Today I got the chance to review a new Paper Mario… Wait a minute, I’m not playing the recently released Origami King, I’m taking a look at Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling, a game which many have been calling the spiritual successor to the Paper Mario franchise – and there’s plenty to back up that claim. Although if you pay attention, you’ll not only see similarities to aforementioned flat-packed plumber series, you’ll also see homages to the Tales series, Golden Sun, Xenoblade, and Persona 5, amongst many others! This game really bursts your heart asunder and forcefully claims a spot inside.
If you were to tell me that Bug Fables was developed by a two-man team, I’d be sceptical. The amount of development and love that went into this rivals that of even 20-30+ teams that spend a couple of years pushing out a big-name title. It has so much content and absolute sheer perfection within it. I’m of course talking about Marcio Cleiton and Jose Fernando Gracia Perez, two developers who spearheaded the project under the studio name Moonsprout Games.
DANGEN Entertainment, Inc. is the publisher behind Bug Fables – a rather recent publisher, having only been founded in 2017, but that doesn’t stop them from standing ground with the big dogs. They’ve previously worked with Iconoclasts, Brave Earth, CrossCode, and Momodora V, with their most recent titles being Ara Fell and now Bug Fables!
There is a land by the name of Bugaria that the queen visited many moons ago by the promise of riches and lush fields. She, her daughters, and servants established Bugaria’s first settlement. Even though the ‘Ant Kingdom’ was flourishing, the Queen was not satisfied. The Queen knew of the ancient people of Bugaria who safeguarded a treasure of untold powers; The Everlasting Sapling! This sapling was said to grant eternal youth and immeasurable strength to those who ate just a single leaf of it.
Though she searched to no avail, she passed her dream onto the princess. This princess, with a penchant to succeed where her mother could not, has unified the people of Bugaria by attracting every bug out there by announcing; “Find me the Everlasting Sapling, and you shall know wealth like no other bug ever has!” Due to this decree, the Explorer’s Association was formed, with its members scouring every inch of the kingdom for clues and treasures.
Bug Fables has a party that consists of three main characters; Kabbu, Vi, and Leif.
– You’ll meet Kabbu in the Ant Kingdom, but he comes from a Northern Continent that neighbours Bugaria. He, like many others, was drawn here by the grandiose promises of the legend! With his bravado, Kabbu seeks to be the hero that protects everyone and finds all the treasure.
– Vi comes next and joins the party simultaneously with Kabbu. The Bee Kingdom is home to the largest tree in Bugaria, which houses the nest that Vi once called home. She’s a real treasure hunter at heart as you’ll often see she jumps at every opportunity to have a race to riches.
– Lastly is Leif who you’ll find in the first dungeon of the game. Leif is shrouded with mystery and by far my favourite character with backstory. It’s hard to say much without spoiling Leif, but he is a lot older than you can imagine, a resident of the ant kingdom, and talks in the pronoun “we” for mysterious reasoning.
Upon completion of your first dungeon, it’ll be official that your posse of three forms what is now known as Team Snakemouth.
Bug Fables is an absolutely stunning masterpiece of artwork. It resembles the Paper Mario titles with it’s folding down of buildings, flat geometric nature, and the utilisation of layers, but it proves to stand it’s own ground and does it very well! I never experienced any lag or frame rate issues despite all the mechanics going on simultaneously in this game. Due to the simplicity of its paper-esque graphics, it doesn’t need as much in-depth detailing as other titles, so what this leaves is a crisp and vibrant colour palette that really shines through. The game does have options to scale down the 3D effect and the outlining, but in my opinion that leaves it quite drab and flat looking.
Bug Fables‘ story is nothing elaborate, nor does it try to embellish you with a deep and harrowing story. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. Think of all the famous franchises out there; Zelda, Mario, Donkey Kong, etc. None of those had stories to rival anything, it was the charm, characters, and inviting nature of the games that left a great first and lasting impression. This is what Bug Fables does too, a non-complex narrative that’ll initially captivate you with it’s colourful and vibrant visuals, and then have you hooked with it’s simple yet addictive gameplay. You’ll be so engrossed in playing that you’ll come to believe in their fantasy world and want to know more about the lore, the history and background of the bugs, and aim to get to know all the characters.
It’s a simple game to pick up and play, a difficult one to put down and walk away.
