Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling
Paper Mario And The Thousand-Year Bugs
Historically, doing these first takes grants me the satisfaction of trying out an indie title that far exceeds expectations. There have been some, like Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion, that used its self-aware humor and familiar gameplay to keep me engaged. Coming into Bug Fables I didn't know what to expect, for all I knew was that it was an ARPG. A Bug-PG if you will!
I am very aware that I sound like a hypocrite, based on my disdain for a previous game I played with worse one-liners, but I assure you, Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling was a treat. Paper Mario's influence becomes apparent the moment the player starts the game, with the characters moving in a "2.5d" plane while keeping a 2D perspective. The dialogue boxes and the dialogue in general also bear influence from Paper Mario. Each playable character interacts with others and the NPCs with a certain wit that's childlike and charming. There's a lot to say about Bug Fables so without further ado.
A Bug's Life, But As An RPG
The game begins with an artifact known as "The Everlasting Sapling," a leaf that, once eaten, can grant bugs immortality and power beyond limits. The leaf, once considered a myth, has influenced several bugs to look for the artifact. These bugs are formed under the faction of the Queen who orders to find the leaf. One of the members of this faction, the beetle Kabbu, meets a young bee named Vi. Knowing that his chances of surviving these expeditions are small alone, he extends his serves to Vi and offers to team up with her.
Before anyone can agree to anything, one of the members of the faction issues a challenge to both Vi and Kabbu. With the promise that they will be offered permits should they win, the unlikely duo engages in combat and team up. "Team Up" is the key combat mechanic of Bug Fables as "Team Points" are used to activate skills. Kabbu, for example, can taunt other enemies to focus their attacks on him. This is useful for diverting attention away from squishy members like Vi.
Every Bug Has Their Learning Curve
Each bug has a distinctive gameplay mechanic to gain the most out of their turns. The way Kabbu's default attack works is that the player holds a button until the last possible moment. Should they release it too early or too late, their attack will miss, but if the player releases the button at the exact moment, they'll land a critical hit. Vi's mechanic is pressing a button at the right time within the green.
Later on, a moth named Leif will join the party. His attack requires the player to press the right button at the right time, with the button prompt being random each time. Blocking requires the same interactivity, meaning players will have to press a button at the right time to block an enemy attack, reducing damage. Should they press the block button just as the attack hits the player, they'll obtain a "perfect block," reducing damage to the lowest possible margin.
An RPG With Refreshing Interactive Environments
This is important to master as each bug, enemy, and ally, have very limited health points. In the beginning, Kabbu has the highest HP value at a whopping 10, which becomes dire should the player engage in Hard Mode. Before the player leaves the first area, should they talk to an NPC, they will give the player a "Hard Mode" medal. Once equipped, enemies will deal more damage but the rewards for each fight are increased. The difference between "Normal" and "Hard" mode is negligible and I found myself skating by in the latter. I would assume the former would be far too easy for most players.
In the overworld, each bug has a mechanic to help traverse through the environment. Kabbu cuts tall grass, revealing hidden items, and pushes large objects with his horn. Vi uses her boomerang---I mean---beemerang to attack objects out of reach as well as enemies from a safe distance for a preemptive strike. Leif uses his ice ability to freeze droplets of water into ice cubes that can be used as projectiles and switches. He can also freeze water geysers as platforms.
Bug Fables Proves Imagination Trumps Graphics
The beauty of Bug Fables is the density of the world through the perspective of bugs. What's as simple as a grassy field becomes a dense forest, with weeds being the size of large bushes waiting to be cut. The common enemy range from other insects, armadillos, and the occasional poisonous jellyfish-like mushroom. While not realistic, the enemies are on par with the player's party. During my time, the most outlandish thing I fought that was too strong for my current level was a spider. A simple, hungry, pissed-off spider.
Everything from the art style to the menus is hand-drawn, with simplistic animations and engaging music. It's the soul behind a two-man development studio that sets the tone for Bug Fables. Players looking for an impressive RPG in the same vein as Paper Mario across multiple platforms should give Bug Fables a spin on its webs. Just make sure not to agitate the spider that may be nearby said webs.
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is available on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.