Experience is a one-way street in most games. Victory always leaves you stronger. This explains why Farabel, a new turn-based tactics game I've been messing about with on PC, stings so acutely when my first success in battle lead me to a Level Down! screen, where I was encouraged to choose an attribute to decrease.
This is Farabel's gimmick, it transpires, and it's actually kind of brilliant. The story begins at the end, and each subsequent battle leads you back through the narrative, from the victorious conclusion towards the mysterious first act. And what better way to convey this reversing of time than to see your powers weaken as you go?
It turns out that it makes for some tricky decisions. These attributes I have to choose between: strength, vitality, counter attacks etc etc? If I was choosing which one to increase, I wouldn't really be that bothered. They all sound fine, and they all sound, in fact, like things I've picked between in a million other games. But when you're choosing which one to nerf, it turns out that the choosing suddenly takes a little longer. Do I want to have less health, or do I want to be more feeble in fights? Do I want to recover more slowly than I do now, or do I want slightly less effective protection from incoming blows?
This is not Farabel's only selling point, of course. The art is chunky and colourful, and the units you command have a nice spread of special abilities, from rage modes to teleports. Still, it's the selling point that really lingers. It's the selling point that makes these hex-based battles stand out. Any old game can make you feel stronger and stronger as you go. It takes a special one, I think, to see you getting weaker, to suggest that experience is something that can leave you diminished. That's the theme of Beowulf, right? Always nice to have a game that invokes the classics.