“You are not special. The world is not about to end. There is no ancient prophecy, no giant mythical beast is about to be unleashed, but war is coming and your moral duty is to your family and your people. Right or wrong is for you to decide.”
A quote like that immediately got my interest and drew me towards this game. Now, I love all kinds of RPG’s, but there are a ton of tropes that are wildly overdone in the medium, a few of which were mentioned in the quote above. Celestian Tales: Old North is a game Published by Digital Tribe and developed by Ekuator Games that got it’s funding through Kickstarter for a good reason, if you ask me. It’s the first in a three-part series of RPG’s that tell the tale of 6 different characters whose fates are intertwined. The decisions you make in the first game will carry over to your other two, so it’s recommended you don’t make the choices lightly since they’re big decisions that could end lives.
The characters are all brought together through squire training, their fates intertwined. Their land is at war and all 6 of them get swept up in it as you fight to make the right decisions. They aren’t entirely arbitrary decisions either like we’re all probably pretty used to seeing in games. These choices are going to carry over– according to the developers– into the other two installments of the game and they are legitimate moral dilemmas. Will you turn over a group of bandits to be beheaded, because it’s the law of the land or will you respect the fact that the man currently in charge is a pacifist, desiring a different form of punishment? Maybe there are no right or wrong answers? I won’t spoil too much on the story, because I really do think it’s an experience to have, but it’s probably the biggest draw of the game to me. The tale the game told was refreshing and the details shift according to which character you pick as your main.
The people at Ekuator Games set out to create a title that “redefines the classic RPG genre”. It’s a huge claim to make, but I’d say they did pretty well. Despite the claim of the developers the combat is pretty similar to a lot of other turn-based games. If you’ve played any others you wouldn’t have too much difficulty picking this up. Combat is admittedly rather easy if you’re a JRPG veteran, but still enjoyable based on the spins they’ve put on some of the mechanics.
You have a total of 6 characters to choose from and you can have a team of up to 3 active at any given time. The opportunity to switch characters is available to you at any time outside of battle, you don’t have to move to a save point or anything to do so, which I really enjoyed. Each character has a sort of specialization or role which you can choose to follow or ignore. It’s not really explicitly stated in the game, but if you know anything about RPG’s it wouldn’t be hard to figure based on stats. There’s a tank, a berserker, two tactitians each favoring defense and healing or offense and speed, and two tricksters who focus on different status effects and have differing range. The cast is diverse enough to change play style up fluidly.
There are a few mechanics that Old North does differently than some of the other indie JRPG’s I’ve played. Your entire party receives experience regardless of whether or not they’re in battle with you, a mechanic many party-based RPG’s (especially JRPG’s) do not utilize. Rather than MP you’ve got a Stamina system to cast spells or do special attacks. For every action you do in battle (other than using special attacks) you build up a single stamina point. You’ve got a stock of 4 skills you can actively use in battle and 2 passives so there’s plenty of battle customization too. This game also makes sure you can see enemies in every area you’re in so you can enter battle to level as you see fit.
The music in this game is truly lovely. There was clearly time taken to compose pieces that fit certain scenes and areas. The score can go from whimsical while you’re strolling through the forest to energetic as soon as you enter into a battle. The transitions are great, not taking you out of the overall mood of the game.
The graphics in this game are lovingly crafted. A lot of the backgrounds are hand-drawn or painted and I can only imagine the hours that went into creating the bright colors of the forest and the details of the cities. The sprites are also custom, and each character has a painted bust that shows during dialogue with a series of different expressions that fit their text and how they’re feeling at the time. The game also has animated cutscenes and the opening movie is rather good with admittedly impressive animation for an indie JRPG. Overall the art direction is fantastic. Sprites, animations, backgrounds, cutscenes, maps, they’re all beautiful and are reminiscent of a few other big-name JRPG’s I’ve played.
There are 18 achievements in this game and most of them are pretty late-game accomplishments. Things like leveling each character’s weapon type to the max and playing through the story as everyone.
Overall Score: 4/5
While short, about 10-12 hours or so max, this game is an experience. I recommend picking it up here for $12.99 if you’re a fan of turn-based JRPG’s and decision-making in games you play.