Nostalgia hit me like a brick wall, from almost the second I opened Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King. As soon as the menu music started up I was transported back to my youth and a time when I would eagerly await the latest RPG and adventure games on NES.
Nostalgia comes in waves in Blossom Tales. Starting the game up, selecting your save slot and entering a game you swear could have been released on the NES except for the fact that it uses more colours.
It begins, as not enough games do, with two kids waking their sleeping Grandpa up to tell them a story. Their complaints that they’ve heard the story about the young elf boy who becomes a hero a million times forces Grandpa to come up with something else. And so Blossom Tales begins.
It’s essentially a fairy tale. You play as Lily (the name of the protagonist and the young kid who Grandpa is telling the story to), who is waking up to her first day as a Knight and protector of the land. Only it doesn’t go very well. After “volunteering” to clear out a rat-infested dungeon, she discovers a little too late that a Wizard is plotting to take over the kingdom. Forcibly.
The Wizard puts the King into an eternal sleep before scooting off to build an army in a remote region, and it’s up to Lily to go on a dangerous adventure to gather the ingredients for a potion that will wake the snoozing monarch.
Sort of. You’re actually told to stay at home and finish your training while the real Knights take up the quest. The real Knights are kind of stupid though, so it’s probably a good thing that Lily decides to go and do it herself anyway.
The Legend of Zelda reference that I quoted above, which can be found in the first minutes of the game, is no accident. Playing Blossom Tales almost immediately recalls earlier Zelda adventures, from the retro-style pixel art to the way the game is played.
Gameplay is simple enough in the early stages. Move with the d-pad (if you plug in a controller as I did). Attack with A. Use shield with X. Handy enough for dealing with a rat-infested dungeon, but you’ll quickly need to up your move set to deal with the challenges that face you in the wider world.
Blossom Tales quickly layers additional complexities to its core gameplay once you set foot outside of town. Enemies will hit you with more complex attack patterns, for starters. I quickly ran across druids who would summon circles of leaves, then fire them at me, forcing me to block. They would then teleport to a new location, forcing me to try and get a killing blow before they could damage me.
Puzzles similarly push you to think about your abilities and surroundings, and you can seemingly find them everywhere. There are puzzles necessary to complete dungeons or move on to the next screen, as well as optional ones scattered throughout the world, that task you with completing mazes within set time limits or activating switches to reveal treasure chests. Nothing too complex, but I only had access to a smaller portion of the game.
New weapons and items give you more options in combat, puzzles and exploration. After beating the first boss I was given bombs. These throwables weapons allowed me to blow up cracked walls to explore otherwise inaccessible areas, as well as successfully fight enemies (such as giant stone skulls) that I wouldn’t have been able to touch with my puny sword.
The most interesting aspect of Blossom Tales, however, comes in the form of player choice. You’re constantly reminded that this is a story being told to a young girl by her Grandpa through dialogue boxes, as you get Grandpa’s narration and the kids interruptions.
These interruptions can drastically affect the game, such as deciding that an undead army should attack Lily during a trip through a cemetery. There’s also the option to tailor the experience. When I approached the first village it quickly became apparent that something was wrong and the villagers were nowhere to be seen.
A minor disagreement between Grandpa and Lily afforded me the option of choosing who was causing trouble – archers or golems, then populated the village with the relevant enemies. It’s a really interesting mechanic that I look forward to seeing expanded upon in the final release.
There are one or two quirks that make gameplay a bit stranger than it potentially needs to be. Blocking with your shield, for example, can be quite a pain. Once you hold the button to block you’re locked into facing in a particular direction, which can make adapting to new enemy attacks quite a convoluted process, forcing you to stop blocking to make sure you’re blocking the correct direction.
Picking up and throwing objects is also a bit more difficult than it needs to be. This wasn’t a massive problem for most of my time with the game, except when fighting the game’s opening boss. To defeat the Rat King I needed to pick up the bombs he was throwing at me and return them before they exploded.
However it seems like you need to stop moving, and be right next to the bomb, to successfully pick it up. Otherwise you just swipe your sword at it limply. It’s quite unintuitive, especially considering the time pressures involved, and made the boss fight a bit more tedious than it needed to be.
Blossom Tales is an interesting game, however, and one I’m very much looking forward to continuing. It’s got a great soundtrack, an interesting approach to storytelling and player choice, a charming and vibrantly colourful world and gameplay that is easy to pick up, but with enough depth and variety to keep players engaged and challenged.
Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King is scheduled to launch on PC sometime in 2017.