(This is a review for the original build of the game. For the recent re-release, read our Märchen Forest review.)
Something interesting about the Märchen Forest currently under review is that it has a two-in-one approach to its whole. As far as my research (and language) can provide, Märchen Forest: MyIne and the Forest Gift was originally published as a game for Android in 2016, and that the Steam port is a more polished version on a better engine. First-time players will experience the game in its carefree, almost childish difficulty firsthand, before being brought back to some realm of reality with its more ambitious JRPG continuation.
So what does this mean for the review at hand? With the way the game is structured, this spiel will be chopped into two parts for most of the review: Part A and Part B. The former will discuss the part of the game that’s in some ways atmospherically comedic with puzzle elements and some ways slice-of-life sim, the latter will tackle the dungeon-crawling JRPG addition that directly follows. It’s no stretch to say that each part could serve as its own game, as the relation to each other is akin to a prequel-sequel narrative with almost nothing else about the gameplay alike. With such a drastic change from one “Act” to another, the intrigue surrounding the game only boosts the hopes of its potent potential.
Märchen Forest: MyIne and the Forest Gift is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
MyIne is a little girl living in an enchanted, fairy-tale-like forest with all sorts of talking animals and inanimate objects (like a rock), under the tutelage of her grandfather, the primary alchemist of the woods. She wanders through life at her own pace, gracefully enjoying whatever her carefree life can afford her. She gets to the point in age (roughly nine-years-old) where her grandfather brings it upon himself to teach her the basics of alchemy, something MyIne looks forward to with an expected sense of naivety and excitement. The task is simple: bring some ingredients to mix into a cauldron to create reality-bending potions.
This is the base foundation of Part A’s driving motivation. All that follows is woven by other denizens of the forest in need of something (or someone). The path is particularly linear, only inhibited by the order in which a player takes on various tasks. Though something important of note is that the game plays Part A in three acts: a very short tutorial passage that elaborates on the controls and expectations of the game, a slightly-less shorter version which opens the surrounding area a little more, and a final act that gives the player every opportunity to finish Part A. Such paths are dictated by the number of ingredients MyIne is required to bring home to her grandfather, which increase by the quantity of area one is allowed to explore.
Märchen Forest opens with a lot of dialogue, some necessary, some which made me think the game was targeting children. Its straightforward exposition fairly trite, its only saving grace was through its comedic writing. Not that it was terribly funny, but it gave a level of goofiness appreciable for a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously (for now). Leaving aside its main goal, which is little more than a placeholder for MyIne to walk around and talk to people, the characters and their personality (and the stark difference in appearances) made the game more enjoyable than it should’ve been.
Suffice it to say that the game’s dialogue is pretty kid-friendly, aside from random innuendos that imply more adult humor. It all goes about making the game feel more cheery and upbeat without lacking in its own environmental charm. Part A really is about the characters and their dialogue, despite how short the whole experience is, as the gameplay side of it is pretty barren. I would have liked to have seen more of this forest and its characters explored from a historical perspective, or how their lives better or worsen each other’s.
Within the JRPG scheme, Märchen Forest gets a little less chatty, though only in a general sense. Discarding major spoilers, a hole appears in the forest after MyIne completes her alchemy training. Sensing opportunity, a character from the forest named “Mr. Bard” explores the caverns and requests that MyIne not follow. He drops a note on his way in without noticing, which MyIne reads only to discover a life-changing fact. Suddenly determined, she tries to get answers out of her grandfather, who does so by bringing to light some of the mysteries surrounding her past. With years-long secrets revealed, she goes against her grandfather’s wishes and heads into the caverns of her own volition.
At this point, the story of the game becomes far more weighty in comparison to its preceding path. Unfortunately, such a story isn’t told with the strengths of before intact, however, the most major issue is something of a practicality: not enough time. With little build-up surrounding a true antagonist, gameplay now overtaking the dialogue of characters, and a majority of its most grand moments so unyieldingly cliché that it makes my skin crawl, it comes across as pretentious at worst and underwhelming at best. Should it allow the player to make more of its time dedicated to other characters and more emphasis on MyIne’s motivation there, it could’ve prompted a better emotional reaction. Frankly, the game just needs more content.
I finished the game in eight hours, with the first part taking about two and the second around six. Keep in mind that Part B is more gameplay-biased, so a good chunk of that already is spent on exploring, battling, grinding, item-collecting, and what have you. It’s hard to tell so grand of a story with so little time dedicated to build-up and establishment of morality. Characters within this part dwindle down to about two—not including MyIne—at its core, and one is relegated to a shop keep/item analyzer 90% of the time. It’s not far off to say that the only thing keeping me going was just to see how far I could go—not to say the story was revolting, but it paled miserably in comparison to the JRPG-styled gameplay. Again, some more elaboration on these characters and additional dialogue options could’ve been concocted to keep them interesting or prevent them from one-dimensional role casting.
One can partake in quiz shows, go fishing, tell a penguin to exercise, and collect items, all at the click of a single button. That best describes the gameplay of Märchen Forest‘s first act. One moves and clicks, then goes somewhere else to click the appropriate thing to progress the situation until one has nothing else to click. A point-and-click without pointing. Almost like the game was originally made for Android.
