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Foretales Review – An adventure is ahead

The past few years have proven that cards can be used in far more ways than just the strategy of games like Yu-Gi-Oh! or Pokemon. Slay The Spire and Inscryption used them for compelling but radically different approaches to roguelikes, while I Was A Teenage Exocolonist and Voice of Cards wove them into narrative RPGs. Even my card-shy friends enjoyed these cards without a single tap-for-mana or psychic in sight.


RELATED: I Was A Teenage Exocolonist respects emotional boundaries like no other game

Joining this new card-based renaissance is Foretales, which transforms deck-based shenanigans into an immersive adventure game that channels Monkey Island more than Magic: The Gathering.

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Set in a world of anthropomorphic animals, Foretales follows the adventures of a young, villainous hornbill named Volpain. Plagued by dark visions of the future, it’s up to him and his ragtag band of good-for-nothings to stop the impending apocalypse. To achieve this, you must work your way through various location maps looking for clues, resources, and objectives while fending off the zombies, bandits, and guards who want to stand in your way.

Because as much emphasis Foretales puts on these confrontations, it’s not particularly compelling. The fight usually comes down to who can heal the fastest or if Karst, the giant gorilla, can deal enough damage to keep you safe. Although the game puts a lot of emphasis on not being able to fatally avoid these conflicts, it just feels like a fight with more steps. If the enemy avoids me, does it really matter if I stabbed or bribed him? While the rewards you get for sparing people are different, they’re used in an identical way – to pay off the next enemy. Despite all Leo the Tiger Ranger’s comments to the contrary, Foretales doesn’t do a great job when it comes to saving people’s lives.

Instead, Foretales is at its best when it sidesteps itself and leans into its puzzling elements of adventure gaming. For example, you must get an orphan to help you carry weapons from a smuggler’s stash, or collect enough money to buy a scalper’s boat while escaping an overrun city. After a few missions, I started to dread the appearance of enemies because it just broke the flow of exploring the environments and observing how each map interacts with each location. I don’t care about the billions of ways I can maim a zombie; I want to know what smuggling locations Karst can find, or if Volpain can overhear some juicy little secrets to use elsewhere.

A particular highlight comes about halfway through the game when trying to get a pirate off the hook for murder. By talking to witnesses and collecting alibis as resource cards, it transforms from a combative grind into a gripping courtroom drama filled with hilarious lyrics that feel straight out of a Lucasarts adventure. Instead of daggers and smoke bombs, your weapons are haughty Nobel laureates forced to testify for you and the backpack of evidence at your disposal.

When Foretales gets going like that, it shines. The writing style is witty, the puzzles are intriguing, and simply pulling out the cards that solve the problems is a lot less of a hassle than evaluating the stats or shuffling through the discard pile like you do in combat. It feels like the maps are melting away and becoming just a vehicle to deliver the beautiful world on offer. I couldn’t tell you the name of a single map I’ve played, but I vividly remember my trip to Cap Ybara, or escaping through the mines from a rabid infection with Volpain’s ailing father.

The impressive presentation also contributes to this. While it’s easy to see any anthropomorphic animal and immediately declare that it looks like Disney’s Robin Hood, Foretales deserves the comparison more than most. The clean character designs and quirky locales balance a more seedy, darker edge, just like Robin Hood’s world of cute animals faced with abject poverty and corruption. It’s colorful and often amusing without feeling overly sweet.

Card games can be hard to sell, especially when it comes to video games. The threat of mechanical complexity can turn some off, while for others it just seems like a boring choice when fully animated adventures are just as readily available. Sometimes, Foretales doesn’t do the best job of countering this argument, as endless, monotonous battles can make it go away on its own. And yet, when it puts down the dagger and lets you explore the world to sort things out for yourself, it shows that we’re far from running out of exciting new ways to use small art plates.

Score: 3.5/5. Check the code provided by the publisher.

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