The Pale City (2020)
Developer: Kyle Muntz
Disclaimer: I received this game for free from the developer.
This being my second ever release-day review, I actually started playing The Pale City about a week or so ago, prior to release. I enjoy being able to give indies some attention on launch day, however, I underestimated the time I would have to play it with all the chaos going on out in the world. I'm not completely finished with this game, but I still want to share my thoughts, considering this is a very different title from the one I'll be playing for the next foreseeable future (Animal Crossing). The Pale City is a dark fantasy pixel-style RPG taking place in a grim and decayed world with little compassion. Despite some clear graphical limitations and roughness, The Pale City surprised me with how incredibly dense and complex its world is, as well as its incredible writing that distinguishes each character and interaction from the last.
You play as Vasek, a reserved and solitary man who survives by taking odd and often times dangerous jobs. You've been assigned to do a job retrieving "the three pieces of the golem" for a mage. You have a partner on this task, Katasia, although neither of you seem to like or trust each other much. She's reluctant to continue this journey searching for last piece of the golem and lets you go on ahead alone. You quickly encounter combat for the first time, with what appear to be dragon-like demon creatures. These creatures have interesting and strange-sounding names, and it's never really explained what they are besides possibly demons. The combat is pretty standing RPG style, and thankfully the first few battles aren't too hard. I don't play that many RPGs, but I was easily able to pick up using the various skills that Vasek has in battle. You also get to recover health after each battle - thank goodness. Soon after you reach the main area in the game, known as "The Sink". A decrepit city full of filth, thieves, and broken buildings, with many people either ready to kill without hesitation and others lying on the street, having lost their minds. There's literally a dead horse on the street in front a bar.
The Pale City is definitely not the typical game I'd normally be drawn towards. However, it manages to portray a grim, morally gray society and environment and yet it avoids the pitfall of seeming "edgy" and needlessly crude that I feel many games do not. It was a type of atmosphere that I'm not too used to, but I'm surprised how much I've enjoyed it. I mostly appreciate that there's so many characters in the town to talk to and every one of them is different from the last. Often times you don't have a conversation, but Vasek's internal dialogue and thoughts about people will give you insight into his past and into this world. It often feels like you're reading a dark fantasy book, as the excellent writing describes not only the dialogue but deep descriptions of each character and their actions. There are very few people that Vasek doesn't show to have contempt or disgust towards, yet he seems to still have a shred of humanity in him despite his disbelief that there is in any good in the world.
The Pale City has few little issues here and there that I'm still not sure were intentional or are glitches. For example, you receive combat items for health, and yet there doesn't seem to be an option to use items in battle. Either that, or I somehow couldn't find it. It may be hard for me to proceed further in more challenging battles without being able to use items. I'm already starting to run into a wall where certain fights against 3 monsters at once are really tough, regardless of items. Also, I sometimes end up in weird-looking situations where character sprites overlap each other in non-realistic ways, like a man at a bar who I walked towards and then suddenly his feet were on top of Vasek's face. It could use some updates and fine-tuning, but it's definitely still playable even with those little hiccups. I actually didn't realize this at first, but when you create a new game you actually are given the option to play "normal mode" or "story mode". I really appreciate a small game like this taking the type to have different settings, and I would probably do story mode if I started over since I'm not much more invested in the characters and story than I am in the turn-based fights.
Often times there's no background music, only background sound, but it places you in the environment well with the sounds of a bustling, whispering town. The music that there is in certain areas is actually fairly calm, not as off-putting as I would expect. I appreciate the consistency in the art style - it feels gritty, rough, and sharp, much like how the writing portrays this city and the characters to be. However, at times many areas are too dark to properly see contrast. It's also not clear where the screen just ends on an invisible wall and and where pushing on could lead to the next area.
The Pale City is great fit for fans of retro-looking RPGs, especially those who want a more adult and complex story to really dive in to. It has an excellent and well-crafted fantasy world, mostly conveyed through its writing. It could be improved with an art style that made the characters and background more distinguished from one another, but at the same time, the dark look just kind of works for this specific title. Unfortunately I didn't get as far as I wanted to get before I wrote this review, but I actually am intrigued about the story so much that I do plan on continuing it. Kind of like how many people suddenly watching "Contagion" on Netflix during our current situation, maybe playing through a grim tale like The Pale City would would be the perfect thing for some people right about now.
The Pale City is available on PC.
Played on: PC Last Played: 3/20/2020 Playtime: 3 hrs