, friendly suggestions from NPCs as to what you may do, but no real handholding. For example, whether you free or not Romenia is up to you, and if you choose to do so, it’s not even the game’s main storyline. That honor goes to the quest you can cut yourself from at the start of the game, yet the only hint towards its importance is that it references the titular Roldea later down the line.
This fearless trust in the player to discover the world on their own charmed me with the game at first, but it was the way Wings of Roldea tries to immerse the player as a whole that enamored me for good. The game has no indicators and no journal, and instead relies on the density of its content to make sure that you find something to do. The game’s open world is small, but most actions lead towards some sort of outcome, whether you enter random dungeons, pester strangers, or just keep hunting bandits as a mercenary until something happens.
Another thing that kept me on track was the game’s leniency towards its own systems. An example of this is the mild importance of the clock: certain events can only happen depending on the time of day, but none will expire if you wait for too long. The passage of time also leaves Arma tired and hungry, but the cost of food and lodging is incredibly low. You can easily stay fed and rested, but having to satisfy these needs will make you feel like you’re living in the world of Wings of Roldea, rather than just exploring it.
Obviously, Wings of Roldea is still just a game, so its freedoms have their limits. The game has many stories to tell, but they’re linear in nature. Objectives boil down to clearing dungeons, and while there are small variations in outcome depending on whether you succeed or fail against a boss, it often feels more like you’re watching the story unfold instead of directly participating in it.
The act of clearing dungeons itself suffers from being repetitive. Wings of Roldea is a hack and slash by nature, and doesn’t feature many ways to play with its systems. There are four weapons Arma can access, two of which can be equipped at once. Each dungeon is a randomly generated maze with a predefined number of floors and enemy types, and it's your job to find the portal to the next floor — fighting monsters, avoiding traps, and collecting treasure along the way.
Arma handles in a fashion similar to Juno from Overgrown: Genesis, as her movement is limited to four directions: up, down, left, and right. This makes repositioning your character to hit an enemy a bit frustrating, especially in tight spaces and around corners. To alleviate this, Arma was made faster than most enemies in the game, even without sprinting. Additionally, the game's challenge is balanced around enemy movement patterns. Foes will dash towards Arma in a fashion specific to them, then stop for a moment, leaving themselves open for a counterattack.
While very simple in its execution, I found this combat system somewhat addictive. However, there’s also plenty of ways it could have been improved. To begin with, it offers very little customization. The four weapons Arma can find aren’t distinct enough to freshen the experience. You can also equip Arma with accessories that improve her stats. They’re near identical, though, and they don’t make enough difference to allow for different play styles. There’s also a passive skill leveling system in the game, allowing Arma's skills to improve as she performs certain actions, but the effects of this are minuscule.
What kept dungeon crawling in Wings of Roldea engaging to me was, again, the game’s approach to immersion, which extends to its sexually explicit content. If Arma’s health falls to zero, she will become vulnerable, making it possible for opponents to have their way with her. While most games resolve this with a game over CG, Wings of Roldea makes you play through the experience instead.
While your body is slowly giving out, you can still crawl around, and if the enemies happen to let you be for just a moment, you might be able to get up and make one more desperate swing with your sword. This means that if you see that portal to the next floor being right there, just that tiny distance away from you, slightly out of reach, you could try to claw your way towards it. However, with every step or two you take, monsters will grab Arma and abuse her, replacing the cut-out of her in the corner of the screen with CGs of the act, supplemented by some animation.
As just stated, even with her health at zero, Arma can still put up a fight so long as she has vitality left. Her vitality is kept track of as a separate bar from health, and depletes very slowly as time passes — slightly faster if she’s being abused. Though, it’s very difficult to run out of vitality, so much so that the game forces you to be the one who gives up during the abuse, and it does this by giving you a dedicated button to instantly set Arma's vitality to zero. Once unconscious, Arma will wake up in the nearest town. This entire process makes losing very emotional, and it's difficult not to empathize with Arma as you realize how brutal and unforgiving the world she inhabits is.
