At first glance, Stone Story looks like it would fit comfortably in the catalogue of IBM games from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Its ASCII (made out of keyboard characters) graphics harken back to a time when many computers couldn’t handle even the 2D pixel art that has come to denote “retro” in the modern era. But take a second look and it’s clear that Stone Story is far ahead of its early gaming era inspirations: its stick figure hero bends his knees as he walks; swings a sword in a multi-point arc; rides a horse that leans closer to the grass and swishes its tail. Its world, made out of staccato lines and circles, asterisks and letters, is a fluid, breathing place where flames flicker and water trickles, clouds pass overhead and moonlight shimmers on a still lake.
Developer Martian Rex has put so much care into the stunningly detailed visuals and animations that we almost aren’t concerned with what the actual gameplay is like—but it, too, sounds engrossing. Stone Story is an RPG set “in a realm of perpetual evil” filled with gigantic carnivorous snails and what appears to be a gang of evil, sentient trees. It seems to take place in a world that’s not quite our own as there are two moons visible in the night sky (and, you know, all those giant evil creatures) where a single stone may be the key to salvation.
The hero is controlled by an AI that will handle the grindy aspects of battle and treasure hunting, while the player keeps him in top form with properly timed usage of special skills, potions, and loadout swaps. There is an in depth crafting system that allows for enhancing equipment and recycling random item drops to make good use of all the wood you collect from murdering villainous trees. There also seems to be a few aspects of point-and-click games mixed in, as items you collect or create can impact your hero’s adventures outside of combat, opening new paths via the right object, like a river-crossing canoe.
That all sounds fantastic, but let’s get back to the amazing ASCII art. There’s an angry mushroom that sprouts arms and shakes his fist at you; a snake mount who slithers along the ground and sticks his tongue out; an enormous skeleton who visibly pants while drool drips from his fangs. There are a ton of great GIFs on the Stone Story devlog that are mesmerizing to watch. We can’t wait to see them all put together in the full game when Stone Story releases in the hopefully near, but as yet unannounced, future.