Coverage Club is our weekly series of smaller impressions in the style of full reviews. Games can range from brand new titles hitting Early Access to older hidden gems that never got their due. No matter your preference, you’re sure to find something off the beaten path here.
This week, Coverage Club is delving into fantasy. Some more traditional, some more spooky, but all fantastical and all worth your attention.
Fhtagn! – Tales of the Creeping Madness
Covered by Trevor Whalen
Design Imps’ Fhtagn! – Tales of the Creeping Madness is an amusing text-driven choose-your-own-adventure game with a snazzy style and dark humor. It’s clearly based on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, and anyone into that theming and slightly twisted humor will get a kick out of Fhtagn!. As a cultist intent on awakening the Dreamer, you have to build up your stats over six-night cycles. In doing so, you’ll encounter several scenarios that place you in strange, supernatural, and compromising circumstances. Have you ever unknowingly trapped the Avatar of the Skinless One inside a hat rack? In Fhtagn!, that and much more can happen. The game has a simple premise but complex depth, and even if you can’t succeed at gleaning its nuances, you’ll enjoy the thematic content.
You can feel the game’s style as soon as the menu pops up. A big bad track starts playing and the screen has an art aesthetic reminiscent of old movies. You start by selecting two cultists. You can play by yourself or with a partner locally. During each round or nighttime cycle, you view a map made up of a town with eight buildings. The map is very lively, with a flickering black-and-white film aesthetic and cartoon graphics that animate as you move the cursor over each area. Another big band track plays in the background.
For each cycle, your two characters select one of the buildings and then select one of two actions. For example, you may choose the Witch’s Hut and then choose either to hunt monsters or to meditate. As that event plays out, you will gain or lose certain stats based on your choice at junctures in the story. Your stats will help determine how you fare in the endgame when your cultist attempts to awaken the Dreamer.
To succeed in Fhtagn!, you have to fulfill one of eight roles successfully. You make this choice at the end of the game. Each role has a major and minor stat requirement, and you need to pass both these stats to succeed at the role. Elder Signs, earned by completing secret objectives, can be spent to unlock stat requirements for these roles. Additionally, each building on the map has indicators that clue you in on what stats may be strengthened there. So if you want a certain stat built up for a certain role, you would choose the respective buildings. The feedback you receive during the endgame, if you so happen to fail, will also clue you in as to what you should do next time in prepping for and choosing a role successfully.
The bare gameplay isn’t the crux of Fhtagn!. The oftentimes surprisingly bizarre and dark descriptions of what your character encounters and does give the game its character. There’s a matter-of-fact description for when a “Thing” crawls out of your head with “pregnant belly grossly distended with eggs.” I had an outer body experience that ended with: “As your mind returns to your body, you realise [sic] that not all of it is present.” Of course, sanity is one of your stats.
In the Witch’s Hut, you can be taken off guard with, “One day, you were sitting, minding your own business, with a couple lost children baking in the oven, when you were suddenly rudely interrupted by an angry mob with pitchforks and torches.” You’ll feel a fool during the endgame if you choose “FBI Infiltrator” and don’t have the proper stats: “Perhaps, keeping your badge strapped to your belt, wasn’t such a great plan and the cultists’ knowing glances should probably have tipped you off that they were on to you.” There’s much more quality comedic writing, and playing the game for it alone is worth it. Even when the game ridicules your efforts when you fail, you can’t help but laugh at the wording.
Fhtagn! is a dash of style and humor that those of you with a taste for dark and twisted Lovecraft fiction will delight in. There’s a tricky game of building the right stats and making the right choices. Even if this stumps you and you keep failing the endgame, you can always shrug it off and enjoy the other features. There is also mod support, so, if tired of the main game, you can make your own campaign or check out those of others.
Fhtagn! was covered on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
Covered by Samuel Guglielmo
Ah, good old RPG Maker. At some point or another in every aspiring game developer’s life, they probably used it to try and develop a game. It’s totally okay. While the engine has gotten a reputation for being used to dole out tons of shovelware, we do occasionally see some quality emerge from it. Quality such as Ara Fell, an RPG that actually feels like it was made by people who knew what they were doing.
One of the first things Ara Fell offered me was an option to play the game in “story mode”. What this did was offer me an ability that let me instant win most fights. You didn’t have to use the ability, but I thought it was a great addition for people who aren’t particularly good at JRPGs, or who just want to see the story without being bothered by battles. It quickly became a blessing for trash mobs where the outcome was obvious. More games should consider the option.
In fact, Ara Fell was one of the most accommodating and pleasant JRPGs I think I’ve ever played. The game constantly reminded me of when I should save, and provided opportunities to do so. There were crystals that gave you a heads up as to what level you should be before moving forward, rooms that supplied endlessly spawning enemies so you didn’t have to deal with random encounters while still being able to grind, and warnings every time you hit a point of no return. I can only wish every JRPG was as considerate of my time and patience as Ara Fell.
When it comes to actual gameplay, Ara Fell plays closest to an older Final Fantasy game. Each character has a bar that, when filled, allows them to attack. Every normal attack refills a little bit of their MP, which then allows characters to perform special moves. It’s a smart idea, making it so I didn’t need to hoard special attacks and save my MP for rare moments.
Of course, most JRPGs are really about the story. Here I got to follow the tale of Lita, a young wannabe treasure hunter who accidentally stumbles upon a magic ring. Her best friend is tasked with selling it to a mysterious buyer, who may or may not be a vampire. You see, the world of Ara Fell has a vampire problem. Land masses float in the air in an effort to avoid them. It’s interesting enough that I’d like to make some more time to see where it goes.
So yeah, Ara Fell is an RPG Maker game. However, it’s of a surprisingly high-quality and does a good job reminding me that the engine can create genuinely interesting games. I’m not saying rush out and buy every game made with the engine, but you should consider Ara Fell for sure.
Ara Fell was covered on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developers.
What do you think of this week’s Coverage Club selections? Do you know of an overlooked game that deserves another chance? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to follow our Steam Curator to keep up to date with all our reviews.