Video Game Fables suggests an alternate path forward for turn-based RPGs, somewhere in the happy medium of Square Enix’s lavish HD-2D bombast and the mix-and-match chaos of the 32-bit era. Developer Matt Sharp updates the formula and narrative trappings of the Ye Olde Party-Based Journey without giving up the whimsy that makes his solo project an unpredictable delight.
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Something Old, Something New
Video Game Fables walks the line of being metatextual and referential without condescension. Characters pop behind menu frame cutouts. Initiating battle means a familiar fisheye warp distends the screen.
Enemy names are gleefully silly, and the designs even more so. Character archetypes give way to something goofier and stranger, and seemingly straightforward sequences take unexpected turns into genre-hopping glee. Mazes, a legally-distinct red and yellow children’s car, and other diversions break up trots across the land. Paying homage to older conventions doesn’t mean giving up quality of life; teleporters dot the world map, with fixed save points always close by.
These more traditional structures are in service of Video Game Fables‘ best contribution: the infinitely flexible experience point system. Your entire party shares a single pool of points, but what you do with them is almost entirely open-ended. With these points, you can boost the party’s level to make fights easier, or open up new equipment and spell slots.
The ability to add and remove points at will encourages experimentation, which feeds back into the items and resources at your base of operations. It was all too enticing to push myself into a few more fights and test new party builds.
Minor Speed Bumps
As charming as it is, Video Game Fables has a few hiccups. Tying critical hits to special attacks makes strategic menu allocation interesting, but it makes the beginning of every fight feel monotonous. Until you land a critical, your options are frustratingly limited. Even having a small chance to get a special attack stored at the start of battle would help early turns have more variety.
Outside of combat, some of the more ambitious exploration segments hover behind the character on screen. While they aim for an over-the-shoulder feel, the overall effect is distracting. I would occasionally miss jumps or turns because I couldn’t gauge distance accurately.
Despite a few minor hiccups, Video Game Fables is a joy. While it covers familiar territory, the narrative and systemic liberties Matt Sharp applies to well-worn RPG systems transform them into something more forgiving and freewheeling.
|Fun writing||Style isn’t for everyone|
|Respectful of player time||Start of battle becomes pretty rote|
|Flexible experience system||Fussy camera|
|Style isn’t for everyone|
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