Reverse 1999 is one of those strange titles that happen incredibly rarely, in that this is a turn-based RPG featuring cards that, more interestingly was designed with full English voice acting in mind, and was released in China first before making its way to a global audience only a few months after its initial release. What’s more surprising is beyond that, it’s just incredibly engaging for a first attempt by a fairly new studio.
Bluepoch Games held a beta for Reverse 1999, and during that time we got to try out the game’s demo which unlocked the entire game from its core features, story mode, farming stages, and a plethora of characters in this strategic card RPG, and the game’s proving an absolute joy to experience. So far Reverse 1999 proves to be an enjoyable title with its intricate story and gameplay that’ll keep you on your toes, and thinking about your every move.
*All footage and screenshots were captured from Reverse 1999’s 1st Closed Beta test and are subject to change on release.
▍Reverse 1999 Closed Beta Test Gameplay Preview
▍Reversing Until the Storm is Cleared
Reverse 1999 takes place in a world where events have already been unfolding for years, and the main protagonist is actually named in the story with their own thoughts and motivations. There’s a lot to unpack, but here’s a quick rundown of what players can expect from the story.
On the very last day of 1999, a bizarre phenomenon occurred called the “Storm”, which reverses time back several years between the 1920s to 1990s causing most people to disappear while being blissfully ignorant of their impending demise. This causes a chain of events that turns normal history into alternate history, and the storm brings forth a mutation in humans, birthing a new race called Arcanists. These are humans born with a unique affinity for magic, something that’s uncommon enough in this world for regular humans to fear and shun Arcanists at every turn.
Because of this, many of the Arcanists align themselves with one of two factions, the Manus Vindictae, an organization that indulges in the suffering of humans and treat them as lesser, and the Pavlov Foundation, a group seeking to end the storm, and working towards peace for mankind. The rest that are a result of the Storm’s constant reversal of time, have to live with the prejudices of the world.
You play as Vertin / The Timekeeper, working for the Pavlov Foundation. Neither you nor the building the Foundation is housed in is affected by the storm which now occurs at several points throughout history, causing all of its inhabitants to disappear into the void. Your goal as the Timekeeper is to put an end to the “Storm” while figuring out how it works, all the while protecting humanity from itself.
It’s a story about doing everything you can to try to stop a near-catastrophic event from happening to save the lives of people who start off as strangers, but quickly become your allies before they are forgotten by everyone except you. It’s a heartbreaking story that’s also filled with hope that’s written quite well while still leaving time to explore its many characters.
Reverse 1999 being set in a parallel world also lets it explore different versions of real-world problems and issues from the 20th century, such as Prohibition, but instead of alcohol, its culture, racism, greed, and also its own twists on fables and tales in more cynical and impactful ways to its story. The storm itself also has different effects on the populace seemingly at random, and figuring out its horrifying effects is fun, in a morbidly curious way.
While this is a story worth going through, it is admittedly not the easiest thing to keep track of. Following the story requires quite a lot of attention from the player, as you aren’t introduced to the story at the beginning, but rather when events are already unfolding, several times over. That means the player is playing catch-up with everything in the world from its characters, events, and even Vertin as they have their own established history.
Much of Reverse 1999’s story is also told through text in the form of newspaper logs, radio interviews, and other small story segments outside of the main stages. While it’s a pretty novel showing players the world and characters, the translation can be a little wonky at times and that doesn’t help with the amount of reading you need to go through. The story also often bounces between different characters and events happening simultaneously and in the past meaning if you’re not paying attention it’s easy to get lost and have to connect the dots in your head.
Thankfully Reverse 1999’s story is easily the most enjoyable part of the game, and it does reward you for paying attention to these characters and their stories, with a rich narrative, great voice acting, and touching character moments that last. It might take some more brainwork than you’re used to, but for paying attention you’re rewarded with a story that’s equally dramatic, intriguing, and heartbreaking in all the right places.
▍Excellent Presentation for a First Try
It’s hard to imagine Reverse 1999 being the first game by Bluepoch Games, but for a first try, the developers managed to nail its presentation in all of the right places, like its visual effects, interface, sound design, and music.
Reverse 1999 is a 2.5D game, in that all characters and backgrounds are drawn in 2D however the battle effects and the planes the characters fight on are presented in 3D, creating a unique art style that feels like something out of a pop-up book rather than a game. This continues as the game mixes gorgeous VFX during combat and environment, creating something that looks far more 3-dimensional than the sum of its parts.
Reverse 1999 is well known already for using English voice acting, and the game puts it to good use. Whether you have gripes with English voice acting or otherwise, it’s definitely the recommended way to go about playing it story, as the voice cast for the title does a great job of capturing the personalities and mannerisms of each character, showing the full picture of how the character behaves from their visual and voice alone.
One moment that stuck out was when I was exploring the characters I’ve picked up, and stumbled across Balloon Party, a little girl with a party animal balloon behind her back filled with a strange liquid, captioned with the chemical name for salt. While just looking a little weird herself from her colorful outfit and air lined with all manner of junk, it was her little voice line of “Oh, Nice to meet you! Nice to meet you! Nice to meet you!” that got me really curious.
What led to that was a short tale of the Berlin Wall, the tensions between two countries, and how a child nearly died until her parents slapped literal balloons out of her body, all told in a whimsical way like a children’s novel. It was really surprising to see and all because the English voice actor portrayed the child in such an innocent, and oddly unsettling way.
That doesn’t mean the other languages don’t portray the same level of nuance, but for a game borrowing much more from Western influences, it just felt more appropriate especially when it conveys each character’s accents, among many other speech patterns. Lilya for example will actually sing in Russian on the main menu when set in English, but in the other languages, they perform the song in their native tongue.
