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Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling Review


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1848863684_BugFableslogo.jpg.c1863c6d61e2bab3b6da2edfc983c6da.jpgIt was a pleasant surprise earlier this year when a brand new Paper Mario game was not only revealed and released within a two month span, but also delivered a charming adventure with a unique battle system. But those of us longing for the more traditional RPG mechanics of the first two Paper Mario games are better off looking to the world of indie games, as Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling draws clear inspiration from the battle mechanics, badge system, and visual design of those classic Mario RPGs. This is far from some cheap impersonation though. Bug Fables is a lovingly crafted homage to those games, one that nails the feeling of those RPGs while still developing an engaging adventure all its own.
 
The story takes place in the land of Bugaria, a prosperous land of insects full of foliage, vicious creatures, and the allure of adventure. The ant queen has promised riches to any brave explorers who can find the ancient relics that point toward the Everlasting Sapling, a mystical item that promises immortality. Our protagonists are a trio of bugs questing for the treasure, though with rather different motives. True to its RPG roots, Bug Fables is bursting with dialogue and lore, a lot of which is optional. It's worth taking the time to read it all though, because the developers have crafted a fantastic little world of insects that is full of charm and heart. The broad story beats may not be breaking new ground, but you'll still grow attached to the characters and enjoy seeing their personalities play off of each other, watching them grow, and learning more about the miniscule land and the secrets it hides.
 
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The gameplay is pure Paper Mario, from the 2D characters in a 3D environment to the light puzzle-platformer exploration to the interactive, turn-based combat system. Bug Fables makes excellent use of its inspiration, adding clever twists to the gameplay principles to make the experience feel both familiar and still unique. The battle system, for example, uses similar well-timed button presses to either increase your strength or defense. However, there's also a wealth of strategy involved in every battle. The character at the front of the party receives a small strength boost, but is more likely to be targeted by enemies. Each character's attack has different effects—Vi's "bee-merang," for example, can knock flying enemies out of the air which allows the other characters to reach them—and you can swap characters' positions or give turns to other characters, whatever lets you defeat enemies most efficiently.
 
Combat is also pretty challenging throughout the game which means you'll always be on your toes. Your characters never actually increase their attack or defense stats, but you can increase your Medal Points which allows you to equip medals for helpful effects (similar to badges in Paper Mario). You really have to master blocking since even taking one or two attacks at full power can be devastating for your team. By keeping your damage output and defensive abilities low throughout the adventure, the game encourages the player to plan and strategize, not just rely on plowing through enemies with sheer force. It's challenging but also quite rewarding when you succeed against powerful bosses. There's also a wide variety of medals to collect and each character gains a handful of different special skills, which provides a good amount of variety in combat strategy. Plus, if you feel the need for an even bigger challenge, you can equip a hard mode medal at any time to truly test your abilities.
 
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The puzzle-platforming exploration is where the game falters a bit, though, or more specifically, it's the platforming that causes issues. You'll encounter a good variety of exploration puzzles—find the switch, create a bridge for yourself, etc.—and they're generally clever and well-implemented. However, the actual movements of your 2D characters in a 3D environment is what makes exploration a bit frustrating. Too often it's hard to tell if you've properly lined up a jump or will reach a ledge. Not only do the bugs have fairly meager jumping skills, the visual cues just aren't displayed well, i.e. you think you're lined up for a jump but the depth perception is actually all off, or trying to place a 3D object amidst 2D characters looks confusing. Typically, missing a jump only costs you a bit of time, but it happens all too frequently in Bug Fables and certainly could have been fine tuned.
 
You might think that an indie-developed RPG would skimp a little on the side content that fleshes out the typical RPG. Not so with Bug Fables. Not only are there dozens of side quests to tackle, there are optional bosses (not for the faint of heart), recipes that you can unlock to make your healing items more potent, and even a fully realized card-based mini-game. Bug Fables is packed with little features that are a joy to discover, and of course they always provide valuable rewards to make your adventuring a little easier. Even without the EXP or rare medals though, interacting with the various insects that populate Bugaria is a delight, especially when it comes to the personal side quests of our three protagonists. Anyone hoping for plentiful content can rest assured, Bug Fables is already a decent length RPG, clocking in at 20 hours minimum, and tackling all of the side content can easily add another dozen or more hours.
 
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The visual design of Bug Fables is also heavily inspired by Paper Mario, and like those games it's pretty adorable. The art style is simple and simply cute, personifying these bugs into endearing little characters, whether it's a humble beetle or a beautiful butterfly. The limited animation works for this adventure, as do the simple environments with just the right touch of human influence in them. The soundtrack is also wonderful and positively brimming with songs. More importantly, the music is fun and catchy without ever growing old, which is vital in an RPG like this where you'll hear some battle and town tunes over and over.
 
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is a delightful little RPG that proudly displays its Paper Mario influence without ever feeling stuck in its shadow. The combat system can be challenging but always feels fair and, once you have a few medals to play around with, offers a solid variety of strategies. The game's presentation is absolutely charming and pulls a lot of personality and depth out of a sleek, simple art style. The game's one major fault is its awkward platforming aspects, but that's not enough to weight down what is otherwise a completely charming RPG experience.

 

Rating: 9 out of 10 Bugs
Edited by Eliwood8
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