GAME REVIEW: NARBORION SAGA / AUTHOR: FRANCIS HORA, DR TOM POLLACK / PUBLISHER: LIBER PRIMUS GAMES / PLATFORM: ANDROID / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
It’s rather heartening to note that there is a growing rise in adventure gamebook-style apps. The latest addition to this trend is Narborion Saga; a rather nifty little free download available for your smartphone.
Set in your general sort of fantasy world, you play a young person who is set on a mission by a beautiful princess to one of the deadliest regions in the kingdom. Along the way you’ll fight demons, monsters and other such creatures. This is a text adventure game where you make the decisions, and combat is performed by the phone app rolling dice and telling you the result. The dice animation is nice, though it does feel a little superfluous at times.
Unlike its competitors, Narborion Saga pretty much has one mode, which is sort-of-hard mode. It’s quite easy to die in the game, though with the judicious use of saving the game, you can avoid the consequences of your poor decision making.
The narrative is well written, solid and a little downbeat. Various fantasy tropes are skewered in a subtle way throughout, and being the hero doesn’t always mean you’ll get it right. This adds to the sense of adventure and fun, putting the focus on decision-making rather than dice rolling. The world-building is solid, the fantasy world is different enough to be interesting (without being too different to be inaccessible) and story seems well thought-out. There is a lot of accompanying artwork, and it’s all very pretty and very evocative of the world. Some of the puzzles do seem a little pointless, and there’s usually a way to avoid doing the puzzles and still get rewarded, but this just makes the game more accessible.
The game’s central problem is its terrible business model. Adventure game-style apps are pretty much enhanced books. You sit down with a cup of nice warm beverage and read the thing until it’s done, flipping from encounter to encounter, reading various pages and mining as much fun as you can out of them. Unfortunately, the game wants to stop you every once in a while, charging you to travel from encounter to encounter. So instead of heroically going from one part of the game to the next, you either have to wait (and this can be over an hour) or pay a fee in gold. In-game gold can be purchased with real world cash, which means you get repeatedly stung for money from game to game.
This is an enormous shame, and it’s a pity there isn’t simply a ‘one payment’ version so gamebook fans can use Narborion Saga like the novel it resembles, rather than the Candy Crush clone it’s business model thinks it is. Another (comparatively minor) niggle is that the game saves its progress via an external account. This means that if you’re travelling or in a place with bad signal, you may not be able to save your game, which can be frustrating. There are also mild grammatical errors throughout, though this is a little thing and something easily fixed in coming updates.
Over all, Narborion Saga is a solid adventure gamebook app let down by the appalling requirement to keep feeding it cash. Excellent content and an engaging story is obscured by a pay wall of sorts, making this the sort of game you’ll enjoy intensely yet briefly, then uninstall once the ‘starting gold’ has ran out.
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