Waxing nostalgic and well worth the grind.
As the title suggests, Leah’s Tale follows the story of a young girl named Leah. She begins her adventure as a happy, well-to-do child eagerly preparing for a lavish birthday party. After running a few errands and chatting with some townsfolk, she heads off to bed in order to rest up for the upcoming festivities. The following morn, she rushes outside to begin the celebration, only to be torn away from her home by mysterious group of strangers and be whisked away to a strange land.
It’s initially unclear who these captors are — and why they want Leah — but soon the pieces start coming together, setting you on your way to uncover the truth about Leah’s past, her true family origins and how her untapped powers will play into the fate of the land.
Gameplay here adheres to a very traditional JRPG formula, with straightforward turn-based battles, numerous NPCs to engage with, lots of quests to take on and, of course, intermittent grinding. Enemies will appear on the map as you explore, so you do have the option to avoid engaging them in battle – so long as you can successfully navigate around them. You’ll periodically have to backtrack through areas, so the viewable enemies help to avoid the kind of mandatory monotony that can occur when games rely on doling out randomized kerfuffles.
During exploration, there’s a good amount of secrets to uncover, like the scattered golden nuggets which can be traded with specific dwarves in exchange for special items. Other goodies include health-enhancing stones and unique armor and weapons, which can be found tucked into various nooks and crannies of the map, giving you good reason to thoroughly inspect each facet of the 2D world.
For a game that relies on such a retro aesthetic, Leah’s Tale offers up an impressive spectrum of stylized locales, most of which employ different themes to set the tone. Though you begin in a quintessential RPG village, soon you’re exploring dank underground caves, mixing with mermaids and trolls and voyaging beyond the clouds to lands in the sky. While environments are nicely varied, the same can’t quite be said for all the game’s character sprites. The more exotic NPCs you engage with offer a periodic change of pace, but the humanoid sprites can tend to feel a bit bland. There’s no bevy of blatant palette swaps, but some of the designs do start to feel generic after a while. However, main characters come accompanied by detailed, hand-drawn art during dialogue, which helps to pepper in personality in ways the limited pixels making them up cannot.
As an indie game, development of Leah’s Tale went through a hefty amount of beta testing, with Eridani Games engaging with the community and applying their notes and suggestions to a series of updates. Though the occasional small typo still pops up here and there, this finalized version comes across pretty slick, with a simple, clean system for managing your party, equipment, and items. Leveling up is a pretty straightforward affair as well, if not overly linear, with sets of skills unlocking automatically as you progress, along with the expected rise in stats.
The most polished aspect of the game is arguably the music, which has a light orchestral feel (aside from the battle theme) and never comes across as grating or repetitive — a coveted trait in the realm of video game music.
The four levels of difficulty available at the onset allow for widely different approaches to gameplay. Story mode focuses mostly on plot and exploration, featuring very little in the way of action or battles. Easy, Normal and Hard make up the following three, and on Normal mode, the fights are pretty well-balanced, with only the occasional need to grind and level up, or travel back to the inn to rest up and recharge. The cast of foes you cross throughout the adventure continually offer a decent challenge without ever feeling unfair, and come in a wide variety of creatures. Once you do finish the game, there is a lot of incentive to revisit it, as it features multiple endings and a number of side quests you likely missed your first lap through.
Any fan of JRPGs should seriously consider taking a look at Leah’s Tale due to its charming aesthetic, decent level of challenge, colorful characters and engaging plot, complete with twists and turns. The battle system may be a bit rudimentary, and the somewhat limited customization you have over your party inhibits any kind of advanced strategic approach. But, such measured and methodical mechanics are not what this game is about. Instead, Leah’s Taledelivers a pixel-packed retro JRPG that embraces the genre’s tropes – mostly to positive effect – and excels at balancing challenge and accessibility. The boatload of replay value waiting for you upon completion doesn’t hurt, either.