I once had a mouse, Mr. Tibbles. He wasn’t the most interesting of creatures, he didn’t like to exercise and very rarely did much other than sleep or eat, before making a racket during the night. Fortunately, the tiny mouse that I’ve recently spent my hours watching over and protecting is one that proves much more interesting than my old pal Mr. Tibbles, and after stepping into the medieval fantasy world of Ghost of a Tale, I soon found fond memories with Tilo – the protagonist of this unique and charming adventure.
For those who ignored Ghost of a Tale during its spell in Xbox Game Preview, the completed story follows a small, charming and captivating little rodent. It is he who finds himself imprisoned within the dark and dreary walls of Dwindling Heights Keep on the shore of Lake Vaelia, separated from the true love of his life, Meera.
As with every love story, the main goal of our protagonist Tilo is to be back with his beloved Meera once more, and with such passion in his heart, and a strong will to see her again, our adventure begins. But before players can get the reunion back on track, the first port of call is escaping from the jail cell from which Tilo is confined.
The world of Ghost of a Tale is populated and run solely by animals – there’s no Stuart Little type affair going on here – and in this world, you are easily the weakest of all those that can make a difference. Of course, that means things such as combat can prove a difficult and often deadly affair, so the key to success comes down to stealth. This is something you’ll be utilising straight away as you try to attract the attention of the patrolling guards, before hiding in a nearby chest. It’s this type of low-level deception that you’ll need to master in order to progress through the world – and that is the essence of Ghost of a Tale.
Now to ensure you’re able to keep your protagonist as the unlikely hero, you first need to have a respectable stealth system in place. Fortunately in Ghost of a Tale it seems to work wonderfully. In recent years it’s been rare to see games truly master the art of stealth when you’re in control of such an underpowered protagonist, and besides the Styx series, there aren’t many that have got it right. Here though, stealth and adventure come together as one, and the end result is rather brilliant. With each attempt to sneak past the countless dim-witted rat guards of this world, players are gifted with an ideal detection marker that lets them know just when that guard has identified a threat, seeing through the mistakes. This allows for you to get down on all fours and run to the nearest chest, basket or pot that you can find. Whilst that may sound like a bit of a ’cheat’ if you like, there’s nothing more frustrating than doing something over and over again because you can’t see how you’re getting it wrong, and these hints are something we should be glad to have in the game.
Now besides the gameplay, the first thing that caught my attention with Ghost of a Tale was the sheer level of quality in character movement and animation. From the way Tilo walks, to the twitching of his tiny whiskers and ears, and even the way he decides to have a scratch should you be stood in the same place for a few seconds, every animation feels in tune with the game. There’s a real sense of understanding how the animals should naturally behave, which is fantastic to see in such a fantasy type adventure, especially given how well it makes the player feel connected to this little mouse. Of course, seeing a mouse stand on his hind two legs and run about isn’t exactly realistic, but the movement still matches as you’d expect and it makes for an engaging experience.
What’s more is that there is stunning detail trickling on down into the game world and its many environments. Now this was an area that at first I was unsure about, as the textures – on Xbox One X at least – do look a little gritty, and dare I say aged, however several hours in that worry turns into satisfaction, with detail in the environment standing out and each area setting the tone of a distant medieval land that players should fear.
On top of that you have the candle-lit fire burning away with its crackling noises and perfectly designed lighting effects, you have the jingling of the little bell on Tilo’s cute little hat as you walk along and you have the cold stone flooring that paints a picture of a grim and cold place. And that’s all before you’ve even left the opening area beyond Tilo’s cell.
Not only does Tilo look the part but he’s also a doddle to control with the left stick moving him about, triggers controlling the ability to crouch and sprint, B jumping or climbing him onto ledges and surfaces, and Y throwing picked up objects such as bottles. It is these which can be used to knock out enemies who prove more of an issue than simply sneaking past, or to create a distraction.
Once you have mastered the controls, and the art of sneaking, you’ll be ready to move on to the more RPG focussed aspects of Ghost of a Tale, the most notable of which are quests. Throughout Tilo’s adventures, there are many quest givers that will make themselves known through conversation and should you help the right ones will find that they can lead to some fantastic exploration opportunities in a world that just begs to be uncovered.
What’s more is Ghost of a Tale brings some fantastic storytelling to each of its many quests, with well-written, comical, vastly intriguing and branching conversations often leaving you keen to find the next wacky character looking for a favour.
Quests are an important aspect to any RPG adventure but so too is a progression system and Ghost of a Tale does that well by bringing in levelling. To level up, players must collect experience points which are earned from completing the various objectives and quests given to Tilo. Level up and you’ll be rewarded with extra health and stamina each time, which can often prove a bonus if you’ve been caught on the wrong end of an enemy patrol route.
Throughout the game there are also many collectibles that Tilo can find, all of which have their uses. Should you find a full disguise then using it can often be the key to getting into otherwise inaccessible areas or past the many enemies and characters that would usually prove a stumbling block. It’s a novel feature in a game like this and it’s just another of the many things that blossom in the game, with disguises not only showcasing the importance of both the stealth system and the physical weakness of our protagonist, but also by allowing you to go about your business in a calmer less restrictive manner.
Now if you’ve read this far, you’re aware that Ghost of a Tale on Xbox One is a pure gem of a game. It’s got character, emotion, and feeling in the bucket loads, not to mention a loveable protagonist that you just want to see succeed. But there is also some fantastic audio that accompanies the overall adventure. In this wonderful adventure, every sound, musical score, and audio cue feels perfected and really helps set the mood for the game. From the wind gushing through the Keep, to the creak of the old wooden doors and the metal locks slamming behind them, there is nothing that doesn’t sound as you’d hope it would if this were to be a real-life setting. With very little obtrusive music to get in the way whilst you’re going about your adventure, Ghost of a Tale brings a whole lot of pointers to what it looks like to see a game created the right way.
This all combines for something magical and if you’re after a memorable game that brings plenty of character, fantastic storytelling and a protagonist to care for, then Ghost of a Tale is the masterpiece you need to experience. From the very first moments the sense of importance of the whole adventure is made clear and whilst it may not be the biggest indie release of the year, I’m willing to bet it’ll be one of the best. This is a definite must-buy.