My latest review for Ghost of a Tale is up on DLH.net, so make sure you head over there now to check it out, click here!
How do I quickly describe Ghost of a Tale? Well... imagine Metal Gear, but no killing anyone. And you're a mouse. And the guards are all rats. And there's magic and music. So I guess what I'm saying is, it's a stealth game.
Now I've never been really sucked in by stealth games, but this one I just couldn't stop playing. It's a bit stressful in the beginning when you're not certain what's going on, but once you get used to your surroundings, that's when the fun really begins.
You play as Tilo, a minstrel mouse who was arrested when, while playing for a Rat Lord, his wife refused to sing the song requested. They were separated and now your job is to escape Dwindling Heights and find your beloved. Along the way you meet an insane pirate frog, two amusing and mischievous mouse thieves, and a few others notable rats, including a freakin' ghost. (Stops to think about the title.) Ah! I get it now!
Let's talk about the world, first; it's gorgeous. The visuals are beautiful, the music is great, and the atmosphere is engaging. I was honestly on the edge of my seat, trying not to get caught as I sneaked past guards. Being able to hear them coming, to follow their movements from my hiding spots, it all came together to really draw me in. But the world is much more than just what's on display.
There's so much lore to this world. It feels like this is part of an established game universe. Every time you come across words or places in dialogue you don't know, you are given the option to check a glossary and learn more. This is an unobtrusive way to fill the player in about the greater world, from other strongholds and countries all the way to common swear words.
You'll spend most of the game avoiding guards, learning who to trust, and fetching items for them. In fact, a great deal of the game is eluding guards while you solve puzzles and fetch items. This lets you move out from the jail to the courtyard, out to the forest, down into crypts, and out to the beach. Early on, I was led to believe that I'd be leaving Dwindling Heights and moving from map to map, but instead you're restricted to one island. This is not a negative. With all the detail, with all the secret passages, and with all the ins and outs laden throughout the map, they manage to make one little island feel huge!
Now, you will end up doing some significant backtracking, but with all the shortcuts you unlock as you go, it's not too bad. Add to that the costumes that let you either fool or blend in with guards, and you've got lots of ways to move throughout the world and solve puzzles.
The world also operates on a day/night system with the clock constantly ticking. This can mean interesting discoveries when sneaking around at night as well as tricky moments like when the blacksmith takes your armor for eight hours to improve it. Of course this means that certain people will move around the map depending on the time of day and I think that is a good segue into some of my criticisms.
If you've ever play Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, you know about it's amazing time system. People are constantly moving about, constantly going from place to place. This means you can catch them moving in between locales, something that just didn't quite make it into Ghost of a Tale. I know that the commander of the outpost is in his quarters before noon. I know that in the afternoon he's at the docks. But I have missed him in both places because he, apparently, teleports directly from spot to spot. I know he doesn't walk because I've watched the blacksmith, who leaves promptly at 6 pm, stay there pounding his anvil for hours because I was watching.
Also, the amazing story... it kinda fizzles out. There are lots of amazing characters with great side plots to explore and finish, but when the game is coming to a close, the ending kind comes out of nowhere. In retrospect, they do foreshadow it a little, but not in a way that makes me feel like everything is happening naturally. Furthermore, when it ended, I was left a little disappointed. As I mentioned, I managed to finish up all the side stories and enjoy the closure that came from everyone around me. Unfortunately, the ending feels like there was a chapter missing. The main story you've been pursuing the entire time just kinda... fizzles... and something else entirely takes it's place.
Overall, I can't recommend this game enough. It's beautiful, it's elegant, it's packed with lore, and it is just begging for a sequel. If not to continue the world that has been established so far, then at least to wrap up the story that needs a full closure. If you love high fantasy, fairy tales, and especially stealth game play, you can't go wrong with this game.
Don't Forget to be Awesome
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.