Familiar Tales Review: A Charming and Challenging Adventure Set in a Gorgeous World

Plaid Hat Games is renowned for delivering rich worlds and immersive storytelling, and they once again live up to that well-earned reputation with Familiar Tales. Familiar Tales is a cooperative storybook game that has you taking on the roles of four adorable familiars who look to keep a child safe from evil forces, and while there is a learning curve, it is immeasurably worth the time investment. Beautiful artwork and superb voice acting bring this charming and surprisingly dangerous world to life, and there's a palpable weight to your decisions each and every turn, and those choices feed directly into the ongoing story. Familiar Tales delivers a world you can't help but get lost in, and if you can overlook a few moments of frustration, I think you'll feel the same.

Familiar Tales at its heart is a storybook game that will move your Familiars and their precious cargo throughout a magical world with danger around every corner. Even the most beautiful and calm of locations can carry dangers for your team, and there is a level of challenge that might catch some off guard. This dissipates as you are able to craft weapons and items and purchase new cards for your deck, but it's a minute before you can really do that, as resources and power don't exactly fly in right off the bat.

(Photo: ComicBook)

That makes teamwork crucially important early on, though teamwork does remain important throughout the entire game. Each of the Cards in the player's decks will have an Icon in the top left corner, and most of those carry a specific effect. One effect is Link, which allows you to play that card to help another player with a Skill Test, which are in the forms of Might, Insight, Agility, and Resilience. Using one of those cards in your hand will remove one from your Turn, so there's a consequence, but early on it is easily worth it to make sure certain tests are passed.

For instance, one location has you attempting to board up a house to keep enemies from getting through, and there are two floors and multiple rooms that you need to address. Using Link cards is one way to help the teammate who is nearest to the goal take care of it, and then there are also battles to consider, and utilizing Links can help put a deadly enemy down before they cause a big problem. You can also use certain cards to Draw an additional card from your deck, though you will have to take on a Fatigue card, and getting rid of that can raise the Danger meter, bringing more enemy actions or enemy reinforcements.

That's representative of the general push and pull attached to several elements of Familiar Tales. In the various locations, there are resources scattered around, but they aren't exactly plentiful, and there isn't any one way to utilize them. Resources can be used to craft weapons, armor, accessories, and items, and you will need to do this as you move forward if you hope to keep pace with the enemies you're facing. You'll need to balance this however with the needs of the child, as resources can also be used to help care for the child and keep their Disoncent dial down. The ramifications for this rise as the dial moves up, so while you are saving everything for that big weapon, you have to weigh if it will be ultimately worth it at this particular moment.

(Photo: ComicBook)

The child also factors into your combat strategy, as sometimes you might need to switch which Familiars take care of her, and if you leave them alone or their guardian is defeated, they could be captured. I found enemy encounters, which were already challenging, achieved even greater tension as the child's guardian familiar was worn down. There's an adrenaline rush as you try and get some help to them as soon as possible, and that's just within combat situations. There's an even more profound bond as you make story choices throughout and the child starts to grow up, and your choices will have a bearing on what direction they veer in as the game moves forward.

(Photo: ComicBook)

That level of attachment is only bolstered by the charming dialogue and stellar voice work, which allows Flicker the fairy, Chalk the golem (and Tweets, his trusty bluebird), Blaze the vulpine spirit, and Gribbert the frog's personalities to shine through and become more than just empty player vessels, and their banter back and forth can help lighten some of the stress during more tense scenarios. Their dialogue also conveys a sense of urgency throughout the adventure, and the excellent miniatures help ground the story with a welcome sense of scale and how they fit into the world. Coupled with the slick animations and simplified interface of the app, fans are getting a complete package right out of the box, though there are some issues here and there.

The challenge early on mostly comes from not being able to afford upgrades and new cards, as it can take a minute to start accruing power and resources in significant quantities. I got knocked out more than a few times early on in the process, and while some of it was just me not being completely in sync with the systems, some of it was due to feeling underpowered.

The other main issue is in how the locations are presented. While it's not an issue all the time, I've had several instances of confusion in how to move through a location due to how it was divided up. You've got to be mindful of Range and Movement in the game, and there are dotted lines, double dotted lines, and solid lines to help guide you. The maps themselves are beautifully illustrated, but at times the maps with darker elements and colors can present a challenge as you attempt to find the path through them A perfect example is the Rest Assured map. This map has two levels, and the artwork is relatively clear...until you get to the stairs. The artwork, the movement lines, and the general symbology clash, and I sat here for quite a bit trying to figure out how to simply move upstairs. This isn't the only element of this type of clash either, and it can cause moments of frustration and break the immersion until you figure it out.

(Photo: ComicBook)

Even with those flaws, Familiar Tales is still a game I'd recommend in a heartbeat. The characters are wonderfully endearing and the production value is through the roof, and the gameplay at its core offers rewarding complexity that keeps the stakes high. While the story is what moves you forward, you'll find satisfaction in the moment-to-moment gameplay in between, and it's an experience that I adored and hope to have again.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Published By: Plaid Hat Games

Designed By: Jerry Hawthorne

Art By: JJ Ariosa, Vanessa Morales, Fajareka Setiawan, Dan Smith, and Tregis

Familiar Tales is available in stores now.

Review copy provided by the publisher