Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling Review
Developer: Moonsprout Games | Publisher: DANGEN Entertainment | Genre: Action RPG
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC | Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is not an imprecise trimming that cuts off several aspects from the best of the Paper Mario franchise. While on the surface it may look like a clone of the papercraft role-playing-game subseries, it unfolds in a completely familiar yet original fashion that is written as a decisive love letter to the first two Paper Mario entries. Yes, Bug Fables certainly does copy and paste many elements from the Nintendo mascot’s paper-thin world, but it does so with complete success as it flaunts its intricately designed levels, incredibly entertaining deep mythology, and charming aesthetics the whole way through. The game replicates the Paper Mario formula so well that you would think a game with this kind of detail was made by the same development team as 2004’s The Thousand-Year Door on GameCube. For anyone who has been engrossed by the various Mario RPGs released over the last two decades, Bug Fables gives those titles a real run for their money.
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is no cheap imitation of one of the red plumber’s most popular subseries.
Bug Fables follows a simple tale about a group of three unlikely noble allies named Vi, Kabbu, and Lief who willingly venture into the dangerous depths of Bugaria to seek out a legendary treasure called the Everlasting Sapling, an artifact that has been sought out for by the Ant Queen that is said to grant immortality to those who claim it. Its plot is definitely no Shakespeare, but that does not mean it lacks a sense of depth in its characters or even the world itself. In this vast land of different insects, the main story will characterize and transform more than just the three main heroes who are on an adventure in search of greatness. It is packed to the brim with fascinating politics and intriguing cultural trends that fuel every world you will visit. In addition to the main story, there are thirty extra side quests and multiple optional bosses that will even further push the boundaries of this not so creepy but certainly crawling realm as they expand upon Bugaria in meaningful ways. Behind its captivating world is strategic gameplay that outshines the series it took its skeleton from.
When it comes to the gameplay, Bug Fables has a major edge over the majority of the titles that inspired it. It is able to create a more engaging battle system by remaining more organized and focused compared to something like even The Thousand-Year Door. Players will have to carefully utilize the provided party members and the way in which they cooperate during every single battle over the course of the game. Due to the three main heroes never being swapped out during the adventure, what Bug Fables is able to achieve is combat that is focused on creating new strategies to use between your party members rather than spotlighting one individual at a time. Battles never fall flat on character usage due to players not having to abuse one member’s particular power. It may be standard turn-based combat, but figuring out what field order to place your characters in before engaging a battle, determining when to donate a move so one member can take two turns, or even swapping hero positions before enemy turns begin can be heavily challenging as every move you take comes with pros and cons. The three-party members constantly intertwine as players are left figuring out their own patterns to use against enemies. Vi, Kabbu, and Lief all play a distinctive role both in and outside of battle though.
On top of an already mechanically articulated battle system, each of the three playable characters has unique overworld properties that play into short puzzle-solving and getting the upper hand on enemies before a battle can begin. Vi the bee can throw boomerangs at a long distance and later hold them in place, while Kabbu the beetle can cut down and move obstacles with his sharp horn, and Lief the moth can freeze objects and organisms in place from a short distance with magic. While all of these abilities are carefully utilized to never make puzzle-solving feel to much like a recurring hassle for the player, I found that controlling Vi and Lief became increasingly difficult at various points in the story. It does not always happen, but sometimes aiming precisely where you need to use your ability can be rather cumbersome–especially when it came to throwing Vi’s boomerangs. Perhaps it might just be the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons or Pro-Controller, but I felt it was worth making a note of this problem. It is not a game-breaking issue but it is a nuisance that can waste time at several smaller sections of the game.
Bug Fables has a genius feature that can either punish experienced players that are looking for a more challenging adventure or aid those who are inexperienced and in need of help on their journey. A system of optional equipable medals is available right from the get-go and essentially plays a role in the difficulty scale of the game. This system can create a well-designed artificial difficulty that can be manipulated at any given moment. It keeps all players on the same exact adventure and route while accommodating for skillsets. Unlike most other RPGs that give you the option to switch difficulties on the spot, it creates a system that is equally engaging for all players. Rather than being stuck in an area where you feel like you are breezing by the objective, you can increase your risk for a higher reward or mess with your stats and abilities to make the game more challenging. It is not a perfect system by all means as there is definitely room to improve its balance, but it does the job well enough to help players of different expertise and play styles accommodate to an experience of their liking.
While it masterfully recreates the aesthetics of the Paper Mario series, Bug Fables certainly could have taken its visuals a page or two forward.
Bug Fables’ replicates the papercraft art style that the Paper Mario series is adored for down to a T. The only problem with this is that sometimes the game is never fully embracive of its thin cut world which has arguably evolved greatly due to other titles taking a stab at the art style, including the creators of it themselves. The game looks gorgeous at times with its buttery smooth framerate, flawless transitions, and detailed characters, but it never aims to do something spectacular in scale which is a shame. Compared to other games that utilize a materialistic hand-drawn art direction, Bug Fables can come off disappointingly lacking- never a letdown but it leaves more to be desired. There are those great moments that players will remember witnessing for the first time, but there is nothing that will blow their socks off. It unquestionably is always pleasing to look at which is what ultimately matters most for this thirty-hour plus journey. It is just upsetting that Bug Fables plays it quite safe considering its main art direction is centered around species of all sorts of colors and patterns.
The world of Bug Fables being portrayed through its appealing presentation, however, is constantly benefiting through its world that is buzzing with personality–something many other RPGs fail to live up to. The number of named characters present throughout the game that are all given equal treatment whether they have one line of dialogue or an entire dedicated side quest is admirable. Every character has a sense of place and progression in this papercraft world. It culminates into this insect-focused land that feels constantly alive and evolving rather than glued and taped together for a single day. Nothing feels as if it was placed in an environment for the sake of needing to fill space. Everything feels like it retains a purpose in this world and should be present. Each character has unique dialogue that can range from informative to comically useless or even depressing to upbeat. Each NPC in this world was clearly designed with passion and thought as they constantly help make Bugaria into a world that feels far more alive than it probably needed to be.
Bug Fables is just as good as the paper it attempts to photocopy on one side.
If you have been looking for something similar to the Paper Mario series whether that be for its charming papercraft world or its appealing action role-playing gameplay, Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is more than well worth your while. It is out to refine and reimagine a fan-favorite series by creating a pure love letter to its source material. By adding onto and expanding upon its genre-established battle system along with developing a slightly more mature world for veteran fans of Mario’s paper-thin outing, Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is able to excel past the best cartoony days of the Mushroom Kingdom. For RPG fanatics, it is certainly not the hardest game in the genre or the longest by any means, but its heartfelt tale, pleasing aesthetics, and fascinating mythology packed to the brim with cheery characters will undoubtedly make this a worthy purchase for anyone looking to fill a void before The Origami King hits store shelves–assuming that entry will get the plumber’s series back on track or be able to top this. Bug Fables is more than just a love letter from a group of Nintendo fans. It is a celebratory recreation helmed by anthropods that takes every paper RPG enthusiast back to their home.