I have pretty much narrowed down the games I prefer to play (read as: the only games I am even remotely good at). However, sometimes, my dumb brain decides to goof. For whatever reason, when I stumbled upon TROUBLESHOOTER: Abandoned Children on Steam, I was captivated. Being a strategy RPG, it was completely unexplored territory for me. However, with a high difficulty, insane depth, EIGHT HUNDRED ABILITIES TO LEARN, and a sprawling story that’s on par with Fire Emblem: Three Houses in scope, jumping into this was like driving a racecar without a driver’s license. This is gonna get… uuuuuugly…
TROUBLESHOOTER: Abandoned Children is set in Valhalla, a place where crime is rampant. Fortunately, there are titular Troubleshooters to help out. This story stars an upstart named Albus Bernstein… among MANY others.
The plot of TROUBLESHOOTER is a lot, but it’s a good lot. It’s a traditional episodic cyberpunk, but with classic anime tropes. As you do missions, you learn more about the world and its denizens. They put a LOT of thought into the game, with detailed descriptions of pretty much everything, and loads of environmental details that really make Valhalla appear to be a real city. Being well over a hundred hours long, expect it to really ease you in before sh** hits the fan. Unfortunately… I didn’t exactly enjoy the story. For how much worldbuilding there is, what happens is pretty simple. You basically fight any gang that forms in Valhalla, along with the mainstay antagonists: the Spoonist Cult, and some guy named Carter. All this serves as stepping stones, so Albus’ group can reach Mythril Rank, and he can view classified documents about the classic “incident from ten years ago that everyone talks about all the time but never gives you any actual context until a hundred hours later” trope. It doesn’t help that, with my schedule, I didn’t exactly get to marathon it; that means forgetting what was going on in the first place.
Of course, the biggest caveat with something like this is the fact that the devs are a Korean indie team. Any small outfit that has to translate any foreign dialogue is destined to mess up… a lot. Many Steam reviews, naturally, criticized the writing, but to be honest, it’s not the worst. Some descriptions can sound vague, but a lot of the writing itself is perfectly understandable, even if it lacks poeticness. The game has some pretty good voice acting for what it is, although it only comes up during pure gameplay. It’s actually my first time ever hearing Korean (since I don’t listen to K-Pop), and boy, it really sounds similar to Japanese to the untrained ear. I can just barely tell it’s a different language.
The characters, however, ended up being WAY better than I expected. Albus is a generic, reckless dingus, and is the weakest link in the game. Everyone else is actually pretty damn awesome, especially considering the translation. They’re pretty basic and trope-y, but I still liked them a lot.
Where do I even start with this gameplay? It’s so deep it’s not even funny. Actually, I should start with an appreciation of the game’s U.I. It’s complex, sure, but it’s actually really well put together. There are shortcuts to other menus in just the right places when you’re trying to create builds or look up info on enemies and materials. Hovering over a character’s stats will show you the factors influencing their amount (i.e. equipment, skills, etc.). In battle, hovering over a move will show you the exact calculations, and of course, it shows you a preview of non-crit and non-block damage to the enemy’s health bar when targeting. Also, hovering over the different probabilities associated with your attack while targeting (i.e. hit chance, crit chance, damage, etc.) will also show the calculations for that as well; it shows the exact parameters that enemy armor, skills, status, and environment influence over the attack’s result. It also gives relevant descriptions of status effects as needed; you don’t have to look up a giant glossary of effects if you don’t remember what does what.
As is tradition with strategy RPGs, you have your party, equipment, all that jazz. TROUBLESHOOTER, however, has Masteries. These are the aforementioned eight hundred abilities that can be learned. Most of these are dropped at random by enemies, and can be stockpiled like items. Masteries can be equipped to available slots for their desired effect, and consumed in research to acquire new ones. Mastery Sets come into play when the right Masteries are equipped. The game is kind enough to show you an indicator when you’re on the right track with obtaining a Set. Unfortunately, there is an annoying mechanic where each category of Mastery slots (Basic, Attack, etc.) have their own capacities that limit the value of which Masteries can be equipped AS WELL as there being a limited number of slots for Masteries to be equipped to. It doesn’t matter how many Training Points you actually have in order to equip Masteries with higher costs; if the total value of the Masteries exceeds that property limit in the category, you can’t do it. There are Masteries to increase those capacities, but they’re very rare and specific, and of course, need to sacrifice a slot in another category to be equipped. I think that system is really arbitrary and really hinders your ability to min-max your party.
