When you first see images of Ghost of a Tale, the indie mouse stealth-em-up RPG, you’re heart swells. You see a tiny mouse, wearing outfits that are too big for him, carrying tiny lamps or lutes, in a fantasy environment out of Redwall, standing like a person. He thinks he’s people, you’ll squeal.
But if you play Ghost of a Tale, that sense of adoration will simmer as you realise this is not some happy fantasy, but one filled with murder, oppression, confinement, discrimination, the yearning for power, the death of a child and the kidnapping of a loved one. It is a world where a mysterious orb destroyed much of the world centuries before, leading to political upheavals and conflict. One where mice are viewed as betrayers, rats the saviors and secrets eroded by time guarded jealously by the few. But much of this is game is the joy of discovering this rich world, with its complicated power grabs and conflicts between species who each feel they deserve more than what they currently have.
Ghost of a Tale sees you in the tiny feet of Tilo, a wandering lute-playing minstrel. You have been locked up in a creepy, decaying dungeon, within a vast keep, on an island. Tilo’s adventure begins with him trying to escape the vast dungeon, then navigating its tunnels, courtyard and many other areas. NPCs litter the landscape, offering side-quests and rewards. There’s a map but it often does little to aid you. Instead, you’re better off learning the areas, figuring out shortcuts and permanently opening gates and bridges to shorten your travels. Costumes and armour pieces are scattered throughout the map, in hard-to-find areas, but offer differing bonuses and improvements to Tilo’s stats. The game barely has a pause menu, where swapping items and performing crafting opens a menu screen but does not stop the world behind it.
If that sounds a lot like From Software’s Soulsbourne games, then yes. Exactly. And it’s almost as difficult in terms of not holding your hand and demanding your attention. There’s no minimap, few guides and everything depends on your observation skills.
Unlike Soulsbourne, enemies are not killed so much as temporarily disabled (land a barrel on their head or throw a bottle at their head) or made a non-issue when wearing certain armour sets: If you wear similar guard armour, the Rats think you’re one of them even though you’re half their size. They may have political dominance but they’re not very smart. (But, if you think about it, that’s also Soulsbourne since only bosses are permanently disabled.)
Ghost of a Tale requires you to sneak around guards, by learning their routines or using environmental and inventory items to take them out temporarily. You have to collect objects, craft items, steal keys, solve puzzles and find new locations.
This is made difficult due to Tilo’s small stature. Additionally, guards are sometimes in constant eye contact of each other – meaning there’s sometimes no way to sneak up on one, without alerting the other.
While the controls are not as smooth as, say, a modern Assassin’s Creed, they get the job done. I sometimes struggles to climb certain areas, move objects or navigate simple doorways due to the occasional janky controls – but this isn’t game-breaking.
The game on PS4 is a bit buggy: Two incidents I recall involved a sleeping guard who are suddenly appeared right by Tilo and a main quest not loading and thereby permanently preventing progress, until I restarted an earlier save. Thankfully, boxes and containers where Tilo can hide also act as save points – I recommend you use these constantly with one permanent and one quick save slot.
Your main quest is to find your missing wife and escape, but this initial simple premise escalates quite quickly – as Tilo meets a range of weird and wonderfully written characters. The game is wonderfully written, often reaching the heights of Terry Pratchett in terms of eloquence and humour. The characters are all identifiable in their strange quirks and manner of speaking – all of it text-based, which indicates how good the writing is.
The game features a day-night cycle, with characters and events requiring specific times to activate. All this must be factored when playing and planning, in your quest to navigate the world and its dangers.
Ghost was made almost entirely by Lionel Gallat, with help from friends and being funded by indiegogo. Gallat is not only a talented artist but a fantastic writer, which is annoying in terms of distribution of talent. It’s wonderful that indie titles like this are getting recognition on platforms like the PS4.
This is a little game but also it’s enormous. I did not expect it scale and depth of this size from essentially a one-person show. It’s clear much love went into it and the result is one of mutual adoration and admiration. While it’s not an easy game, due to its mixture of stealth and lack of guidance, it is incredibly fulfilling and joyful to experience. The story is beautifully told, Tilo is adorable and the depth and creativity in the world is just astounding. And that writing!