The term hidden gem in gaming is massively worn out, with any meaning behind the phrase lost due to overexposure. Consequently, I am in a position where I’d like to call Video Game Fables a hidden gem. Instead, to avoid using that terminology, I’ll merely state that ‘Video Game Fables is an undiscovered classic waiting to be found.’
Developed and published by one person under the name Momiji Studios, Video Game Fables is a satirical take on turn-based JRPGs. While its near impossible to summarise this whacky title, essentially, it’s trying to do to games what Shrek did to fairy tales. Staggeringly, it actually managed to succeed to some degree.
A tale as old as time, except with a twist.
After being captured by the evil villain Gator, Princess Aru, an interpretation on Princess Peach, decides to go off script and save herself. Unfortunately, going against the games intended narrative has disastrous effects on the world. This all comes to a head when the hero, now unsure of his objectives, accidently rescues a warped version of the princess.
The self-titled Corrupted Princess kidnaps the King, Gator, and Aru’s castle, intending to create a new script in her image. Hoping to prevent this meta breaking scheme, Aru teams up with Nate, an inspiring hero, and Tator, Gators son, to recover what they’ve lost.
The way in which Video Game Fables targets this concept is nothing short of brilliant. It underlines tropes specifically from a video game point of view, joking about everything from characters, to world building, and even entire narrative arcs. The dialogue, while tongue in cheek, is exceptionally witty and well written. Best of all though, the script doesn’t solely rely on parody, meaning anyone can enjoy this.
Comedy meets introspection.
There are also plenty of introspective moments about deeper subject matter. My favourite example of this is the character Tator, who is effectively this games version of Bowser Jr. It’s revealed early on that he suffers from anxiety due to the prospect of having to fill his father’s shoes. While Aru and Nate initially pay little attention to this, over the course of their journey, they open up to him and allow him to discuss his woes.
The game will typically deals with these topics comedically. Yet, to highlight the severity of these issues, as well as the importance of discussing them, they are given the respect they deserve. On the whole, Video Game Fables is incredibly adroit and civil when it comes to this department.
Everything you’d expect, and more!
When it comes to the gameplay, Video Game Fables can be separated into exploration and battle sequences. The former is what you’d expect in a traditional RPG. Walking around various locations, discovering hidden loot, and interacting with NPCs along the way.
There are other opportunities to partake in side activities such as mining, fishing, races and puzzle solving. Collectively, they are fun, but ultimately rudimentary minigames, which often function as an alternate avenue of gaining upgrade currency.
The real bread and butter of the gameplay can be found within the battle mechanics. At first glance, it may seem rather basic, but in actuality, it’s quite intricate. It operates under the turn-based timeline style, recently seen in the likes of Ruined King. Video Game Fables does amend this slightly by allowing multiple actions to execute on the same branch of the timeline.
This adds an additional layer of complexity to each turn, as you have to worry about the initiative order, as well as the compounded actions. Subsequently, I found these mechanics made the game more of a challenging experience. It’s wasn’t overly difficult mind you, simply tough enough to prevent you from steamrolling through everything.
You’ll also find unique iterations of the timeline that manipulates the way it behaves. Momiji Studios smartly decided to limit these instances to boss battle scenarios. This allows each boss to have its own identity, as well as make each encounter feel increasingly special.
Customise to your hearts content.
No RPG is truly complete without options to upgrade your character. Thankfully, Video Game Fables has us covered here in spades. To start with, XP in this game acts as both an upgrade currency, and as a way to level up. Similarly to Runes in Elden Ring, you’ll have to make a decision to either empower your characters base stats via levelling, or open up more customisation options for your party.
The options in question can include anything from additional spell slots, to better quality gear or spells. The weapons and abilities themselves are obtainable via crafting. The required materials to partake in this can be found on monsters, through farming, or in the aforementioned mining and fishing. You’ll only be able to craft gear at your current checkpoint state, which is updated at key intervals throughout the game.
Although relatively primitive, skills can also be modified to suit your playstyle. Disappointingly, you don’t get to allocate the abilities or spells to the party members yourself. Admittedly, this doesn’t impact the game much at all, but I would’ve liked to have the option regardless.
Art design on a budget.
Video Game Fables has a rather peculiar art style. The environments are outlandishly cartoony, and are, I assume, deliberately designed to resemble a child’s drawing. Alongside this are the character models, which, for all intense and purposes, are flat 3D objects with NES sprite texturing. It all comes across as some wild and weird fever dream, and while it’s certainly bizarre, I absolutely love it.
If you’ve ever played Paper Mario, then the direction will feel somewhat reminiscent to you. For those that haven’t, it can feel like a weird juxtaposition at first, and it may take a bit of time to adjust to this graphical approach. The animation on the characters and NPCs are also worth pointing out, as their subtle eye and mouth movements are perfect at capitalising on comedic moments.
Sadly, the low-resolution art style may gate some folks off altogether. I say sadly because the game that lies underneath it is definitely worth playing through. If you are in that camp, just remember that you might have had the same opinion of games like Minecraft or F-Zero X. And you probably don’t need me to tell you how enjoyable those games were.
Video Game Fables features an entirely original soundtrack by composer Levc EGM. It emulates ideas from all sorts of retro games, primarily RPGs from the 8 and 16-bit era. Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are evidently the biggest influences, though I wouldn’t place the music here on the level of those classic OSTs.
That isn’t to say the arrangements aren’t good. The chiptune style beats do have a few notable highs, especially when it comes to the melodic exploration tracks. In contrast, the higher paced themes were a bit hit and miss, with the main battle theme being particularly dismissive. Having said that, Levc EGM definitely shows promise, and I’d say is someone worth keeping an eye on.
The SFX in Video Game Fables are fairly standard affair. Once again, they borrow elements from the SNES and Mega Drive time period, helping to give a level of authenticity to the old school aesthetic. I do believe voice acting for some of the cutscenes would’ve massively improved the narrative experience, but considering this is a budget indie project, I understand why it was omitted.
I’m not going to lie and say that Video Game Fables is ground-breaking, or worthy of game of the year. But what I will say that it is an entertaining, light-hearted, and satirical take on JRPGs. It’s turn based gameplay is complex, and offers a numerous amount of customisation options. The art style, while certainly an acquired taste, fits the surrounding narrative exquisitely. Musically, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but composer Levc EGM certainly shows some promise as an up-and-coming artist. If you’re a fan of RPGs, and can mange to pick this up on sale, then I’d recommend giving it a shot.