Fuga: Melodies of Steel, Memories of the Middle Ground

Fuga: Melodies of Steel belongs to the endangered species of middleweight video games. Neither a lumbering blockbuster nor a small-scale indie curio, Fuga is part of the Little Tail Bronx series that CyberConnect2 dearly loves and manages to visit about once a decade, and it’s their first independent release. It’s also priced at forty bucks and available only digitally, so it’s exactly the sort of title that may easily go neglected. And it shouldn’t. 

True, the game is niche by design. The previous Little Tail Bronx titles, Tail Concerto and Solatorobo and the obscure Little Tail Story, were joyful, bright-colored creations, but Fuga digs deep into a nightmarish animal-people vision of World War II.

It never outright says that, but the allegory is apparent even before a gentle arcadia of villages, farms, and cat-folk named after foods is invaded by the Berman Empire, leaving a pack of kids to seize a mystical tank and head out for revenge. There's no dog-person demagogue named Badolf Bitler, but subtlety was never the aim here. 

I reviewed Fuga months ago if you'd care to read my in-depth opinion, and I remain impressed by the way the game weaves simple tank battles and resource management into a small-scale social simulator. When not strategizing through the basic but hazardous showdowns with Berman armored units, you're helping the characters bond adorably over laundry and maps and the chicken farm that the tank somehow supports.

It all feels like a throwback to the Saturn and PlayStation era, when a developer could experiment and have the results on store shelves right next to the latest Marios and Maddens and Final Fantasies. The modern industry has plenty of room for independent, risk-taking creations, but rampaging budgets and triple-A releases have swept away that fascinating substratum of strange, inventive, and possibly flawed games that major publishers sometimes decided were worth the creative risks.

Today, unorthodox games usually get only online releases or limited-edition physical copies that don't earn the same attention. I think we’re better off overall, with hundreds of games that wouldn't even have been made twenty years ago, but I miss that level playing field. 

Self-publishing isn't the only chance Cyberconnect2 took with Fuga. I am perhaps the wrong person to ask about its use of an anthropomorphic version of World War II, complete with dog-people fascists conducting horrific experiments, spouting off about racial purity, or, in the case of the Dr. Mengele analogue, hiding his feline visage out of self-loathing. I always like it when something cute or allegedly lightweight dares to embrace sensitive material, no matter the incongruities. When others are offended or embarrassed, I remain amused and even impressed by something like Xenosaga's reckless integration of religious figures. That's another story for another time, though.

Yet even with characters who look like Polly Purebred: She-Wolf of the SS, Fuga doesn’t mock of any of its wartime traumas. It’s far more grim than its predecessors, and its cheerful scenes of characters forging friendships and fishing for scrap metal hit harder simply because they’re just respites from the looming horrors of a massive war. What could be incoherent instead fits together very well.

So I'd recommend Fuga: Melodies of Steel, whether you go for its digital release or wait for a physical copy that no one seems to be planning as of yet. It's a charming game, and it's also a visit to a place most publishers rarely go these days. CyberConnect2 cared enough about Fuga to put it out there themselves instead of waiting who knows how long for a larger company to notice, and for that I wish the game all the success a furry tank battle RPG could possibly have in this day and age.