The User Interface is also spot-on. It’s easy to grasp where, and what every feature does, and Reverse 1999 is more than willing to provide full details on how each character works from their abilities to every stat value. One nice touch the game has is how it handles stage prep.
▼ A look at the game’s main menu and character details screen.
When starting a stage you’re sent to the preparation screen, and here you can change your party members, adjust their levels, gear, and more without seeing a single loading screen. It also doesn’t start the stage until you actually hit “Start” from this page, so this also lets you catch the story segment before the level actually begins, without using any of your energy.
It’s small details like these in its interface that make the process of playing Reverse 1999 very smooth and painless, as it means if you’re out and about a lot you won’t have to grapple with a loading screen on your phone just because you want to make small tweaks to your team,
Reverse 1999 simply looks and sounds great to look at, and its great presentation helps to compliment the game and its story in meaningful ways both in appeal and usability. There’s even a mode where you can build your own island, which acts as a kind of base where you can place your favorite characters and collect Stamina periodically. The interface for forming the area is also quite intuitive, and the prefab assets naturally blending together based on your placements feel great to watch as your island unfolds.
▍Strategic Card Gameplay Where Choices Matter
Reverse 1999 is a turn-based RPG using cards for commands. With each turn, the player pulls from a random pool of cards. Each character has 2 cards and the cards you can get from this pool are completely random, sometimes giving you a chance to pull multiple of the same cards in a turn. Once you’ve drawn cards, you will use whatever cards you have during that turn to command your characters to attack, with between 2-4 commands each turn depending on how many characters are active.
Aside from that however Reverse 1999’s unique mechanic is its card combination system. In a similar vein to something like Crusader’s Quest or other puzzle-based RPGs, each card can have up to 3 stars, and the amount of stars a card has goes up if you combine them together. While you can get away with using just the base card to do damage, combining them is where its powers really shine.
That’s because in Reverse 1999 when cards have at least 2 stars, they will be granted more damage and sometimes meaningful debuff that goes along with it. For instance, Druvis III’s Wind into the Woods card deals 200% Mental damage, but at 2 stars the card gains a bonus effect where it applies Petrify, completely stunning an enemy unit for one turn, negating their attack unless you hit them with a card that deals reality damage. At 3 stars it will instead petrify for 2 turns, and deal 300% Mental Damage.
These decisions lie at the heart of the game’s balance, as most of Reverse 1999’s enemies actually deal quite a hefty chunk of damage to your team, and unlocking the ability to stop them from attacking, or stunning them entirely is a great way to mitigate damage and increase your own. Combining cards does come at a risk, however, as shifting the positions of cards costs one of your actions, meaning you have to weigh the risk between having a more powerful ability now or saving it for the next turn.
There are also a few minor things that help make you consider your options during each fight, as every card you queue up for a command is used regardless of whether or not its effect is actually used or not, meaning if you queue up 3 powerful cards and the current wave of enemy dies early the unused cards that were queued up will disappear anyway so you have to gauge your damage and effects appropriately in multi-stage fights.
Alternatively, you can also shift cards around to “waste commands” so you can get by by using just 1 weak card before moving on to the next wave.
Each character also has a powerful 3rd card that can be used if they gain enough Moxxie, which is determined by the levels of cards they use, unleashing a powerful attack or buff without the need to raise its levels. Players can also use their own Tuning ability to do things like generate a wild card that can be merged with any other 1 star card, shuffle the levels of all cards at random, and more in the future, similar to the Mystic Code system of Fate/Grand Order.
It’s a rather interesting system and a way to balance a game, as I was often finding myself trying to keep my enemies locked down rather than overwhelming them with brute power, especially in the earlier chapters when farming stages aren’t unlocked right away.
In terms of grinding Reverse 1999 manages to make it fairly painless, as you can easily find the stages you need to farm for items by tapping on a character’s item requirements, and while there isn’t a sweep option, the game has a replay system that auto-plays the stage with the exact same parameters from levels, and cards used to grant you up to 4x the rewards of that stage, and its sped up dramatically to make it even faster.
Reverse 1999 is also the type to encourage you to use lower-rarity characters, at least early on because it generally takes fewer resources to upgrade them, and for certain characters you get a whole plethora of money and EXP items back when you upgrade them, making them basically free to use. It’s a nice way of getting you to try more characters and discover the strengths of its diverse cast.
Reverse 1999 has a pretty engaging and fun combat system, and early on I found myself battling with one of Reverse 1999’s bosses for nearly 10 minutes strategizing and thinking of the best way of taking them down while completing challenges. While it is fun, I fear that the game may reach a point where it becomes repetitive after prolonged sessions. A major gripe some players may have is because of the luck-based nature of Reverse 1999, you may end up in tight situations where you need a certain card for a debuff, only to never draw it at a crucial moment.
While luck can be frustrating to those looking for consistency, being risk-averse or smart about your cards and the characters you bring along can greatly mitigate its factor during battle. It’s just a part of the game players need to grapple with, and how successfully you can adapt to on-the-fly tactics will make or break runs. It may not be for everyone, but if it’s something that manages to draw you in, it creates a fun and entertaining turn-based system that rewards thoughtful planning and improvisation.
▍Reverse 1999 is Fun in All the Right Places
Reverse 1999 is an entertaining new take on the turn-based genre, and with its plethora of features, quality-of-life interface options, and an incredibly rich story, it’s proving to be a game that will no doubt be able to carve out its own niche among mobile gamers and depending on the player could be their next mainstay title to add to their list of daily gacha games.
While it has tons to offer for fans of a good story and smart gameplay, it may not reach the same kind of mainstream appeal as other puzzle-based RPGs, and that’s fine. Because what it has to offer so far is simply great, it’s exciting to see how Reverse 1999 and its story will develop over time as it reaches its launch date.