Nobliesse oblige – nobility obliges – is a very controversial turn of phrase. It implies that, while nobles live in luxury and rely on the lower classes to thrive, they gain these benefits because it is their responsibility to lead the people in times of war and disaster. This relationship between the nobles and the peasants is a major theme of Celestian Tales: Old North, a turn based roleplaying game from Ekuator Games. Discarding the old cliché of heroes destined to dispatch ancient evils, Celestian Tales focuses on six young nobles who wish to become knights, and whether their goal is to right injustice, hunt blasphemers, or to simply follow in an uncle’s footsteps, they will have to work together to prove their worth.
Each of the six playable characters has their own prologue introducing them, the major players in their story, and their motivation for becoming a knight. I chose to play as Camille, the young daughter of a powerful merchant noble whose boisterous brother has already managed to pass the tests. An avid reader, Camille has studied the lands that lay outside the kingdom, known as the Outer Realms, a place where the widely feared and outlawed power of the arcane runs rampant. After she joins up with the rest of the new recruits and they pass their first test, invaders from the north known as World Enders attack the kingdom and they are sent to the front lines in an attempt to sway the war.
This is just a thimblefull of the story that takes place in Celestian Tales and it would take pages and pages to accurately convey the gist of it. Ekuator Games have gone above and beyond to bring an interesting, dramatic, and most importantly believable story to the table and if you’re the sort of player who likes to skip past all the dialogue you’re going to be disappointed. While much of your time is spent fighting monsters with the standard Attack, Skill, Item, Magic interface that seems to be the standard JRPG way of doing things, the reason this game is a great one is because of the writing. While on the surface the cast of characters seems to be the same old boring lineup one finds in any RPG, there is quite a lot of character development as well as twists and turns that will keep you guessing chapter after chapter.
In addition to the standard combat and dialogue you expect to find in this sort of game there are moral choices to be made. No, these aren’t the kick the puppy or donate to the orphanage sort of decisions, these are tougher, greyer, and altogether harder choices to make. Will you uphold the laws of the kingdom and enforce standards on all people regardless of class, or will you go with your gut reaction and what feels right in the situation? Not all consequences are apparent form the outset and all of the decisions can and will come back to haunt you.
Having sang the praises this game truly deserves, it isn’t all great. There is an awful lot of backtracking and walking through the same towns over and over again simply to talk to a single NPC only to again have to go back through the entire map. A better fast-travel system would up the game’s pace and it suffers otherwise. While the beautiful painted graphics bring an extra something to the table, there are a few amateur mistakes in tiling textures and character animations are stiff and very reminiscent of amateur projects made with RPG Maker. Hopefully neither of these will turn you off from purchasing it, however, because these are minor flaws that are easily ignored.
Overall, Celestian Tales: Old North is a pleasant surprise. I’m not normally a fan of turn-based RPGs, finding them to be a little slow and with stories that tend to run together in my mind. Perhaps some of the bigger names in the genre should take a page from indie Ekuator Games’ book and focus on making believable characters and intriguing storylines, and worry less about the ancient prophecies and all-powerful weapons. That would be a great start.