These days, the roguelike genre of video games is rather saturated. Unsurprisingly, dungeon crawling action-RPGs are also accompanied by 8-bit and 16-bit pixel graphics that hearken us back to the heyday of the likes of The Legend of Zelda, Chrono Trigger and the like. Is it an aesthetic intention, an attempt at nostalgia, or is it because such graphics are easier and cheaper to produce?
Regardless, another has joined the mix but with so many titles, including indie darlings such as Hyperlight Drifter, Bastion and Moonlighter already refining and redefining the genre to kingdom come, how does Children of Morta by Dead Mage compare?
Well, good news because it’s definitely up there among the best.
Children of Morta is yet another entry in the now densely-populated action-RPG school of video games but instead of playing as a single protagonist as with the aforementioned three indie titles, players take on the roles of various members of the Bergson family, who are sworn protectors of Mount Morta, and are charged with containing the Corruption from spreading throughout the rest of the land. No, this is not the most original of plots by any regard, but it doesn’t matter, as the way it’s conveyed more than makes up for it.
The game establishes, through a series of drop-dead gorgeous pixel art and animation, as well as some crisp voice acting by a Narrator, that the land around Mount Morta has been afflicted once more by the Corruption.
As with any roguelike action-RPG, your typical gameplay loop is to hack and slash anything and everything that is coming at you with the intent of hacking and slashing you in kind, and then getting overwhelmed and dying soon after, and then trying again. Children of Morta’s gameplay loop is no different. The striking feature here is, of course, the ability to switch between the different Bergsons. In this case, it’s a matter of picking your preferred playstyle.
John is your typical balanced, shield-and-board warrior-type with tons of defense but no mobility; his firstborn Linda is quite the opposite, being a bow-user with superb ranged capabilities and more movement; while the younger son Kevin is a nimble dual-wielding, dagger chucking rogue who gets faster the more he hits things.
Then there is Mark, a fisticuffs-type monk, who’s also light on his feet and hits really hard; Joey is a berserker-type sledgehammer-wielding dude who suits those who like a high-risk, high-reward style of play; and Lucy is your mage, who arguably requires the most patience out of the lot, due to her slow charge-up area-of-effect spells that deal massive damage.
Each Bergson has their merits and flaws, and it is up to you to weigh out those pros and cons and figure out which play style suits you best. However, you don’t get all of the Bergsons outright, as their availability is dictated by the narrative. Players start with John, whose simple, safe, if not slightly boring, play style eases you into the game’s mechanics, which may put some off who really want to start off playing as someone like Lucy or Joey.
That said, this means that you get to spend a little bit of time with each Bergson, and as you level up and gain skills, you’ll also unlock Family Skills. These are quite valuable, as they passively benefit the rest of your family members. The higher-level ones even allow for those family members to appear for a brief moment and help out the one you’re currently playing. This is a nice way to encourage you to not stick to just one Bergson (though you can), so you’ll be rewarded with a more wholesome combat experience.
Speaking of character progression, it’s not the most extensive of all the action-RPGs throughout. Each Bergson has up to five active skills (some of which unlock more powerful, advanced skills), all of which are upgradeable, complete with the ultimate-like Guardian’s Rage, which differs from Bergson to Bergson. John becomes invulnerable, Linda basically becomes Legolas with drastically-increased attack speed, and so on.
If you’re playing this game with the handicap of just one family member, it can feel a little bland as their individual skill trees make up only a fraction of the game’s true potential, so again, you’re encouraged to change it up every now and then to really reap the benefits of the Bergson family. As you progress through the various procedurally-generated dungeons, you’ll be met with a host of enemies, and a good mix of melee and ranged at that. The early levels are relatively simple, but as you go further into the bowels of Mount Morta, you’ll find yourself quickly getting overwhelmed by the sheer number and speed of these enemies.
That’s where your knowledge of each Bergson’s skills and knowing when to dodge is paramount in surviving. The bosses, of course, offer a much more challenging, but thoroughly rewarding experience, and feel hugely satisfying when you clear them (and consequently the dungeon).
When you die or if you choose to call it quits mid-dungeon, you’ll be teleported back to your family quarters. Regardless of whether you survive, you’ll sometimes be treated to a narrated cutscene that progresses the narrative. It’s an interesting way to get things moving even if your progress through a particular section is halted by a particularly nasty boss, so it’s nice to know that every little bit of effort ultimately counts.
Now, don’t be alarmed, thinking that the more you tarry and die, the more you’ll lose out. Dying or stopping early only presents you cutscenes that flesh out each family member, which adds a nice bit of flavor and possibly even strengthening your attachment to some of them. Actually clearing a boss grants you the juicier Story cutscenes, as well as access to the other Bergson family members, so in any case, you’ll definitely be rewarded for your efforts.
You can tell when the design team of a game has put every penny that was given to them to good use, and it shows in Children of Morta. The art direction is simply stunning, and Dead Mage’s attention to detail and visual storytelling are second to none, especially using pixel graphics.
From walking into a room riddled with dead bodies and a lone survivor huddled in a slump, twitching with fear, and watching Kevin Bergson jump with joy after receiving his daggers, you’re treated to a bevy of emotionally-charged visuals and scenes that would make many AAA games with infinitely larger budgets sweat.
And did we mention the hauntingly sweet melodies that accompany the in-game cutscenes and the thumping, fast-paced beats that fuel your adrenaline as you thump skeletons in the face? Yeah, they have that, too.
Now, while Children of Morta is undoubtedly an enjoyable experience, it is not without its flaws. For all its uniqueness in the family mechanics, some might even say this game might be a tad simple compared to the likes of Hyperlight Drifter or Moonlighter, in that each Bergson is limited by their own set of skills, and the enemies aren’t as aggressive, and it may leave the more hardcore roguelike fans much to desire. It would be nice to have more endgame content which could give an incentive for players to go at it longer than the 10 to 20 hours of gameplay it provides.
Furthermore, the layout of the in-game UI can be a little too minimalist, in that it sometimes doesn’t give you what you need or want to see. When you hover your mouse over each resource, such as gems and skill points, it doesn’t indicate to you which is which, leaving you to actually consume said resource to be able to figure out what you just spent on. Sometimes, it still isn’t enough to indicate items or resources through symbols — it’d certainly help to read out what they are.
That said, should you still give Children if Morta a go? Absolutely, especially if you’re a fan of rogue-like action-RPGs, narrative-driven games, or both. The low, low price of S$22 on Steam is certainly an attractive proposition for a game that serves as a lovely new alternative to the likes of Legend of Zelda and the like.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Dead Mage’s love letter to rogue-like fans is certainly one for the books. A solid experience throughout, it’s a definite must-buy for any who’re well into the genre.
Gameplay - 9/10
Story - 8.5/10
Presentation - 9.5/10
Value - 10/10
User Review( votes)
Marion has a serious RPG addiction. Sometimes it bleeds into real life; he forgets to sleep because he thinks he has a Witcher’s body clock. Forgive him in advance if he suddenly blurts out terms such as “Mind Flayer” and “Magic Missile”, because never once does he stop thinking about his next Dungeons & Dragons game.