A Game of Choices
While there are many choices to make while playing Narborion Saga, I feel I need to talk about platforms right off. From what I can tell, this was originally a mobile game, so if you prefer your gaming to be done on the fly you may consider picking up the mobile version. It seems that the version available from the Android store is free to download, but content locked. I am unsure how much content the mobile game keeps hidden away, but if you are looking to play this while traveling, it is an option. With that out of the way, lets tackle the question at hand: Should you even buy it at all?
A Sophisticated Visual Novel
If you are not a fan of reading, you may want to pass over this one. If you looked at games like The Age of Decadence or Pillars of Eternity and thought, “Oh boy, that is a lot of text,” this is not going to be the game for you. Narborion Saga plays heavily on the idea that it is a serialized interactive book. Game saves are called Bookmarks, new areas are called Episodes, and of course there is the story content itself. For the most part part, the game is well written and interesting. The player is often given two or sometimes three choices to steer the plot. It is a very stylish choose your own adventure, and it comes off well.
Risky Designs and Small Quibbles
The UI design makes its roots as a mobile app obvious. I found some of the menus hard to decipher because of the fancy font they used, but clicking a few times helps you figure things out. It is easy to accidentally set out on your adventure without putting on your clothes, so make sure to visit the inventory page and check that you are well equipped. The game also requires you to register with the Liber Primus Games website in order to enter the game world and actually play the game. Maybe there was a skip option I missed, but it always irks me when you’ve put down money for a game, just to need to register with the company to play. I mean, you’ve got my money – do you really need my data too?
Combat is simple and straight-forward, very typical of a turn-based tactical RPG. Battles are played out on a basic grid, with you on one side and the enemy on the other. You have movement points, the ability to cast spells, and you can activate special abilities (called feats) to give you advantages. One stand out was that you can assign special abilities to the ‘Auto-Feat’ list. This was great when you knew you wanted to spend your point pool on specific abilities each turn, and wanted avoid the hassle of manually activating them. All characters are represented by models of cardboard miniatures on little bases, which gives the combat system enough style that I can forgive its simplicity – it makes you feel a bit like a kid playing a tabletop tactics game for the first time. I really enjoy the game’s classic RPG feel, so bonus points for that.
Open Map, Dangerous Trails, Custom Characters
This game is pretty serious about letting you fall on your own sword. There is a difficulty mode, however it is rather unforgiving – even on easy. It politely suggests that you take the Ride and Spellcraft skills at the start, and it isn’t fooling. This can be a bit of a turn off for new players who enjoy ‘playing their own way’ when they feel forced to take specific skills to have a minimally viable build. To be quite frank, if you find yourself telling players they really should take these abilities, then you should build those abilities into characters by default.
Even with this restriction, the wide variety of stats, skills, feats, and spells you can take allow for greatly varied characters from play-through to play-through. Combined with the free nature of the over world map and you have a game that gives a lot of control to the players. Again, when you enter an episode, be prepared to live with the choices you made, as there is little chance to revisit past choices, and when you come to decision points you are often deciding between two extremes. With this style of game, that is a understandable move, one I think the creators executed well. If anything, they gave me more choices than I was expecting, which I consider a good thing.
This is not a game for everyone. It was made for fans of a very specific genre of game. If you like visual novels, but are also a fan of fairly simple turn based combat, you could do much worse than to pick it up. If you enjoyed the classic Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone Fighting Fantasy books, but wanted their fights and characters to have more depth to them, you will likely enjoy this. The UI is a bit strange to navigate, and there are some graphical issues still being worked out by the devs, but the music is unobtrusive, the artwork is of excellent quality, and the fights are simple enough I didn’t need a tutorial. I enjoyed this game, and I will definitely be revisiting to play different styles of characters.
Narborion Saga scores a 7/10 from me. A good story and fantastic art are able to offset clumsy UI and fairly basic combat.
Review by Old Man Mordaith
Edited by Jesse Roberts