A procedural game with a deck of cards? Still? It is true that this type of game seems more and more favored by developers at the moment, and it is not to displease card game enthusiasts. In Foretales, in principle, you will do the same. But under its air of TCG, the indie title of Alkemi offers a roguelite adventure game closer to “The Book You Are the Hero” than to Hearthstone. Here is our first opinion with the demo which allows you to discover the first hours of the game.
The card game in which you are the hero
Foretales is quite simple, since very didactic for the newcomer thanks to a tutorial (for the moment unfortunately only in English, but in the long term subtitled in French) accompanied by the narrator, the voice being signed Travis Willingham (it would therefore be a question of not losing it during localization). For neophytes, the actor has officiated in numerous superhero animation series and video games (playing Thor, Superman, Wilson Fisk, etc.). At the start of the game, we are therefore presented with the heroes, including a little thief named Volepain who will have to save the kingdom from a terrible prophecy by making choices and taking paths in his soul and conscience. Disney cartoon fans will discover a style that is very reminiscent of the greatest animated films, since the protagonists are all anthropomorphic animals that seem straight out of Robin Hood or The Jungle Book. We find inspirations from Kaa, Prince Jean or Sher Khan in this polished artistic direction.
In front of us, the hand. The cards represent the companions of the adventure, all decked out with a score of life points. Beside, a deck of powers usable by one or the other hero, and finally another deck of “consumables”, cards allowing to recover or spend items to advance the game. Because the principle of this RPG is to move forward as in a treasure-monster carrier. Except that instead of rolling dice and opening doors, we turn over the cards on the table in front of us, and each one will offer some kind of alternative branch to the unfolding story. To sum up roughly, if you have 4 cards on the table, these are all possible paths to the rest of the scenario. Some will go through enemies, some will just be corridors (marketplaces, inns, etc.), some will be unlockable by “offering” something. By clicking on the cards elsewhere, all the characters interact. They talk to each other, the narrator explains things, or the description gives slight hints on how to move the plot forward (e.g., giving food to an informant to get a date with an important person, bribe a guard with money)… There are a lot of dialogues, clearly making this game a narrative-oriented title.
Between roguelite and Disney animated film
In your consumables deck, you have 4 cards representing money, food, notoriety and sinister, whose points increase and decrease during your game. When you turn over cards on the table, defeat enemies or according to some of your actions, the scores move and allow you to advance in the story. Having enough money allows you to grease the leg of guards or pay beggars, notoriety scares away enemies or opens doors for you, etc. Quite easy to use, the game also allows you to simply hover the mouse over a card to be knocked down and instantly see what the reward or loss of consumables will be. Be careful though, your card choices will increase your stock of “grim” (the sinister), increasing the number of antagonists chasing you. This is symbolized in the game by random appearances of new bad guys who want to do battle. The story is therefore scalable and adapts to your type of game. You can “burn” cards to simply get rid of your stock and renew it by advancing through corridors without danger, you can also switch to combat mode by taking a path protected by enemies. In any case, it will take strategy to progress.
Indeed, in combat mode, we move into a game structure closer to TCGs: your characters against enemies, with game turns against each other and life points to drop to zero. Everyone can inflict damage and we often find ourselves quickly overwhelmed in number. What to do in this case? Simply have the presence of mind to stock up on food, notoriety or money beforehand in order to spend it against your enemies and thus hope for several defections before the start of the fight. Otherwise, you will have to use your power cards to beat the NPCs. Depending on the characters in your hand, you have many different actions, such as blinding an enemy, increasing your damage or improving your defense (quite traditional in the card game genre). In all, each character has around ten talents available, and the downed cards are randomly renewed in your deck. Good idea too: the opposing team has one “team morale” point. If you manage to defeat or scare away a large number of members, the enemy ranks will be routed and the last will be able to drop their weapons instead of confronting you. It’s up to you to choose who to attack first and hit hard to make an impression.
Note that on the side of the table finally, you have a kind of cemetery where you find the enemies you have killed in your wake, and whose number influences the grip of the evil that affects the region and the rest of the adventures. Next to it, a research pile increases when you defeat enemies or come out of the shadows too often, and therefore the level of difficulty increases during confrontations. Finally, the exploration pile is the pile of “places” to visit that allows you to renew the cards placed on the table and therefore create these procedural branches in the story. Occasionally, one of these cards will represent an NPC that you can take into your hand, not to play as a fighter, but to use on another card to unlock access.. For example, retrieving a card from a gardener who is the only one with the key to a gate in the garden. Shoot it on the fork linked to this door and you will unlock the passage. Most of the time puzzle games are simplistic but nice. One mission is to enter a prison by giving dough to the guard, but to find it, you will have to use a thief’s asset from Painloaf (and risk a confrontation with the guard) or exchange food on a market.
The artistic direction is a success
Overall, after a few hours of play, we discover the vastness of the world that will open up to us. A game can last over an hour, and it’s just one step in a huge map represented by chapters of similar format. The world map (which is actually a mystical tarot table with 30 cards representing the chapters of the game, which are unlocked as you progress) gives a little more substance to this adventure “Book of which you are the hero”. Because, at the end of each mission, you come back to this choice and can take any direction. It’s up to you to choose the order of the game carefully because some chapters are more complicated than others, allow you to have more or less characters in your hands to fight (up to 3) and advance you more or less towards the chaos of ongoing prophecy. In each of these chapters, missions are interspersed with small animated scenes and the good resolution of the puzzles also gives you access to new cards in the game. Of course, you can also rest your players during the chapters, using a pile of rest which gives you the opportunity to reroll your action cards and recover your VP. Twice. At the third, you actually choose a permanent rest. It’s the death of your character.
Finally, let’s add to this a very well designed sound environment although a little repetitive. We hear several musics that change between the scenes and which perfectly respect the medieval theme, several sound effects scattered here and there and which are pleasant during confrontations or when you turn over cards. If only the narrator speaks, the interactions with the other characters almost agree, so we are immersed in the atmosphere. From this point of view, the artistic direction is a success. Only downside for now: the pace could be a little more sustained, since we alternate between exchanges of cards on the exploration phases with small-scale battles. To see in the long term, and if the concept will not run out too quickly over a possible twenty hours.