Celestian Tales: Old North is a Kickstarter RPG, the first of a trilogy (which is why I refer to it as Celestian Tales 1), which has recently been completed and released. It’s one of the RPGs I’ve been a backer for, and I’m pleased to have helped it come into existence. With little-known Indie RPGs such as this (good ones, that is), I generally try to come up with a rant talking about the game’s virtues, since even the teeny-tiny publicity this blog can provide can’t help but be beneficial. So, let’s talk about Celestian Tales 1. I don’t have any 1 particular topic about the game I want to cover, just a few observations, pieces of praise, and complaints, so don’t expect a particularly organized or insightful piece today.
Actually, anyone familiar with this blog probably knows not to expect that any day, really.
So, I’m just gonna put my 3 major complaints out there first, and then we can get to recognizing the things this game does right. First of all, and this is pretty much everyone’s complaint about this game: it’s too short. You’re looking at around 10 hours from start to finish, and though you’re encouraged to see the game through the eyes of all 6 characters (which would make it more like 60 hours long), there’s not a huge amount of variation in the game’s events and scenes from one protagonist to the next. I mean, there’s some, sure, but not enough that it makes up for the lack of time in which the plot takes place. Additionally, I gotta be frank, not all of the characters are really worth following--more on that in a moment.
The reason the game is so short is that it’s the first of a trilogy, but it’s only a trilogy because, as I understand it (I should probably pay more attention to those updates Kickstarter sends me about these things), of time and money issues with the game’s developer. Originally, Celestian Tales was just meant to be a single game, not split into parts, so the ending of this title isn’t like the ending of, say, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 1, where you’ve got an overall story that was intended to be split between multiple installments, and that stopping point designated a huge point of transition for the story, the end and completion of one major task and the opening of another. Basically, Celestian Tales 1 ends in a way that feels like it’s the end of a chapter within a book, not the ending of a book within a series, if you get me. The final event of Celestian Tales: Old North is actually the point at which it feels like the real meat of the story is starting, so getting cut off right then is kind of frustrating.
Still, as annoying as that is, it’s a problem that I don’t really know if there’s a solution for. The developer had their reasons for needing to split Celestian Tales into a trilogy. While I feel perfectly comfortable lambasting a well-established, fully staffed, professional game company for not allocating its resources correctly to make its product properly, I wouldn’t feel comfortable really taking Ekuator Games to task over this issue...there’s just a wide gulf between a business that has the resources and experience to do and know better, and a tiny little independent developer that’s telling their story for the first time and learning as they go.
Problem Number 2: Some of its cast. There’s a pretty wide gulf in the quality of the protagonists. Some of them are dynamic, well-written characters (Ylianne and Isaac), and that’s great, but there are also characters who seem likable but don’t really have much in the way of personality and depth (Lucienne and Camille), and those who are neither likable nor developed enough (Aria and Reynard). I kind of get the feeling that the major character development for Lucienne and Aria is simply forthcoming in later installments, but that doesn’t really help Lucienne be more interesting in this game, nor does it help Aria be less of a horrible ignorant judgmental heartless monster.
With that said, this isn’t a clear cut case of being bad characters for some of them. I mean, Camille does not seem very interesting overall, as I say...but, if you’re playing the game with her as your lead, you do see some scenes involving her which give her a little more personality (not to mention spell out a bit of the plot intrigue at the game’s end). The same is true of Aria and even Reynard, a little. Lucienne, sadly, stays pretty boring even if you’re seeing the extra scenes for her. But anyway, you have a case here where the seemingly sub-par parts of the cast really aren’t as bad as they appear at first...it’s just that the decision to show such a significant amount of their personal development through scenes only experienced in certain playthroughs makes the characters appear worse than they are. In future titles, I hope Ekuator Games will be more careful to show adeqaute character development for everyone in any playthrough, not just specific ones.
Problem Number 3: Okay, look, I know I tend to nitpick, but there are way too many typographical errors in the game’s text and dialogue. I can’t take SquareEnix to task for a dozen or so errors in a 30 hour game and then ignore and forgive thrice that number of errors in a game a third that length. It’s obvious from the speech patterns of this game’s characters that the writers are familiar with the English language and have a talent for manipulating it to distinguish dialects and different character mentalities, so the fact that there are so many errors present just comes off as sloppy. Come on, Ekuator Games, it cannot be that hard to find a proofreader or two. Dozens of fanfics are published daily whose authors have located beta readers to ensure the quality of their stories! Do you really want to seem less professional than a 14-year-old fangirl whose last creative work was summarized as “Mako is the vampire prince of the moon kingdome, can the love of the earth princess korra melt his cold heart?? wip, no-bending moon kingdom au, crossover with naruto in later chapters”?
Hell, I’d proofread the damn script if they’re so hard up for a spell check. I’d do it cheap! Anything to keep from constantly cringing at all these immersion-breaking typos.
