This life-like action game wants to pull the strings of your heart.

How much appeal can the game survive? Morta’s children examined that question rather than gathering information in its punishing dungeon to test my own skills. I think it’s just to make it, but ultimately this roguelike doesn’t grow as well as it should.

An extremely basic (and deliberate) setting shows an ancient evil that has spilled to the ground. One family, the Bergsons, had the house built on a magical temple, tasked by their grandmother with tackling corruption — thank nan. Their mission involves selecting members of the family to continue running through local dungeons to collect pieces of a goddess that can prevent evil from advancing. Children of Morta’s unique appeal is its family identity, and focuses more on the story in a lightly titled genre of the plot. It certainly has a lot of stories to offer but I’m not sure it integrates it smoothly with the main items of the more traditional dungeon crawler.

The structure works like this: you choose a family member, go through the dungeon, fail or succeed to complete it and return home with new resources to upgrade weapons and skills to make the next run a little easier. However, every time he returns to the family home, a new story appears. Sometimes it elevates the plot —introducing new family members into battle — but often it’s a small moment in life. Linda plays the violin to calm down between excursions or their mother feeding the nearby animals. The fact that progress occurs regardless of failure or success is welcome, softening the blow of a defeat is almost as good a small story.

That said, it’s normal (although sometimes there are tragic bends), the story doesn’t get me involved. I felt strangely separated from the events described; captivated by gentle moments but not interested in the inevitable happenings of the overall plot. Some of them are in delivery. No character speaks, instead everything is forwarded to an old story teller. It’s interesting enough to hear, but the narrative is too simple. It only shows what you’ve seen on the screen and therefore ultimately redundant. And the predictable story – its big dramatic scenes are transmitted so far – that it undermines our heroes rather than makes them seem tragic.

The family’s struggle is also sabotaged by the mechanism of the game, which makes the consequences of death and failure extremely small. Children of Morta follows a path where fantasy stories, especially in the game, have gone many times. For example, The Banner Saga or any of Hyper Light Drifter’s evocative world works have no wrinkles.

The fact that you talk less about events doesn’t help. You are simply asked to see everything that takes place with only side tasks that give you the option to add to the story. It’s also not a particularly charming world, even with its modest change – although the fairy tale is simple and almost like an installation – fantasy elements are presented in the form of “technology indelifiable from magic.” The game doesn’t dive into what that means, and so not quite imagining can hardly be a meaningful difference.

However, it is definitely quite beautiful, with some of the most splendid and sophisticated dynamic pixel art I’ve ever seen. Artistic direction left a lot to be expected —all cruel monsters and glowing fantasy weapons, very characteristic of the games — but the reality is second to none. Bergson’s house is a highlight, full of precious little dots that make you happy to come back many times.

Thank heavens, it’s nice to look at because fights are extremely basic things that usually only need one click or push the thumb on the controller. The game grows to be a little more relevant with the special abilities that come during the run in the dungeon, like the ability to summon a dragon to smash enemies or a small robot that follows you, stun the enemy. However, it’s all simply another button. There is no combo nor much to learn.

The accessible and easy nature of combat hides its unforgivable level. The special guide establishes a much more accessible experience before the first lot of dungeons actually screw. They are also randomly generated, so there is no opportunity to modify. You just need to improve through artificial means to level up. And there is a lot of abrasion thanks to each new sector sharply increasing the difficulty remains.

Local collaboration is an option that can help a lot but for you, it happens very slowly. This continues for most of the game, making getting into the dungeon a chore between you and the next small part of the story. Even when different family members offered different abilities, I soon got tired of having to go back to the caves beneath Bergson’s house.

But I kept going, to get the little taste of those charming family moments. They’re not enough to sustain me to the end, but they’re more than I’ve got than most of Children of Morta’s peers. Although I never felt at home with Bergson, it was great to visit.

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Written by Lauren Morton

Lauren loves long books and even longer RPGs. She got a game design degree and then, stupidly, refused to leave the midwest. She plays indie games you haven't heard of and will never pass on a story about players breaking games or playing them wrong.


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