Equipment is also VERY involved. You can obtain equipment in battle, and they come in various color-coded rarities, as well as an Unidentified or Identified status. Identified weapons will have one-to-four stars on their thumbnail, and have a title of some sort after their name; they are objectively better than Unidentified equipment. These have lower stats and no special effects, but you can pay someone to Identify them. The results are random, which makes for big dopamine when you get good results.
Materials can be earned from battle, and used as ingredients for various items at the workbench. Even if you don’t get what you need, large amounts of materials can be crafted into the next tier of that same type of item. Conversely, rarer items can be dismantled into common ones. You can also outright buy materials and weapons, but doing this is quite expensive.
However, money ends up being VERY easy to accumulate and manage. Ordering food to maintain motivation, paying your landlord as well as your party members is pretty cheap. As long as you don’t splurge on the rare materials and weapons sold at the shops, you’re good. The only thing I buy a lot of are consumables. When equipping them, it—at a glance—looks like an equippable that comes with X number of charges per battle. In fact, it’s not. It pulls from your stock of that item, so you’ll need a lot of them if you plan to use them a lot. Many of them, such as grenades, are extremely helpful when used in the right spot, and of course, you’ll need potions, especially when you haven’t recruited the dedicated healer. Also, you really don’t need to buy equipment at all. You get SO MANY equipment drops naturally in battle, to the point where selling them is your main source of dough. You also don’t need to worry about identifying any of them, except for maybe a red-rarity item dropped by bosses, which can be identified into something even better. Furthermore, the powerful purple-rarity equipment you can get from sidequests and crafting can ALSO be identified for relatively cheap, and these—with their true potential unlocked—will be your best equipment in the long term.
Combat is also as convoluted as you can expect. You have your movement, attacks, Vigor gauge, SP gauge, the environment, weather, time of day, enemy units, people to rescue, buffs, debuffs… yeah it’s a lot. Too much for me to describe in this post. Fortunately, while some reviewers criticize the slow start of the game, it does do a good job to ease you in if you’re a virgin of the genre. Scratch that, it does an exceptional job. Missions get more complex in the right way to get you in the game’s groove without throwing you at the wolves. A pro-tip from me is to not undervalue any back-up soldiers you get. They’re pretty basic, but rely on strength in numbers. Their items are really handy (especially when later ones have the Mastery that makes using items not consume their turn), and you can afford to lose them if absolutely necessary.
Oh, by the way, TROUBLESHOOTER is absurdly hard. Even with powerful builds consisting of three-plus Mastery sets across the entire team, really good equipment, and being at least eight levels over the recommendation for a given mission, I’ve gotten uncomfortably close to the jaws of death numerous times. On NORMAL difficulty. I don’t feel like I’m playing the game wrong, it’s just… hard. In fact, I saw one forum post say that they’ve had their characters die over two hundred times in total. I even read that the postgame DLC is borderline impossible. Cover is INSANELY valuable, because anyone not in it basically dies. Even with good equipment, an unlucky crit can one-shot one of our intrepid heroes from full health, especially if it’s from a boss, or a sniper unit. Bosses are generally a good chunk of your grievances, but there are some specific enemy units who are so bad, they are worse than a lot of the bosses.
