Ghost of a Tale Preview
It's frustrating to see all the hype wasted on so many undeserving games. I shudder to imagine how many millions are spent every year on marketing for titles that shouldn't have made it out of alpha. Then, you play a little gem like Ghost of a Tale and wonder how it's gotten so little attention.
Ghost of a Tale is a fairly familiar RPG formula packaged in something like a bedtime story. The hero is a little mouse named Tilo, a minstrel thrown in the dungeon for offending the king. He's out to find his missing wife in a richly-detailed world that feels like a bit of a throwback to the Redwall novels. Tilo's no assassin, so you're forced to set out on your quest using nothing but your wits and the objects you find along the way.
Lush environments are only one ingredient in Ghost of a Tale's magic.
Anyone who's stumbled on the game through Steam or GOG may tell you that the graphics are one of the game's strongest selling points, and I agree that Tilo's world is brought to life with vivid, rich detail. But the graphics are only the sweetener; Ghost of a Tale relies on writing as colorful as its lovingly rendered environments. No game can survive on graphics alone, and Ghost of a Tale stands as a valuable lesson in how good writing and lore is critical in providing immersion.
Lore encyclopediae add richness and depth to game worlds if implemented properly. Ghost of a Tale's lore is beautifully done and builds the world around you as you explore and interact.
As the game begins, you find yourself in one of the king's most infamous dungeons, knowing only that our hero has offended the king and his wife is gone. Rescuing his wife is Tilo's only concern, and to do that, he has to escape the foreboding seaside prison. The story is a bit of an open-ended mystery at first, and parts of the picture are slowly revealed through encyclopedia entries and even, in the best reminders of old Sierra games, the items in your inventory. For example, Tilo carries a small figurine likeness of his son; an item with no practical use but with deep sentimental value. For me, it's details like this, laid out through descriptive text and without distracting voiceovers, that tell the best story and give a hint of subtle nostalgia. This is how stories were told back when world-building came first.
In terms of gameplay, Ghost of a Tale isn't what I would consider easy or forgiving. Tilo might have an easier time of things if he'd chosen to be a swashbuckler instead of a humble minstrel. So far, my encounters have relied on me out-witting and out-sneaking the fierce-looking rat guards, or occasionally lobbing a bottle at their heads to knock them out while I get away. This highlights one of the game's more noticeable problems. The controls feel a bit clunky and awkward, and this becomes a real problem when you're trying not to get killed. Tilo's signature move is to hide when being pursued, but the game requires you to press both mouse buttons at once to duck into a basket or chest. What often happens is that you find yourself frantically searching an empty cabinet for items while you wait for a furious guard to arrive and kill you. Tilo's a minstrel, a mouse, and sometime thief. You expect - and need - him to be more dextrous and agile than he is. The restrictive stamina bar is another annoyance; Tilo can only sprint a few steps at a time before returning to a walk, even when being pursued. Most of the real-life mice I've encountered ran a whole lot faster, a whole lot farther, and dodged better than our hero. Hopefully these are shortcomings that Seith can look into - a pacifist stealth hero is a great idea but he needs the advantages of mouse-like dexterity and a fluid control scheme to make him plausible. Playing with a gamepad may alleviate some of these woes, but I'm of the opinion that a control scheme should be smooth regardless of how you play.
(Editor's note: The developer Seith, has responded to these issues, which we add as extra comments at the end of this article).
In the creation of a challenging RPG, Seith hit the mark with quests. In comparing Ghost of a Tale to 90's classics, it also seems fair to mention that this game doesn't hold your hand. Gone are the comfortable quest markers from newer titles. It's up to you to figure out which keys match certain doors, or to follow a quest-giver's description to the item you need to find.
One feature I love is Tilo's "characters". In his career as a storyteller, Tilo enjoys dressing the parts of certain figures, and articles of clothing belonging to these personas lay scattered about the world. You receive enhanced abilities and skill sets for each complete outfit you manage to piece together and wear.
Ghost of a Tale is clearly an RPG made with love and a singular vision, and for me personally, that is enough to succeed beyond all expectations. From the beautifully-rendered world to the beautifully-detailed lore, this is one game I'm privileged and grateful to have played. I plan to stay as close to this project as I can. With games like this, popular reception and ratings don't matter in the slightest (even though Ghost of a Tale is already highly successful and critically acclaimed). It's a warm, wonderfully-crafted RPG experience that feels like your very own.
Update: We spoke with Seith about my impressions and he was kind enough to give us a reply. We talked about the awkwardness and difficulty of the current hiding mechanic, and he suggested that it was something he was open to changing. And about Tilo's stamina bar, he had this to say:
"Regarding the stamina bar feeling too short in relation to sprinting, you're absolutely right. When the player accomplishes quests Tilo will be rewarded with renown points which will make his life (and so stamina) bar grow. So the more you play the game and the more Tilo gains experience, the longer he can sprint. Again, this is something that is not yet implemented in the current early access build but it will be in an upcoming update."
Information aboutGhost of a Tale
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Voice-acting: Partially voiced
Regions & platforms
· Platform: PC
· Released at 2018-03-13
· Publisher: Unknown