Let’s talk about the characters in Bug Fables. I already gave a brief description of each character, but I want to talk about how they’re done. I love the fact that not a single character knew each other before the game started, they were all strangers to one another. This is a key feature in the development of friendship along the way! Because of this, they’ll often have hilarious little skits between each other, mutter stuff shown in smaller speech bubbles, and get under each other’s skin like any newly found companions would. This is most notably apparent in how they play off each others’ personalities! Kabbu is calm, chivalrous, and full of bravado. Vi is a loudmouth, selfish, self-centred, and sarcastic, as you can often tell with her quips. Leif is well-mannered, polite, mature and has a peculiarity of speaking with “We”. Because of this, Bug Fables beautifully shows the growth between them forming a lasting friendship that you get to witness as their journey progresses!
You only get three team members and they’re available from the first dungeon onward, this allows you to have an extensive period focusing on these three whereas other titles would having swappable team members with less focus on each character. Although working best as a team, each character is oozing with charm when stand-alone as well; each with their own one-liners, quirky personalities, deep histories, attitudes, etc. This is furthered by the amount of dialogue, something they tailored in every aspect. So much so that when scanning enemies and battling them, among traversing dungeons and whatnot, every character has unique dialogue for every opportunity!
A neat little feature is that at any given time you can press the touchpad to have the team chime in with responses about the story or location your in.
Bug Fables also includes side-quests and information about each character, strengthening the backstories and deepening your bond with the playable characters, and have I mentioned a card game! My favourite character to learn the history of was Leif, something about his mysterious personality and history intrigued me. Though Kabbu is the ‘leader’ of Team Snakemouth, the story doesn’t overshadow the other members in the least, quite the opposite. Every character has tons of dialogue, side quests, lore, takes charge in scenarios, speaks up, etc. So unlike other RPG’s where sometimes your favourite member may be the unsung hero, not in Bug Fables.
Getting immersed in Bug Fables comes naturally due to how much of the game you get invested in. One thing I want to mention is character names, too often in gaming you’ll come across non-important NPCs named boy, girl, shopkeeper, fisherman, etc. Bug Fables went beyond that and gave names to tonnes of NPCs! From the unimportant Gen and Eri or Crisbee to the more important NPCs Queen Bianca, Queen Vanessa, or Queen Elizant. That isn’t to say you won’t run across nameless NPCs like a guard outside the palace or whatnot, but more often than not you’ll be amazed to see how many of them are named!
The world of Bug Fables is so vibrant and contrasting! Because this game doesn’t utilise high-end CGs, renders of 3D environments, real-time rendering, etc, nothing that you’d expect of high-end AAA titles, it can focus on simplistic but crisp graphics with vibrant and lively colours and details. By far it’s one of the most vibrant and colourful games I have on the PS4! The Lost Sands have striped yellows for the sands, Seedling Haven is various greens of all shades, Metal Island has a vivid environment with all of its wealth, and you’ll run into a colour variant for all the different maps and dungeons!
When you get past all of Bug Fable’s lively NPCs and rich world, you’ll get to the crux of the game; the impressive battle system! The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s turn-based yet the characters don’t have fixed turns. Every round you’ll get to use your three characters in whatever way you see fit – basically, you can use your characters more than once, sharing turns, if that’s the best strategic move to make. Due to only Vi being able to hit flying enemies, Kabbu having the ability to flip enemies and pierce defence, and Leif having elemental spells that let them attack enemies underground, you’ll need to study your enemies, play your characters in the right order, and share turns to overcome enemies!
Placement in the party is useful also, as characters in the front row have higher damage output but more taunting to the enemy’s attention. You can save items by swapping party members around to manage until the next save point or Inn, even Vi’s skills, by utilising this feature. Just remember that as the game goes on, you’ll have medals that can affect your positioning as well. Every character and spell have different ways of being executed too through button combinations or timed inputs, though there is no option to adjust the speed or delay of battle settings – which I found unfortunate.
For an RPG, it felt a little unfulfilling on level ups if I’m to be honest. There are no stats in Bug Fables, you’ll have timed button inputs to reduce damage and button inputs to attack. Everything else is modified through medals and spells in this game. You’ll notice this immediately upon level up as there’s only HP increase, TP increase, or Medal limitation increases. At times I felt like an attack up or defence up would’ve been very much needed, especially nearing endgame with the over-abundant health pools that enemies have and their brutal attacks. Speaking of unfortunate things, often post-battle enemies will drop items/currency which is very appreciated if you weren’t losing it too often. However, don’t engage enemies near cliffs or drop-offs – your rewards will likely fall off them, unable to be retrieved.
