There are many things I love about Ghost of a Tale, which makes its PS4 debut this week - the ivy bursting through its bulging masonry, the witty and affecting script (with beautifully concise, optional footnotes for those who fancy diving into the lore), or the fact that one of the quests actually has you distinguishing trees by their bark and leaf shape in order to identify the mushrooms growing beneath them. But the biggest compliment I can pay it, perhaps, is that nobody in it feels expendable. The setting may be a prison, an edifice designed to crush the soul and rob the individual of identity, but the story is broadly about reclaiming that identity and finding community in a world of brutal divides. Even the rat guards who chase you around the battlements of Dwindling Heights are people, warts and all, though it's easy to forget this when you're spotted for the umpteenth time exiting a bolthole and the somewhat lumbering pursuit music kicks in.
Developer SeithCG has released a massive new update for its delightful mouse-based RPG Ghost of a Tale, aimed at quashing the "vast majority" of its remaining technical issues.
Eurogamer liked Ghost of a Tale enough to give it the Recommended stamp of approval when it released earlier this month on PC; however, reviewer Edwin Evans-Thirlwell noted that it was "absolutely riddled with bugs".
SeithCG has been more than open in acknowledging the game's launch problems, and has already released a number of updates to address them. The developer says its latest patch, known as 6.5, "takes care of the vast majority of the remaining bugs", admitting that "it's been a very intense period, with a lot of work and very little sleep."
Ghost of a Tale's castle feels like a prison at first but ends up feeling like home. In the course of 20 hours searching for a way out, I've slowly fallen in love with the place - its feathery falls of afternoon light over mossy stonework, its leafblown ramparts and canted mausoleums, its small, hard-bitten population of anthropomorphic rats, mice, frogs and magpies. Part of the setting's allure is that it carries the echoes of many great virtual fortresses. Indeed, this slightly muddled third-person action-RPG's greatest strength is probably how it adds to that architectural tradition, though the witty, affecting, politically resonant writing runs a close second.
There's a touch of Square Enix's winding masterpiece Vagrant Story to certain overgrown, shady courtyards, and a generous dollop of both Zelda and Moria in the shape of a magnificent underground vault, woven around a circular puzzle structure. The view from the keep's belfry recalls the view inland from ICO's fortress walls, yellow crenelations biting into blissful green distances. Above all, there's the spectre of Dark Souls - a game with which Ghost of a Tale engages in fascinating, not always successful ways. As with From Software's Lordran, Dwindling Heights Keep is a purgatory for lost people and things that is much taller than it is broad, stretching from a bone-strewn shoreline up through catacombs and sewers to a barracks, kitchen and armoury. Like Lordran, it's a persistent environment bound together by a profusion of cunning shortcuts, unlocked one by one - rope elevators that whisk you from the gardens to the signal tower, doors that open from one side only and secret passages cheekily visible through rusted grates.
Working out how the game's spaces thread into one another, letting their twists and turns sink into muscle memory, is as integral to Ghost of a Tale's appeal as its hypnotic good looks. The act of stitching those wayward, ruined chambers together also chimes with the narrative, a story about rediscovering the past and building trust across racial divides that is a lot more searching than its parade of waggling tails and frog beards might suggest. Ghost of a Tale is the tale of Tilo, a mouse minstrel thrown in the clinker after his wife Merra angers a rat baron by refusing to perform a certain song. He is soon sprung from his cell by a mysterious figure, and left to scour the rambling keep for an exit while trying to learn the fate of his spouse. You'll meet plenty of potential allies in the process, from argy-bargy thieves through grandmotherly cooks to gloating apothecaries, all of whom will send you off on various errands before they'll agree to help you.
Five years later, the gorgeous crowdfunded mouse adventure Ghost of a Tale, made by Lorax and Despicable Me animation director Lionel Gallat, is ready. An update on the game's website yesterday revealed a startlingly imminent release date of 13th March.
Update: Ghost of a Tale has surpassed its €45,000 Indiegogo goal with an ending tally of €48,700.