Other than losing in combat, there are twenty explicit cutscenes to unlock. Five of them feature other NPCs you meet during your travels. The rest are lengthy events of abuse directed at Arma, usually taking place after she's captured by an organized enemy faction, like bandits or orcs. Sadly, these scenes are mostly reskins of one another with small differences.
As is typical of erotic RPGs, Wings of Roldea keeps a detailed record of the protagonist’s sexual experiences. However, the game doesn’t feature moral corruption, at least not much of it. Having specific body parts stimulated will make Arma reach orgasm faster when they’re stimulated again in the future. If she’s forced to expose herself after losing her clothing in the dungeons, she will eventually agree to walk around naked or in revealing gear. Though, she will remain uncomfortable. Despite the game’s nature, Arma is always characterized as a victim of the world she inhabits, rather than a deviant who revels in it.
It should be clear by now that I enjoyed most of my time with Wings of Roldea, but that didn’t last through my entire experience. The journey through the game’s world is very fun at first, with adventures, dungeons, and secrets waiting behind every corner. On the other hand, as those begin to thin out, finding triggers to progress the final remaining quests becomes a bit of a chore. There are also other issues, caused by how the questlines intertwine.
Each major storyline in Wings of Roldea leads to an ending. When you reach one of them for the first time, you receive an item that allows you to start a new playthrough. What the game doesn’t tell you, though, is that to reach the most important ending you have to complete most of the other endings in one playthrough, or at least get pretty far in associated questlines. Luck comes into play as well. Not having talked to one random guy, I failed to trigger a very important chain of events, which eventually forced me to run around every location looking for event triggers. This was tiresome, and had I not been planning to review the game, I’d have probably given up at that point.
I also have to mention the game’s technical issues, as there are a few. Firstly, the game uses an online DRM. In order to launch Wings of Roldea, you first have to log-in to your DLsite account. It’s not much of a hassle, but if your online connection is down, you'll be unable to access the game.
Secondly, the translation is bad. While I was able to figure out the plot without too much work, the dialogue felt unnatural for most of the game, especially during longer cutscenes. Characters exchange stiff and often redundant sentences that reveal an unfamiliarity with the English language. As the game’s main strength is its ability to immerse the player, this issue becomes quite difficult to ignore. Additionally, a few times I ran into problems with the game’s UI, with sentences that didn’t fit in the text bubble. This made them difficult to read or, in the rarest cases, completely impossible to read as the text ran off screen. This is especially surprising given that the game has received a DLsite official translation, which is advertised as produced by professionals.
Thankfully enough, I have no serious issues in regards to the game’s presentation and sound. Sprite artwork used by the game isn’t exceptional, but it does the job. The randomly generated dungeons are usually empty and could be improved in that regard. As mentioned earlier, the artwork used for sexually explicit scenes is usually a small cut-out of the characters involved in the corner of the screen. It may sound limiting at first, but it easily accomplishes as much as fullscreen CGs would. The sound design is very satisfying. Arma has minimal voice acting, but her occasional whispers make her seem vulnerable. Music can be blissful or tense depending on the need, but never strays too far in either direction, creating fitting atmosphere.
In total, I’ve spent fourteen hours with Wings of Roldea, and I enjoyed at least ten of them. It's rich in content, features highly immersive gameplay, and many engaging stories that kept my interest despite their poor translation. If you choose to play it, take it at your own pace, and use the freedom it gives you to decide where the adventure ends. The game’s price to content ratio is reasonable, but I highly recommend playing the demo so that you can try the combat system for yourself, as you will be spending a lot of time hunting monsters through samey-looking dungeons.
You can purchase Wings of Roldea on DLsite for $18.10 (estimated from ¥1,870). A demo for the game can also be found on the store page.
To make sure that the game installs and plays properly, you may have to configure your system to the Japanese locale. DLsite offers a handy guide on how to do so, which is available here.