The story here follows six diverse squires of different origins seeking knighthood. Ranging from a daughter sent as a political ploy to an elf curious about the human world, their duties are quickly cut short by the outbreak of war. Sailing from the north, the rampaging world enders have fallen upon the human kingdoms, and the squires might hold the key to victory…
Sidestepping the well-trodden Final Fantasy tropes of doomsday monsters being unleashed, evil warlocks, ancient prophecies and world-ending events, the story stands out from many of its contemporaries. The problem is that, while an interesting start, the writers seemed to rarely know how to end its ideas. Offering only ten hours of gameplay, the war itself is resolved surprisingly easily, with little in the way of real impact. What’s more is that the player only makes one or two choices throughout the entire game, only one of which really relates to their knightly duties, and passes up multiple chances for great moral quandaries.
Many characters pass in and out of the story, including a figure who could have easily been the main villain, and so many potentially great moments come down to simple world-building. Not a bad thing in of itself, but the game continually tells you things rather than actually showing them. To make matters worse, the game ends just as it starts to get truly interesting, leaving a great deal of the story unresolved. The story’s failing is only made noticeable by the complete lack of any side quests and that the fact it is almost always exactly the same no matter who is your main character.
However, despite its storytelling problems and surprising linearity, Celestian Tales does retain several strengths. In spite of a low level cap, the combat system is remarkably engaging, abandoning MP in favour of a stamina system which needs to be built up throughout the fight. While many characters do ultimately fall into JRPG archetypes, the developer often finds a way to put a good spin on them in terms of passive and active abilities. What’s more, the game always looks and sounds beautiful, benefitting from a fantastic artistic direction.
There is definite potential here, and a sign that Ekuator Games could one day produce a fantastic classic JRPG, but Celestian Tales is still a hard one to recommend. Give it a look, but don’t expect anything on par with Last Dream.
CELESTIAN TALES: OLD NORTH / DEVELOPER: EKUATOR GAMES / PUBLISHER: DIGITAL TRIBE / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW