Having a character waking up from insomnia, not knowing who they are and how they got there, is pretty much a writer’s dream. You see, it gives the handy device of placing the character in the exact situation as the audience who are watching or playing. You are trying to work out the rules of the world, why they are there and what the point of it all is, all at exactly the same time as the hero.
The Tale of Biston uses this trope to good effect, especially in the initial moments; but when everything is revealed, does it live up to expectations?
The Tale of Bistun is the debut game from the Black Cube Games team; something which is a surprise because it’s very well accomplished. It feels original with its storytelling and tells an absorbing tale. Based on a Persian myth from the 12th-century tragic poem “Khosrow and Shirin”, the game puts you in the shoes of a stone carver who awakes on Mount Bistun with no memory; he is clueless to who he is or what has happened. A horrible blight though is destroying the land and all nature with it. The man heads out and gradually discovers answers, taking in stone carvings and info from the rocks and the people he meets. He travels between two realms – this one and the revelations realm – discovering that he is being stalked by a huge evil presence.
The story surprised me; mostly as it hooks from the start and The Tale of Bistun is certainly a game that you’ll have trouble putting down. The tale of unrequited love, mythical worlds, and regret struck a chord with me and I think the epic ancient feel to it really resonates throughout the game. A narrator delivers the story through voice-over and it adds to the epic story factor. The way the narrative is slowly revealed, bit by bit, works wonderfully and you can discover stone carvings throughout the game that visually give clues to what has happened as well.
The Tale of Bistun plays as a narrative adventure. It’s played almost isometrically where you control the stone carver in the third person, moving him around the space. You can jump and duck under items, carving stones when asked to do so with a button prompt. Quite soon into the game, you will find things trying to kill you, and combat is involved. It’s quite a simple affair where you have a host of enemies in a sort of arena area; you can’t escape from it unless all the enemies are vanquished.
You have a standard attack which plays out via a bit of button mashing, but you also have a special attack that comes into play – when your weapon has enough juice – to send down a special depending on the weapon you have equipped. The weapons you can acquire swap between two dual-wielding axes for quick attacks, or a huge one for more damage. You can swap between these weapons at anvils before each enemy arena and upgrade them at certain points. Enemies get bigger and in more numbers as you progress, until you finish with a boss battle; it’s not particularly tricky when you learn the attacks.
Honestly, when it comes to combat, The Tale of Bistun isn’t Dark Souls, so those who want more of a challenge probably shouldn’t be looking at this game. In fact, you may find that you’ll only ever die a couple of times throughout your entire runthrough; that’s something that suits me just fine. There’s also a whole section in another realm too, with some simple puzzle solving to be done. It’s the journey, the exploration and the story that is the heart and soul of this game and it’s that part which I adored.
The visual tone reminds a little of World of Warcraft, in how it looks and with the colour scheme and the landscapes. It’s an inventive world with some great creature design and lovely landscapes to explore. The carvings are exquisite and it’s a nice place to spend some time. The soundtrack is gorgeous as well, complementing the story nicely. A big shout-out should also go to the solo narrator of the story who does a fantastic job in delivering the narrative with all the gravitas and emotion of a seasoned pro.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable game, easily hooking you in to the four or five hours of running time. The Tale of Bistun is not a challenging game, but it’s a worthwhile one because the world and story are outstanding.
The Tale of Bistun is available from the Xbox Store