There are two difficulty settings in Bug Fables and for beginners, unless achievement hunting, I recommend playing on ‘normal’ unless if you’re up for the challenge. For the sake of the review I played on Hard Mode, which offers plenty of benefits and challenges for those up to the task: More exp, enemies are stronger, medal rewards, better items, different attack patterns, etc. This difficulty mode isn’t the best for newcomers though as it can get quite tricky rather fast. This is predominant right from chapter 2 with the difficulty spiking against something as simple as the Soldier Wasps. By chapter 3 I was having game overs often, forcing me to learn different strategies and most often praying to lady luck. All in all, Bug Fables will easily run you a 25 to 30-hour journey for just the gameplay – not including ALL of the side content.
I was not expecting the length nor size of Bug Fables to be what it is – at 257.75MB it’s such a tiny file size. Upon downloading the game I was hesitant about the journey I was about to start, I had heard so much about Bug Fables that I couldn’t fathom how much 257mb really could offer… I was wrong to be sceptical and think this was going to be a short adventure though, the gameplay will easily be upwards of 30 hours, closer to 40 to 50 if you’re a completionist. There are seven chapters in Bug Fables and to give you a reference, I wasn’t even done with chapter 3 by the 10-hour mark!
Across these seven chapters, you’ll come across: 50 optional discoveries, 90 enemies, 70 recipes, 107 medals, 50 crystal berries, 30 Records, an extensive quest list, bounties, and so much more!
I know the battle system of Bug Fables is a selling point, and yes, I called it the crux, but that’s due to how I feel as though many people would feel. Personally, for me, it’d be the exploration. Bug Fables utilises a fixed/locked camera, there is no free movement of the camera and IT WORKS! Normally I loathe not moving my camera, but I doubt a free camera would work in this game. This allows there to be such craftily hidden items. It reminds me of my early SNES/N64 days where things are hidden behind walls, pillars, obstructive items in the foreground, etc. This works in the favour that the depth perception of the field, sometimes you can’t tell if the mountains, hills, or buildings are against each other or not. Leaving you with that curiosity to squeeze between things and look in every crevice.
You’ll also get to use each team members abilities on the overworld which’ll allow you to complete puzzles, reach distant items, and find hidden areas. The only drawback is movement speed is in this game. It’s fine when exploring new areas and traversing the dungeons, but when you’re running around turning it quests, backtracking, or looking through areas, you notice it’s just walking speed and can feel really slow. It might be odd for bugs to have ‘mounts’, so in the least, I would’ve enjoyed a running button.
Previously mentioned was that Bug Fables was from a two-man development team, which it is but they did have some outsourcing. One of these outsources was to Tristan Alric, the one responsible for the game’s OST. Bug Fables actually seems like it was their first big project. The entirety of the game’s OST left me humming along and really feeling the atmosphere! I always favoured the boss battles with all the beats, ambient noises, and the tempo that places the right settings but even the overworld music was highly memorable. I quite enjoyed the music of the deserts and hives, almost felt ‘tavern-like’ and something you could really tap your foot to while playing the game. All in all, you’ll find yourself just addicted to these auditory pleasures.
Bug Fables may be hailed as the spiritual successor to Paper Mario, but Bug Fables has rightfully usurped the throne and stands proudly as its own reigning title! Just as many have come to relish their love of Paper Mario entries, with the wide array of availability on all consoles, music score, battle system, content, and so much more, Bug Fables will be a title this generation will surely remember as ours did with The Thousand-Year Door. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that Bug Fables has ‘sprouted’ a deep-seated love within me as a gamer, a title I yearn everyone to try!
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling£24.99
- - The detail on the NPCs and the overall graphics, dungeons, and world design
- - Fixed camera really compliments the exploration
- - Solid battle system
- - Interesting side quests, lore, and mini-game
- - I loved the music
- - Walking Speed at times
- - Items falling off ledges
- - Leveling system leaves a bit to be desired
- - Unable to adjust battle speeds