Stories of Bethem: Full Moon (Xbox One Review)
Paying homage to the the retro classics of the early Nintendo era, or Zelda to be more exact. Bringing nostalgia back from an age long forgotten and on to your next gen console. Stories of Bethem: Full Moon is a colourful action-adventure that will tickle the pixel junkie within you. Bright and vibrant sprites combined with hours and hours of exploration, GuGames Development have brought us a tale that will feel familiar, but may lack the depth that’s required from video games of today to keep us hooked.
In Stories of Bethem: Full Moon you play as Khoma, a spirited young lad on an adventure to save his father from a terrible curse. With unspecific details of what the curse actually is, it’s now nothing more than an afterthought to the player. Now your focus turns to the matter of Khoma’s unquenchable need for adventure. Your quest giver, turned questionable ally, the “Red Witch” tells you that you must find all 8 Oneiric objects within the world of Bethem. Staying true to the retro appeal, Khoma is given a defined objective with a vague route on which to achieve it. With no guiding hand, Khoma sets of on his grand adventure which will take him far and wide and lead him into forests, dungeons and castles alike.
Unfortunately adventure and discovery is not always enough, sometimes we need a tantalising vice to keep us coming back for more or to simply continue on ahead. And in Bethem, the puzzles are the temptress. Nearly every turn will have you stumbling to catch a break, as paths are blocked by innocuous puzzles that could take mere minutes to solve to those that will have you scrambling the great interwebs for help. As fulfilling as it may be to finally crack that code you’ve been so tirelessly trying to solve, testing which block goes where and what order you need to move objects in eventually wears thin. Puzzles and various tricks and traps tend to repeat themselves quite a bit. From pushing rocks to fills holes to casting gusts of wind to float around balloons, they all start to become stagnant as time lingers on. That’s not to say the challenge of overcoming these obstacles will be removed entirely as you progress in Bethem, but rather the enjoyment factor fades and becomes a chore than a treat.
A puzzle wouldn’t be a puzzle without a reward and there are rewards aplenty. The world of Bethem could easily be mistaken for an island that was once inhabited by pirates, with gold being littered under every bush and treasure chests as far as the eye can see – you can even go digging for doubloons or “Gems” when you get the right equipment. We all know that chests are the stereotypical mysterious boxes of wonder, you never know what you’ll get inside but you know it will be junk unless it’s guarded by a 10-foot beast. And that logic translates over to Bethem. Most chests will contain your typical currency – which are Gems – used to buy an assortment of items or clothing that will enhance your abilities or one of many collectables that Stories of Bethem entrusts you to procure. We are slowly descending from what was once the pinacle of gaming, Zelda, and tumbling back down into the recess of gaming’s pit of mulched ideas, the collectables. Personally I’ve always taken a liking to collectables, as long as they served a purpose other than to extend gameplay. And in Stories of Bethem that is true but overused. To get anywhere and make any progress you must collect a myriad of items ranging from unknown coins to feathers and everything in between. All of which unlock shortcuts and level up Khoma’s magic bracelet to cast spells. On top of this you have a ton of ingredients to find for potions. I’m all for collectables that help evaluate a game’s purpose by inspiring exploration and, at times, creativity but its done to death in Bethem.
On route to your objective’s you’ll be met by the local wildlife and fauna, most of which will want a piece of you. Some monsters appear to be palette swaps of others, but they differ enough. Every enemy you come up against demands caution as dodging is not a utility that you possess; or not to any significant degree. Trying to avoid enemy attacks using the Xbox One joysticks isn’t easy. Enemies have incredibly fast reactions, so attacking an enemy without hitting you is a challenge unto itself. Going toe to toe, to-and-fro, one attack for another – it’s all very annoying. Using range is not an option either as your spells only travel so far. So prepare to trade with enemies often.
There’s nothing more charming than the pixel art style. Minimalist graphics give heaps of character within the world of Bethem. Colourful backdrops of towns with a multitude of colours flowing through Stories of Bethem are lively. Although some of the characters of Bethem can seem ambiguously unemotional. Not knowing if a character is happy or sad other than through straight dialogue limits development to an extent. Some visual feedback is lost in that could help people who opt to skip through these small conversational prompts with much needed context to fit the situation. Though, I don’t know who would choose to skip these endearing chats between Khoma and the NPCs of Bethem asin spite of the lack of facial emotional retain charm. Conversations never take themselves too seriously, often including cheeky remarks, funny quips and just general a good laugh at time. Given that Stories of Bethem is an homage to the games of old, it’s art style and dialogue suits it perfectly.
Stories of Bethem: Full Moon tells a story of a young man on an adventure, a story that lacks emotion. With combat as simple as Zelda was back in the day it’s nothing that anyone couldn’t just jump in and enjoy. The inability to effectively avoid attacks will inevitably grate on every player, but nothing that perseverance won’t overcome. I can guarantee that you’ll be seduced for hours by Stories of Bethem’s charm in its quality of artstyle and the enduring collectathon that is the meat on Bethem’s bones. Relying on the format of collecting to extend the gameplay may be a chore for some, but at the end of the day Stories of Bethem is still a solid game.