Title: Ghost of a Tale
Version Tested: PC
Available On: Windows
Genre: Action-adventure, stealth
Official Site: ghostofatale.com
Release Date: July 25, 2016
Where to Buy: Steam
As any indie gamer can attest to, we are quite the risk-taking bunch. If Triple-A games were the sun, we’d be the space cowboys orbiting somewhere around Jupiter, far from the realm of wealthy producers and clever publishers. We take frequent chances on unknown games that stick to the shadowy corners of the market like spiderwebs, plucking them fresh from the Steam store (or some other place), our curiosity peaked by a colorful screenshot or low-budget trailer.
We take these chances fully aware that it could end in catastrophe; that our hard-earned tenner could be exchanged for an incredibly flawed, glitchy—or perhaps worst of all, utterly boring—download. So it is always such a pleasure when an indie title feels like a Triple-A—at least, in its heart of hearts. Not only does it justify our slightly thinner wallets, but proves what we already knew as indie gamers: you don’t need millions to make a good game.
In the case of Ghost of a Tale, an independent action-adventure and stealth video game that’s just been released for Early Access on Steam, its development history is utterly mind-blowing. This title wasn’t created by a group of geeky devs working in harmony to produce a well-rounded experience for all. No, Ghost of a Tale was primarily developed by one guy, a former DreamWorks and Universal Studios employee known as Lionel “Seith” Gallat.
I’ve been following Ghost of a Tale for quite some time, checking up on Seith’s website now and again to monitor its intriguing progress. I was always floored by what I saw: a beautiful world so obviously inspired by The Secret of NIMH, and a developer with enough talent, passion and dedication to divide between an entire team. Ghost of a Tale is a game that evokes memories of The Legend of Zelda, with a splash of Shadow of Mordor and a sprinkle of Redwall. But enough gushing—let’s jump into what made this game such a wonderful Early Access experience.
In Ghost of a Tale, you start out as a little mouse minstrel named Tilo, who’s been thrown in rat prison for committing an unknown crime. Thus, your long-term motivation is to break free of your rancid confines. In its early release, Ghost of a Tale provides three active locations: the prison, the courtyard, and later the sewers. Nearly every location is crawling with rat guards, armed with very pokey spears that can gut poor Tilo if you aren’t quick enough at evading them. Which is the whole point of the game (thus far): to find important items and complete quests, all while tip-toeing and scampering around these violent sentries.
Though a glitch in the early access download prevented players from being able to view any of the game’s maps, this was not a detriment to the gameplay. There are so many nooks to explore and hidden objects to find in Ghost of a Tale, the familiarity of your surroundings fast becomes second-nature. Despite being developed by, again, one guy, the level of originality and world-building is exceptional and would be difficult to achieve for anyone lacking the long animation history of Seith.
No, Ghost of a Tale isn’t perfect. There were a few occasions when a glitch would leave me stuck inside a wall, and Tilo frequently refused to cling onto ledges (resulting in a few horrific deaths). More than once, the chains hanging around the prison would flail into the air like the arms of inflatable Airdancers. The save system is also fairly odd; the game auto-saves separately to your manual save, so I was often confused which file to use.
However, bugs will always be part of the Early Access process, and I’m positive most defects will be remedied for the final launch. None of these malfunctions ruined the experience for me. Like Zelda and many other beloved classics, where Ghost of a Tale excels most is its difficulty level. The game certainly isn’t hard, but at the same time nothing is handed to you, and there is a real feeling of accomplishment when a useful item is found.
There were also a few instances where common sense was necessary to progress, such as using Tilo’s candle in the appropriate way, or dressing in a specific costume to obtain information from an NPC. Each location connects to another without loading screens, thus scampering through the sewers, up to the prison and into the courtyard (which you will do a lot) can become a fluid process after you get the hang of where to hide, and who to hide from.
The courtyard is beautiful with its crumbling structures, lush patches of overgrown grass, an ivy-covered well and secret rooms and gardens to explore. The prison is also inspiring in its own macabre way, just as the sewers are, with glowing mushrooms and dark pools of water. There are some pretty interesting characters to speak to during your quests, such as a pirate frog, two mice-thieves, an altruistic rat guard and the mysterious stranger who freed Tilo from his cell.
Admittedly, I am not a huge “lore” fanatic when it comes to indie games, and neither do I prefer silent text in place of voice acting. But for some bizarre reason, both concepts work brilliantly in Ghost of a Tale. The lack of a constant soundtrack is vital to the vibe of the story—dystopian, with beauty and ugliness co-existing together—and the lore was fascinating, like reading Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, or Watership Down. However, despite its comparability to other art forms, Ghost of a Tale is, most importantly, unique to itself, and I was thoroughly upset when I reached the end of the early access version.
So far, no announcement has been made regarding the official release date of Ghost of a Tale, which will be available on PC and later Xbox One. However, Seith has made a post on his website encouraging fans to buy the early access version:
“Given the advanced state of Ghost of a Tale I think the early access route is the best for everyone,” Seith writes.
“If you choose to buy the pre-release version, know that you are actually making the development of Ghost of a Tale possible. Plus you get a better price while the game is still in early access since the final version will likely be more expensive when it’s out.”
After playing the early release myself, I can assure you I will be playing (and reviewing) the full version when it is finally placed in our waiting hands. Fantastical and inspiring, Ghost of a Tale is a must-play for all indie cowboys.
- Gameplay: Addicting, with just the right level of challenge.
- Graphics: Ethereal, with little touches to be found everywhere.
- Sound: Tastefully utilized soundtrack, adding significance where needed.
- Presentation: An addictive, dystopian fairytale that promises big things for its official release.
- Exceptional world-building
- Addictive gameplay
- Well-balanced level of challenge
- Awkward save system.
- Minor bugs and glitches.