In a beloved Paper Mario style, Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling is a cute game, reminiscent of some of my favourites from the early 2000s. In the 3D world of Bugaria, we follow the 2D sprites of Kabbu, Vi, and Leif, on a quest to find The Everlasting Sapling, a plant that grants eternal youth to whoever consumes it. It’s a game that captures the style of its inspiration well, allowing for a nostalgic game with a new storyline.
The world is beautifully simple to look at. It’s not overly complex, while still allowing complex paths of exploration. You’ll often have to solve environmental puzzles to progress, with tasks such as hitting switches in the distance, which you hit with the bee character Vi’s beemerang – I’m still unsure as to why a bee has a boomerang. Our mage moth Leif can freeze water drops and geysers, creating blocks and towers to climb. These can melt however, so you’ve got to be quick! Kabbu, a scarab beetle, can push blocks created by Leif, and cut grass to clear paths.
These puzzles aren’t overly taxing, and are almost always self-explanatory, helping ensure you’re constantly moving forward and don’t get stuck for half an hour. Despite the fact that you’re moving forward in the story, there is a lot of backtracking within the map; many routes will take you full circle back to a main chamber, so you can explore multiple pathways with relative ease.
Not only that, but NPCs are littered across the world, giving access to side quests and mini-games, including a battle-based card game that I wasted a few hours on. Completely irrelevant to the plot, but fun nonetheless.
As you explore the world, you’re also going to be drawn into the game’s turn-based battles. These come in the form of random encounters and boss battles. The frequency of the random encounters got to the point of being more of an annoyance to the storyline than an integral part of the game, but thankfully Leif’s ability means you can temporarily freeze enemies on the map to avoid them, and later on the game, you can completely block them with Kabbu’s shield. This addition is pretty ingenious, considering just how saturated the world is with random encounters, and I’m honestly shocked that more RPGs don’t have a similar function to avoid battles.
The aforementioned skills for each character are used in battle as well. Kabbu uses melee attacks, Vi is our flyer that can manage long range damage and attack other flying enemies, and Leif is our mage, with long range damage as well. In true Paper Mario style, you have a quick time event to pull off in order to deal damage. Combining their abilities, you can use Teamwork Points (TP) for more cohesive attacks, allowing for more damage and a more in-depth QTE during the attack.
By defeating enemies, you earn Exploration Points (EP) and Berries, the in-game currency. Initially you need 100 EP to level up, and then with an extra point needed for each subsequent level gained. With each level gained you can choose between awarding each party member 1 additional maximum HP, granting your party three additional TP, or granting your party three additional Medal Points (MP). These are always the same, and allow you to easily balance the skills you grant yourself, or allow for more challenge by only levelling up a certain area.
MP are what allows your team to wear medals. These allow for a host of skills to be awarded to your team, from making encounters harder, make a character resistant to side effects or increasing individual stats. It’s a fairly straightforward method of stat building, but one that’s unique within RPGs as the medals are completely separate from one another and can be combined in various ways.
One aspect of the game I particularly struggled with was the in-game dialogue; it felt stilted, and somewhat awkward. Admittedly the trio meet for the first time at the very beginning of the game, and I was hopeful that the speech was reflecting this, but as the game continued not much changed. This was accentuated by moments such as Vi running away from a battle, returning approximately two minutes later to apologise for leaving. Kabbu responds with something along the lines of “I’ll deal with you later”, creating a very unbalanced relationship and leaving all following speech feeling more than a bit off. Moments like this undermine what is a beautifully created and finished game.