I actually bought this game at full price, not on sale. That’s right, I paid the full $24.99 for the opportunity to play this game.
Like many of the games I play and by continuation, review for this blog, I found out about it via one of the many YouTube commentators I follow. In this case, MrDrBoi, who has several interesting documentaries about a variety of games. Some of his earliest go over what he loved about Bug Fables, including several clips that showed the game in action (which I argue every trailer should have).
There’s something inherently charming about the game from its absolute beginning. You start with two characters: the bee named Vi and the beetle named Kabbu. Both are beginning adventurers, and they agree to work with one another mostly because it’s required for adventurers to at least have a buddy, in case things go wrong.
As the shot above would indicate, Vi’s a bit of a sassy troublemaker, who’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind or to demand reward for what she’s done. In many ways she comes off kind of like someone’s well done tabletop RPG character. Kabbu’s in much the same mode: he’s a stalwart companion, loyal to those he trusts and always willing to help others in need. These two will form the foundation of the team and their inherent likeability helps carry things quite a way.
Also helping is the unique graphical art style. They’re clearly aping the Paper Mario series, that popular traditional RPG series that can trace its origin points to the N64 game of the same name. Oddly enough, I never actually played any of the games in that series, not even the two that are more traditional turn based JRPGs. That’s particularly odd as I definitely had a N64, and was so into JRPGs that I talked my family into getting a Playstation so I could play Final Fantasy games.
So the aesthetic on display here isn’t anything super nostalgic for me. However, it does give everything this storybook vibe and motif that I definitely appreciate. They don’t quite play enough with their paper aesthetic, and it does seem a bit more like it was done to let everyone know that they were making a game that would be like those old Paper Mario games than it was done for its own sake.
Guiding Kabbu and Vi (and later another character I’ll get into in a bit), you move through various maps, exploring and doing good deeds for the citizens. You’re tasked with finding artifacts that will help lead to the Everlasting Sapling, a mystical tree that will hopefully help restore the faded ant queen. along the way you’re almost expected to help others in need, otherwise Kabbu can’t do good deeds and Vi can’t get sweet rewards.
There’s an opportunity to use an on screen ability to set up an advantage for the turn based combat, which plays out like you see above (though that’s actually my post-game party encountering a poor first area scrub, because I got that far before remembering to grab a screenshot). Your characters are on the left, and can choose from a ring that displays the basic bevy of actions: attack, guard, use items, and use specials.
Specials draw from a shared group of TP (talent points), so there’s some strategy involved in figuring out who gets to use what ability. I most often designated Vi to be the striker, because her abilities not only hit hard, but they had a secondary timing sequence that I stood a better chance of getting right than the other two.
See in the above picture, you have to hit the A button whenever the little leaf lands in the green area. You still technically attack if you miss, but it’s not going to deal nearly enough damage. Every attack has something similar, and you also can similarly do something similar to defend from various attacks.
This is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It’s clearly drawing from those Paper Mario games again, which were sort of drawing from Super Mario RPG, a game I have played through several times, as it was on my beloved SNES and you bet I got it (I think for a birthday?). I appreciate that moves have a variety of little mini games, from the slider above to hitting a button several times to inputting a series of commands. There’s also an option to change the multiple button mashing into that series instead, which is a relief for those like myself with repetitive strain injuries.
The issue is that it can be punishing, and the timing feels really precise. This goes especially for blocking, which I messed up quite frequently, even late into the game. I very rarely got those “perfect blocks” that negate a huge portion of the damage. It just felt like the timing window was way to precise for my setup or controller or something. Having some sort of option that would make that window just a bit more lenient would’ve been incredibly helpful.
You do also have the opportunity to gain more MP, which instead of standing for magic, counts for Medal Points. These are various items you can equip which will, say, increase the strength of Vi’s beemerang (yes, she calls it that; have I mentioned loving this character yet?) or grant Kabbu the ability to hurt enemies that come into contact with him. I do like this system, but all too often it means that when you get a medal as a reward, that’s a waste of a reward. I had so many medals that I just never used, because their cost in MP wasn’t worth it. It made me stop wanting to complete certain quests, and I’ll probably leave far more unfinished in subsequent playthroughs.
And there most definitely will be those. With the amazing music (I’m listening to the soundtrack as I type this and will likely buy it when there’s not a whole bunch of amazing games dropping at the same time), the charming graphics, the excellent story, and the mostly dynamic and engaging characters, there’s a lot of Bug Fables that I absolutely love. Within minutes I was glad I paid full price for the game, and that feeling stuck through most of the playthrough.
Okay, time for me to addressing my biggest sticking point: the third character. The game has you just controlling Vi and Kabbu for the first part of the first section. These two are incredibly well developed, with strong personalities becoming clear from the beginning. Their dynamic works, and we can understand why they’re willing to work together and press forward. Plus, both are fully dynamic: they have moments where they acknowledge their faults and work to move past them. These are beautifully woven into the game’s story itself, making Vi and Kabbu two of the best video game characters I’ve seen in a while.
Not so much with Leif.
For starters, they just are really lacking in personality, particularly compared to the other two. They come off as stiff and maybe a bit dry, but the writing doesn’t lean enough into this sort of thing. There’s some hints that maybe Leif is/would be a snob, but again, it’s not made clear. We are told that they have some sort of memory issue going on. There’s also this really interesting quirk of their dialogue: they constantly refer to themselves as, well, multiple beings, using “we” and “our.” There’s actually a story reason for that, and, again, it’s something I wish they’d explored further.
There’s literally an entire optional dungeon dedicated to Leif, to figuring out their past and helping them confront things. It’s one of the most annoying dungeons in the game that has one of the other elements I’ll end up dreading about this game: Leif’s icicle ability, but it still should give this character more development. But they barely seem to change from this, save for a nice bit near the end of the main story.
There are movement abilities, and they’re sort of a mixed bag. See the screenshot above? That’s from an area where I got stuck for a good fifteen minutes. You have to toss the beemarang and hold it on this crank while platforms move. Then you have to hop to the green platform, accurately throw the beemerang within a set time frame, and then hop to the third. This would be tricky even if I didn’t have the whole strain injury thing. I had to look online, where they mention that the accuracy of the beemerang sucks, and the trick is to use the directional pad.
There’s a trick. To a common tool used for puzzles.
There’s also Leif’s dropped ice ability, which creates a single platform of ice for you to hop on. Just one. At a time. When the game often expects you to cross entire rivers using this ability. It gets incredibly tedious, and God forbid you miss a jump, because then you’re going all the way back to the start. It just feels like there needed to be some more tweaking or consideration for the player with these traversal abilities.
Fortunately, the game as a whole is still an amazing experience. The combat system is engaging and should have even those that aren’t a huge fan of turn based combat eager to go. The world feels vibrant and alive, with quests that help expand on the game as well as granting you rewards. Most of the characters are dynamic and engaging and worth exploring. It’s just a great RPG on the whole, and definitely worth checking out.
8 feels right for a game with noticeable flaws like this one. I may want to bump that if on a second playthrough I don’t have quite as much difficulty with the traversal abilities, but Leif’s bungled character and a few other nitpicks are always gonna keep this game from perfection