Ah, yes, that old cliché. Waking up in a prison down on your luck, skinned of all your possessions. Dank, dirty, and home to little more than a mattress and a chamber pot. The candles timidly throwing light against shackles on the wet, rocky walls give away that familiar medieval setting in an instant.
Then there are the stories of ancient powers that almost destroyed the world until a dictator rose up and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Oh yes, you’ve played this RPG before, haven’t you? You know exactly what to expect.
Only you don’t. Not this time. Ghost of a Tale is different. Ghost of a Tale is special. For starters, you’re a mouse.
Familiar yet Unfamiliar
Ghost of a Tale is best described as Thief meets Elder Scrolls, via Ratatouille. It’s a medieval-set role-playing game, in that you role-play as a mouse named Tilo. A minstrel by trade, this poor little critter’s wife has been snatched away from him. Those at the root of this devilish crime have imprisoned you to get you out of the picture.
Luckily you have a mysterious benefactor within the ranks of rats that hold power over the land. A key and a note advising utmost stealth appears in your cell the day you assume Tilo’s skin. It’s the spark that sets your mind to escaping your fortress prison, then venturing across the land in pursuit of your wife.
You have an inventory, equipment you can swap in and out, and an ever-growing collection of lore to devour typical of your classic RPG. However, you’re not levelling up into some grand warrior capable of battling the towering rats despite your diminutive size. You don’t even have a weapon. In Ghost of a Tale you need to be, well, quiet as a mouse.
You’re not without tricks. You can throw objects at guards to knock them out, set objects on fire, create distractions, and hide in all kinds of little spaces. Our hero can tiptoe on demand, or descend to four legs and gallop short distances when required. Plus he can manipulate objects in the environment, like moving a stool under a window so he can clamber up and around a guard.
Guards move in patrol loops and react to the sight and sound of your presence with the expected malicious intent. They’re not the smartest tools in the shed – they’re thick as posts, to be fair – but that’s not the point. It’s in their predictability and the various tools provided to Tilo, that our canvas of play is presented. From there, it’s up to you to work it all out.
A Truly Breathtaking World
To say Ghost of a Tale is gorgeous would be an understatement. Pushing the humble Unity Engine to its absolute limit – and our PC in the process – Ghost of Tale is one of the best looking games we’ve ever played. It’s a big statement to put against a relatively small indie game, but those screenshots don’t lie. It’s astonishing in its imagination and detail.
From the brilliant lighting to the richly detailed environments and lovingly crafted character models, this is one of those games that immerses you on beauty alone. Cutscenes are short and sharp, seamlessly bringing life and flair to small moments like opening a door. We love the effort that has gone into the animations, with Tilo not only moving just like you’d expect a mouse might, but putting his little paw up as a contender for cutest game hero of all time.
There’s no shortage of personality in the supporting cast, either. As you make your escape, you come across an ever-widening array of strange creatures that may or may not have been picking the wrong mushrooms from the prison walls. Quests, story, and lore are all gifted via text, and it’s hard not to have a giggle at the way it’s all presented.
Conversations aren’t linear either, but only in the sense of unearthing information and quests, as opposed to making any narrative-changing decisions. There’s a lot of backtracking and fetch quests that result from these chats, but their charm paints over the cliché.
A Rodent’s Perspective
What SeithCG does brilliantly with this world is present a sense of scale. We’re in a world of animals, so everything is relatively small to what you might expect in a human environment. But to our little mouse, it still seems big.
Here the level design shines through. With stealth the main gameplay in Ghost of a Tale, exploration and understanding your environment is critical. Going straight through the front gate is possible, but it’s a challenging and clunky way to play. You’re a mouse after all, and there are secret passages, hidey holes, and climbable objects riddled throughout the world — out of sight of the bigger creatures.
Sometimes there are minor puzzles to solve, too, and some lateral thinking can get you to places other gamers might miss. It’s not as deep a playground as a Thief or a Hitman, but it remains rewarding because this world just makes sense. You’ll always find something around the next corner if you go looking. A gorgeous vista. Loot. A secret passage or a chest. Something.
There are hints of a grander outside world beyond the prison walls as you escape. Spotted through windows and gaps. But when you finally walk out of the dungeons and into the fortress’ keep for the first time you’ll melt like butter in the sun. It’s intoxicating.
There are no square edges in this game world: every step feels deliberate, ever blade of grass or flower that towers above our mouse feels alive. The way water moves, wind gusts, and light splinters past objects just feels so damn real. And when combined with the pinpoint animations of Tilo, you’ll sink so deep into his shoes you’ll find yourself gnawing at cheese while you wait for a guard to complete his loop.
And that’s just inside the fortress. Outside in the forests it’s all so rich and organic. Filled with wonder. SeithCG hasn’t just created a game here: this is a fully realised world.
"Every voyage I took with a Mouse on board ended in tragedy–and there was always a Mouse on board."
#TuesdayThoughts #videogames #gamedev #indiedev #GhostOfATale #madewithunity pic.twitter.com/WRAgcmgN16
— Ghost of a Tale (@GhostOfATale) May 15, 2018
Put Your Hands Together for SeithCG
Of course, Ghost of a Tale isn’t without some issues. All games have issues. While sneaking around works well enough, in the wake of being sprung, the controls struggle to keep pace with your need to escape. Throwing objects, especially at guards, can be a bit hit and miss, too. And both the score and sound effects, while perfectly serviceable, are not as layered or detailed as the visuals they compliment.
But such nit-picking feels a bit unfair to be honest, because here is the stinger. The bit that should make your mind blow as it did ours. Ghost of a Tale was developed by one man – Lionel Gallat – over five years. One guy made all this (with the occasional help from friends). So despite its few small weaknesses, it would be offensive to label Ghost of a Tale anything other than what it is: a stunning achievement.
SeithCG deserves your money, because Ghost of a Tale is a great game.
Ghost of a Tale from developer SeithCG is out now on PC, and coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 shortly.