One aspect that I feel like should be divisive to strategy-RPG veterans is the Sight mechanic. In any other game of this kind I’ve seen, you get to see and evaluate the entire field, and plan accordingly. Maybe there’ll be an odd stage with fog where you can’t see enemies until it’s too late, and those levels generally suck. Well, with Sight, TROUBLESHOOTER is that fog level all the time. While this is a stat that can be increased, and abilities to reveal enemies in unexplored territory, it is consistently your biggest enemy. You don’t know what an enemy unit is doing until you’re close enough. There are SO MANY times where I sent one person to fight a single enemy unit, when it turned out that there were actually eight of them just beyond my Sight. This kind of misinformation makes missions particularly difficult your first time through; it’s kind of like old-school videogame difficulty, which relied on memorization more than ability to problem solve and adapt, and is generally considered bad game design by today’s standards. While taking time and not splitting up your heroes can be encouraged, there are some more urgent stages where you need to save people or defend a zone (or because the map is huge and it can take forever to complete some missions, although the game autosaves after every turn which is nice). Furthermore, you don’t get to look at enemy units in detail like in other strategy-RPGs, which means even more memorization, and—if it’s your first time facing an enemy unit—absolute terror from not knowing the best strategy to fight them. There is a database for enemies in the company’s office, but by the time you can see all the enemies’ abilities, you’ll already have fought them several times.
Speaking of the office, that’s where your center of operations is. Here, you can do all your crafting and stuff. You must also keep your reputation in mind in different districts. District jurisdiction is vital, because it’s how you get paid. You get the starting district as a free-bee, but you’ll need to satisfy various prerequisites (including money), to apply for jurisdiction and reap the unique benefits of each area. You can also cancel jurisdiction if you hate earning money. Unfortunately, this mechanic is extremely strange and inconsistent. Not losing cases isn’t enough; you need to keep winning cases in the designated district to maintain reputation, but sometimes there’s only one or two missions there—and well—nothing you actually need to do there (at least I think that’s how it works). There are also times where you satisfy the prerequisites to apply for jurisdiction, but your company will arbitrarily not want said jurisdiction. Some districts want you to have a variety of case experiences, which is annoying since 9/10 levels are simple arrest missions. I ended up looking this up on the Steam forums, and it turns out that you only get as many jurisdictions as you have Troubleshooters, and apparently, not all of your party members are considered Troubleshooters in a business sense. In actuality, you only get to have four by the end of the game. You also lose reputation for NOT doing missions in given areas, though this can be helped somewhat by certain Jurisdiction policies that increase the reputation of multiple districts at once. However, it doesn’t take long for your salary to end up being a pretty paltry sum; like I said before, selling unneeded equipment can give you the same amount and then some.
Mission control is where you set out to defend the peace. Story missions are self explanatory enough, but take note of Ordinary and Violent Missions. These are optional filler scenarios that are infinitely replayable, and this is where most of your grinding will take place if you either get stonewalled or want to undertake the daunting task of completion. After a certain point, story missions can be replayed infinitely without repercussions. This adds variety to the completionist grind, and you can skip cutscenes.
There are also TONS of sidequests, a lot of which are either secondary objectives in existing missions or their own thing. The immediate problem with them is that the first quest, which happens to be the prerequisite to all the others, is uncharacteristically hard if you do it at the earliest opportunity; it’s tougher than some of the quests that come up after-the-fact. A lot of them are a pain, though. From having to prevent large groups of mobile, highly evasive enemies from escaping the level, to having to find a specific enemy unit who isn’t marked on the map… it’s a thing. However, they are well worth doing no matter what; you get REALLY good rewards, and it’s the only way that your company earns brownie points toward its reputation.
With a game this long and chock full of content, it’d be tough to find time to play it in this day and age. As addictive as it is, it is NOT good to marathon; you might as well go slow and steady. In fact, I have yet to finish it even as you read this post. A hundred hours in at the time of publishing and I’m not even CLOSE to done. I just really wanted to get a review out for this underrated gem, and there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to complete it. I’m at the fifth of what appears to be seven or eight chapters, and that’s EXCLUDING the two post-game DLC stories!
Current (Possibly Final) Verdict: 9.65/10
TROUBLESHOOTER: Abandoned Children is a true testament to the capability of indie game developers… and it’s only part one of a planned series. If you can somehow find the time (and the computer powerful enough) to sink your life into this one, then I highly advise giving it a whirl. Meanwhile, I gotta finish this thing myself… boy, One Piece will probably be done before that happens.
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