by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
“Choose Your Own Adventure” and “Fighting Fantasy” were two of the styles of books I grew up on in Elementary School, and absolutely swore by them. I’d go out of my way to get every single one of them I could, and only occasionally cheated by holding my finger on a page before turning forward/backward. That way, if you haven’t let go of the old page, you didn’t really mean to move forward and make a fatal mistake that killed you. So when I saw The Ballad Singer, I was pretty intrigued. It’s more like “Choose Your Own Adventure”, in that you don’t have a health bar, attack dice, et cetera. Instead, you have a series of characters, each with their own stories and stats, and if you die, you die. Easier difficulties let you have chances to remake your fatal choices, because trust me: You’re going to make an absolute ton of them.
The game starts off with two characters, Ancoran, a Range, and Leon, a Master of Elements. These are the two you take through the Prologue, and after that, the game opens up with two more characters: the Assassin Ancalimo, and the Bard/Warrior Daragast. But to complete the prologue, those choices are locked. One thing I think is fascinating is that each character has a set of stats: Challenge, Combat Skill, Potential Opponents, Fame throughout Hesperia, and Starting Alignment. It’s fascinating that all four characters have incredibly high challenge ratings, instead of them being a little more staggered, for the sake of variety. It’s not very clear what those skill bars actually mean. They have icons, but you can’t hover over them and read what they do. For example, Weapon Skill has one sword and two swords at either end, and Potential Opponents shows a person and a dragon at either side. I can infer what they mean, but I would still like to know exactly.
Each of the difficulty ratings offers different settings for the following: Starting Fate (How many retries), Saving Slots, Manual Saves, and Choices Needed to Allow Manual Save. You also have two Game Modes, but I have only experienced Standard. In this, there are two playable characters in sequence, and to win, you have to make an impact on the story of the four characters with at least one Hero. The death of a character also affects the story of the next character based on your choices. Since these characters are tied together by fate, this makes sense and is a solid choice. These difficulty settings don’t change what you do in the story, only how many chances you have to try it again. The game is still pretty challenging, exactly what I expect out of a Choose Your Own Adventure Book. I will say that I died. . . a lot in the Prologue. A whole lot.
One thing I certainly enjoyed was that the story is narrated. It’s a pleasant voice, but the story itself sort of reminds me of a would-be Game of Thrones tale. I feel some of it tries a little too hard to be edgy. Hearing the narrator say “Your mother just sucked my dick, you know,” when my character was taunting someone was a bit much, I think. It was entertaining to hear nonetheless. I do not think the writing is bad, but it’s not exactly my cup of tea. That aside, it’s been an enjoyable adventure, with plenty of challenge and options that make sense. Some of the choices and options for these characters borders on or otherwise leaps into the obscene. While that may turn some people off, I like having to make harder choices. That is a positive of the writing, that not all of your decisions will feel heroic or noble. In fact, a lot of them aren’t. Speaking of choices, the major battles, the ones where you’re likely to die in, do not require six, seven, eight choices. I can see it being a little frustrating on the highest difficulty, and dying at the very end. That has not happened to me, but I am certainly curious to see how it affects the next Hero’s tale.
Whether it’s a one-night-stand or outright infanticide/murder. I don’t think having these options in the game is bad, because the world, whether a fantasy or reality, is awful and cruel. That fits. But I do think there ought to be some kind of warning at the beginning that many of the things the player reads might not be suitable to them. But the choices are simple, easy to grasp, and do genuinely change the story that unfolds, which I love. Regardless of how I feel about the characters, I like the setting, the music and animations are very thematic. I don’t have to like characters to want to read more, and I look forward to seeing more of the game. I am admittedly very curious to see how The Ballad Singer grows. For people interested, their Indiegogo is at this link.