By Jason Quinn / January 24th, 2020
|Title||Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling
|Release Date||November 21st, 2019|
|Platform||PC, PS4, Switch|
Bug Fables is a RPG that takes more than a little inspiration from Paper Mario. I have a bad history with games styled after Paper Mario, however this one was a pleasant surprise. I’d even go so far as to say that mechanically, its a little bit more interesting and challenging than its inspiration. I don’t think the story quite captures the charm of Paper Mario, but its a commendable effort, and it still manages to stand on its on.
The premise of the game is that a beetle named Kabbu and bee named Vi are both attempting to join the local Explorer’s Association. A group of folks who are essentially treasure hunters that ultimately work for the Ant Queen to find ancient relics which allegedly lead to something called the Everlasting Sapling. Supposedly an object of great power that the former Queen spent her life trying to find. In addition, you’ll also take on small odd jobs requested by various characters.
Kabbu and Vi both found themselves not being up to snuff to become explorers, however when they team up, they manage to make the cut. During their first excursion, they find a moth named Leif captured by a spider, and rescue him. Turns out he can wield ice magic, and they now gain a third addition to their team. From there, the team sets off to hunt for these relics.
The story might not start out as particularly interesting, especially with there not being much of a major antagonist. However the personalities of the characters are enjoyable enough. Kabbu is a straight up and honorable warrior, Vi is a hot headed child, and Leif is there to offer grounded sarcasm. In comparison to its inspiration, Paper Mario, it’s nice having protagonists with dialogue, personalities, backstories, and motivations. Some of the side characters might not be as charming or unique as some of what you’d see in Paper Mario, but there’s still enough here to be engaging in its own right. I do wish, however, that the goal of the story wasn’t just the acquisition of some object of nebulous power. Still, it was a fun journey.
The gameplay is I think where this game shines the most. Having three characters already increases the possibility space over Paper Mario, where you only have two. It makes good use of these characters as well, as they each have different roles. Kabbu can break through enemy defenses, Vi can hit enemies out of the air, and Leif can hit enemies underground. That’s just the surface level though, they all get special attacks with a variety of effects. These attacks use a resource called TP. Think of Flower Points from Paper Mario. In addition, there are medals that can give you new abilities, augment your abilities, and increase your stats. These are basically badges from Paper Mario, and similarly, equipping them requires medal points or MP.
When you level up, you have the choice of boosting either your health, maximum TP, or maximum MP. Unlike some other RPGs, your characters don’t increase their attack or defense values naturally at all. You don’t even get new equipment that boosts your attack. Instead, you’ll have to rely on medals, items, and buffs to increase your attack. Medals are crucially important in this game. My advice is that MP should be increased as much as possible on level ups, and only increase HP and TP if you feel they’re lacking. There is an option near the end of the game to reset your level ups, but it’s fairly costly.
There’s also a medal that puts the game on hard mode, and despite it seeming optional, the game is actually balanced around this. You also get additional medals for beating bosses on hard mode, so it’s well worth the extra effort. Hard mode is quite challenging though. You’ll definitely have to properly plan things out and come up with good medal loadouts to tackle them. It’s not super complicated though, its just figuring out effective ways to maximize the damage you can do while minimizing the amount of damage enemies can do.
Something fairly unique to this game is that you can freely alter the position of your party in battle. You can choose who attacks when, and you can even give up one party member’s turn to give it to someone else so they can attack twice. Though when you do that, you suffer a small reduction in attack power. The only issue I have with this is that you’re limited in what the party positioning is. You can only go through a handful of configurations. If you want to perhaps put Kabbu at the very back and Vi at the front, you can’t. Its a bit bothersome, especially since there are medals that modify the stats of whoever is in front and in back.
Kabbu has a taunt ability that makes it so enemies will only attack him, so a strategy I would use is keeping him in the back, buffing his defense, and then he can shrug off almost any attack. Another strategy I liked using is putting Vi in front to give her an attack bonus, and using her abilities that lets her bypass enemies defense stats. Unfortunately, you can’t use these strategies at the same time. Though perhaps that’s intentional.
Being a RPG, the occasional dungeons pop up from time to time with their own puzzles to solve. Each character has a couple abilities they can use outside of combat to facilitate this. Vi can hit objects from afar with her boomerang, Leif can freeze water and enemies to use as platforms, Kabbu can dig underground, among other things. Some puzzles require just the basic use of their abilities. If there’s a switch across a chasm, you need to use Vi. If there are water droplets to freeze to make platforms, you need to use Leif.
Every now and then you get puzzles that require unconventional usage of your abilities though. For example, Vi can keep her boomerang spinning in place, and when you call it back to her, it first zooms to wherever she was standing when she threw it. You sometimes need to use this to hit a switch in order to solve a puzzle. It’s not immediately obvious that this is a thing that the game expects you to do though. These sorts of things come up so infrequently that its easy to forget about them. I wish there were more puzzles that required thinking outside of the box rather than the basic “see problem X, use solution Y” sort of approach.
Visually, the game very obviously takes inspiration from Paper Mario. Characters are completely flat in an otherwise 3D world. It looks great and still manages to have a unique vibe to it. The one thing that bothers me however is there doesn’t seem much reason to have Paper Mario’s visual style other than to hearken back to Paper Mario. In those games, it leaned in a lot on the paper visuals. Characters would occasionally literally behave like paper. Mario even had an ability in Thousand Year Door where he’d transform into a paper airplane. There’s nothing of the sort here. It’s not a major issue though. The sound and music are also nothing to write home about either. Nothing really bad, but I just didn’t feel compelled to listen to the music constantly while working my way through dungeons.
Bug Fables starts out as a totally fine homage to Paper Mario, but as you play the game you realize that the game has a lot to offer. If you really want something in that sort of ballpark, this game is definitely worth your time. If you don’t like Paper Mario specifically, then its a bit harder to recommend. It’s currently $20 on Steam, and beating it will likely take around 30-35 hours, and if you’re a completionist, it can easily get over 40 hours. I think it’s a little too long for its own good, but still worthwhile.
Review copy was provided by the publisher.
Bug FablesDANGEN EntertainmentMoonsprout GamesRPG