One thing that sets the game apart somewhat (and has divided players) is the necessity to click on certain things multiple times to get some sort of progression. MyIne can interact with a rock once, then twice, then a third time to trigger an event that has her talking to something under the rock that gives her an item. It’s not just this rock either, it’s the giant mushroom outside her house, the crates near the rock, and the snake blocking the path. Everything seems to encourage the player to click on things many times in order to extract all possible information—necessary or not. For the most part, I didn’t mind this as it gave more goofiness to the situations surrounding MyIne (who takes it all as normal), though it was rather tiring to skip all sorts of dialogue after the first, second, and third playthroughs of Part A, compacted by the numerous times required to interact with something.
Should there be any criticism at all, it’s that Part A lacks much to do, whether from a gameplay perspective or narrative perspective. It really only boils down to pressing a single button at the right time, or multiple times. Nothing is really all that complex with Part A, which is what led me to believe that the game was targeting a much younger audience. While there are various things to do, how one does them will get pretty repetitive to those expecting something along the lines of, say, it’s following act.
Initially, the beginning portions of Part B, while not quite as simple, followed the same tread of difficulty as Part A. The fights were rather straightforward, the enemies easy to counterattack, and the situation easy to understand. The standard JRPG trends of dungeon-crawling were true to form here with only the core essentials for players to gorge upon. Everything was properly handed on a silver platter while stressing the sake of parrying almost to ominous levels. I should not have become complacent.
The focus of Part B from a gameplay perspective consists of roaming through dungeons, finding items, battling baddies, maintaining hunger, avoiding traps, and equipping better gear. Any JRPG enthusiast will be right at home, as Märchen Forest offers nothing different in this regard. In regards to battling, one is allowed to either attack, defend, or evade. Standard attacks cause decent damage dependent on one’s attack stat, defending will cut the damage of the enemy’s attack, and evading will avoid damage altogether (for traditional attacks). Upon attacking or defending, dependent on one’s agility stat, MyIne will not be able to do anything for a specific timeframe (though usually not for more than a few seconds), leaving her open to enemy attacks with no means of defense. Battling is done in real time, so enemies attack at regular intervals, instead of before or after the player does something.
Parrying is activated upon defending at a specific point before the enemy’s standard attack lands, indicated by two flashing lights prior to the attack. When activated, the enemy will be stunned and the player is available to use a powerful “Art” attack, which is much stronger than the normal attack, or to use items to boost their chances of survival. This is being explained here because one needs to know this skill to survive in Part B. Seriously. It’s really important that one uses it as much as possible. This, in essence, makes the game a timing match when battling enemies. Is it deep? Not particularly. Is it fun? Absolutely.
Part B makes this game worth playing. Part A was a cute and enjoyable opening sequence that didn’t require a lot of skill (or even attention), but Part B is where everything about the term “casual” is thrown into the trash. Märchen Forest‘s JRPG attempt will definitely ruffle some feathers with its unsuspecting difficulty spikes between floors, but as the game states itself, one needs “the courage to continue forward.” It’s a matter of doing it until one can master the art of defending and parrying more and more powerful enemies. And grinding. Lots of grinding.
It’s almost poetic in that Part A has more charm in its story than its gameplay, while Part B acts as the antithesis. It gives players a little of everything to digest in the greater scheme of things, so long as they don’t mind the little inconveniences that come with it. Though this may also alienate some in ultimately preferring one part over another, with the former or latter part being a detached and forgettable experience. It would be interesting to see the developer better blend these two parts in potential future projects and strike a good balance of the fun goofiness of the first part with the core pleasures of the second.
Graphics and Audio
(This section won’t be split up into parts, as this category is little different no matter the part.)
What one can see pretty well from outside art is that MyIne has a great character design. Her portrait is shown whenever MyIne talks in-game, with different portraits shown dependent on her mood. In this sense, the game reminds me somewhat of Custom Robo, where characters had non-flattering models in-game with splendid characters portraits during dialogue scenes. In the case of Märchen Forest, only MyIne has the benefit of a character portrait, with everyone else getting only an in-game model and a talking box. As for said models, it, along with a good portion of the aesthetic for this game, is the equivalent of a good-looking PlayStation game.
Indeed, the overall look of this game isn’t great. It’s incredibly minimalist, to the point where it’s easy to wonder what the budget for the game was. On one hand, the lack of any complexity in its design makes the game more goofy, cutesy, or nostalgic, but also makes it just borderline ugly. That is, however, until Part B, where (especially later) enemies actually look genuinely cool (albeit chibi-ish). The design of the dungeons isn’t anything at all noteworthy, but the creatures inside are always something grotesque or spooky or, generally, much better looking than the rest of the game. Bonus points for having head items for MyIne to wear that alter her look.
Märchen Forest features occasional voice over for MyIne and other major characters, which is somewhat notable for a smaller indie project. They certainly add to the mood of the game and the mindset of their characters, though they also sound fairly archetypal in general. MyIne’s voice is fairly enjoyable, though she doesn’t actually talk too much. Archetypal, though not poor, the voice work is commendable. Sound quality, in general, is also pretty well acclimated to the tone of each scenario, with the theme to the hub area to Part B being a nice tune to listen to. It’s also pretty typical, which says basically everything about what exactly this game is, outside of some mysterious charm to it. It sounds like a JRPG. I’m not sure how to accurately describe that, but people know it when they hear it.