Given their cyclical gameplay design combined with stats-focused character development, roguelike RPGs aren’t usually known for their storylines. Children of Morta is a hack and slash roguelike RPG that treads on familiar territory in its game design and RPG systems, but at the same time it also presents an organic and living game world which only few games from this niche subgenre can claim to provide.
In addition to providing unexpected twists and turns in randomly generated dungeons – as expected of a dungeon crawler – Children of Morta also manages to deliver an emotionally charged narrative in similar fashion, all by randomly presenting meaningful events in an unscripted manner. Where most roguelikes are content with simply building a character’s stats, this latest roguelike hack and slash RPG by developer Dead Mage (known for Shadow Blade and Garshasp) takes it a step further by also developing the narrative of a character with the same unpredictable free-flowing vigour.
The adventure takes place in the titular Morta mountain, a mystical location with an almost omnipotent conscience of itself. The inhabitants live as one with the mountain and its many creatures, yet an outbreak of a terrible evil force known simply as the Corruption threatens Morta and all who call it home. The Corruption is a conscious evil, and yet it is also a disease, a calamity, and basically a collective manifestation of all unnamed wicked inclinations and phenomena. As death and destruction are spreading all over the land, it is now up to the Bergson family to fight back the Corruption under the leadership of their matriarch, Grandma Margaret. This family, handpicked for such a heroic task by the very gods themselves, must now learn to fight evil, help others, and yet also look out for their best interests in the process. A difficult balance to achieve when the entire guild is flesh and blood.
The Bergson family are a fascinating unit, and their interactions unfold in the most endearing and relatable manner. They’re certainly not the fantasy epic equivalent of the Keaton family, but they’re a vibrant cast of characters who are each quite distinguished in their own right, with the respective family dynamics coming across quite sincere. In between dungeon skirmishes you also get to observe the Bergson household in an almost life-simulator style environment, where each of the family members go about their own activities, with some activities leading to profound moments of interaction and growth.
Children of Morta follows the conventions of roguelikes quite consistently where there are dungeons to explore, with newly generated unique layouts, items, and enemy patterns on every visit. Like most testing games in this genre, players will try, fail, and try again as they slowly get accustomed to the challenge. Thankfully, each time a player falls they get to retain the gold and skill points accumulated, which means they can upgrade characters to make each playthrough easier than before. It also helps that the game has a cast of six playable characters, each bringing their own playstyle and set of upgrades. The gameplay design and style are pretty typical of a hack and slash RPG, but it functions quite well with enjoyable gameplay variety. In addition to the characters and their respective upgrades, there is also a great deal of runic magic to make use of, all types of which have their own upgrades.
As you try to conquer each of the dungeons, there’s always a sense of progress in Children of Morta, even if you haven’t quite moved past the dungeon boss. Just as your characters continue to grow and develop with the farmed skill points and gold, the story also continues to unravel as time continues to progress outside the dungeon, with events unfolding as they should. The pacing of the narrative ties closely with the gameplay design, and it usually results in a new playable character joining the fray even if you haven’t quite made progress in the current dungeon.
The strength of Children of Morta lies in its story and presentation; the characters are endearing and deep, and their interactions with each other as a family is touching yet heavy-hearted. There’s a genuine sense of emotion conveyed by the game’s vibrant cast and each character, whether the elders of the family or the misunderstood youth, manage to leave an impression. The triumph and plight of the Bergson family is complemented by excellent writing and delivery, in particular the narrator who weaves the tale together with emotional prowess, working wonders as a master storyteller. The presentation of the game is remarkable too, with hauntingly sombre music and gorgeous dark fantasy art. The magical art style comes to life thanks to the game’s gorgeous 2D graphics, where each of the sprites animate with great fluidity, while also presenting some breathtaking animated sequences.
Children of Morta on Xbox One is a traditional roguelike hack and slash RPG situated in a rich fantasy setting that feels alive thanks to an endearing cast of characters in the Bergson family. Its gameplay design and structure are typical of the genre, and can be quite satisfying as new features are unlocked through repeated plays. But what really shines about the experience is the manner in which the tale unfolds, even while running through the same dungeon over and over. The story packs an emotional punch thanks to excellent delivery and well-written characters, all coming together in what feels like an action-packed dark fantasy novel.