Alright, so, that’s the bad stuff out of the way. Now for the good. Celestian Tales 1 is a good, solid RPG. Even if we’re only getting the first taste of its plot in this installment, the story becomes engaging quickly, the setting is pretty decently explained and detailed, and the general events of the plot are pleasantly Suikoden-esque, though not derivative of that series. The game clearly has several strong themes it wishes to focus on, including class distinctions, the complexity of right, wrong, and human society and customs, duties to those both above and below oneself, and the dangers of doctrines that close the mind to the possibilities and people of the world. These ideas, and the philosophies that the game wishes to convey regarding them, pop up frequently as the plot progresses, and the characters examine them thoughtfully and with gravity. This is a game that has something to say, and cares about doing so, and I appreciate that.
Another strong point in the game’s favor is its cast. Yes, that seems odd when one of my major complaints was also the cast, but give me a chance to explain. While not every one of the 6 protagonists carries his or her weight as a character on his or her own, as a group, they work very well together, providing great compliments and counterpoints to one another as their perceptions and beliefs are called to play. Yes, Lucienne may not be the most interesting or dynamic of the cast, but her basic steadfastness makes for a good influence in the superior character development of Isaac, as he is many times confronted with the fact that his black-and-white views of the nobility are not always accurate thanks to her example. Yes, Aria may be a particularly detestable harpy, but her cold, self-important intolerance serves to give the sweet Ylianne all the more opportunity to use her innocent wisdom to question the nature of humanity. There are weak characters here, to be sure, and Ekuator Games should work to improve upon them in future installments, but they nonetheless contribute to make a good team dynamic for the party, and the strong characters are all the better for having these counterpoints to work off of. And it also bears mentioning that the good characters are, well, quite good! Isaac’s view and character shifts subtly but dramatically as his eyes are opened to the complexity of the world, and I have to say that Yli, though she appears saccharine at first, is a pleasant surprise in how well her basic, sweet nature fits into the group and the plot’s events. Watching her find herself torn between her elvish understanding of what is truly Right and Wrong, and her developing human understanding of the complex intricacies of those shades of grey between Right and Wrong, is very interesting and even bittersweet.
And that’s...kind of all I really have to say about Celestian Tales: Old North. Is it good? Yeah. I know that I spent more time here talking about its problems than its virtues, but that’s the thing about critiquing in rants like this--you always wind up talking more about the negatives than the positives, because what more is there to say when something works than “it works”? Celestian Tales 1 is short, but what it’s got is good, it knows how to create a good team dynamic with its cast, and it shows a lot of potential for what we can expect from the next installment, especially since the plot seems ready to deepen dramatically.
So yes, it’s good. Then should you buy it? Well...probably, but possibly not. It doesn’t cost much, and it’s definitely decent, so I give it a recommendation, but at the same time, I can’t pretend that it ends at a satisfying place, and that means that the wait for the next installment of the story is more a case of frustration than anticipation. If you don’t think you’d do well with that, well, I’d say you should wait until the trilogy is complete before getting into it. But other than that, I say go for it, it’s a worthwhile beginning to a story that shows a lot of promise.* If you're interested, it can be purchased at GOG or Steam.
* If you do decide to play Celestian Tales: Old North, then I would very much recommend the following:
A. Play through all 6 characters’ prologues before going ahead with the story. First of all, several of the game’s best moments, like Ylianne’s talk with her mother and the choice Aria is forced to make that unfortunately goes on to define her character for the rest of the game, are contained in the prologues. Secondly, and more importantly, understanding a lot of the characters’ personality and the subtle development some of them receive really requires you to know where they’ve come from, and the prologues provide this insight.
B. If you’re going to play only 1 character, make it Ylianne. Most of the best character-specific scenes are hers, to start with, and though she seems excessively cute and sweet at first, once you get used to her you find that she’s probably the most appealing personality in the cast. Also, the fact is that Ylianne’s inexperience with the Old North and its people is similar to the player’s own, and her questions, reactions, and goals thus make her seem closer to the player and thus the natural fit for performing as the player’s specific avatar in this world. Any of the protagonists fit the idea of Main Hero well enough, of course, but Ylianne is the one I think feels most comfortable and natural as our lead. You may feel differently, of course, but like I said, she has some of the strongest character-specific scenes, so it’s still good to see her tale through.
C. With B in mind, it’s still a good idea to find a few Let’s Plays on Youtube of the other protagonists’ playthroughs, just so you can see some of the character-specific scenes of the others. To save you time, here are the moments in the game where the character-specific events occur, with as little spoilers as possible:
Chapter 1: After returning from the village and going to sleep.
Chapter 2: Deciding the bandits’ fate (only significantly different for Ylianne and Isaac)
Chapter 3: After reporting the results of the scouting mission.
Chapter 4: After the trial.
Chapter 5: Looking through the village house.
Chapter 6: NA
Chapter 7: The night before the ceremony, the decision after the final boss battle, and the scene after the credits.