A Persian tale of love has been turned into a game, and we've checked out how entertaining the new The Tale of Bistun really is.
It's not every day you're asked to review a game based on an ancient Persian poem, but with the launch of new indie adventure The Tale of Bistun, I've been allowed to wander into an ancient tale of unrequited love and difficult sacrifice. The game in question draws inspiration from the work "Khosrow and Shirin", a fictional story about a Persian king named Khosrow who took a liking to an Armenian princess known as Shirin. Admittedly, I have not read the original, so I will not be able to make a direct comparison. In The Tales of Bistun, however, the focus is on a stonecutter who wakes up with no memory of where he is or who he is, and the only thing that guides him is a mysterious bird that takes him from one place to another. The revelation of the man's identity will of course be portioned out over the course of the journey, but as much of the story revolves around this ever-present obscurity, I've chosen not to reveal too much here and now. There are, however, some so-called "twists and turns" along the way, and there is even a fairly satisfying final wrap-up at the end of the story.
The story, by the way, is the big draw of this little indie saga, and as the story is unveiled in the same style as the classic Bastion (a narrator's voice accompanies you throughout the adventure), it's always the story that's in the driver's seat. The voice acting, by the way, is consistently good, and the narrator does a great job of adding emotion and mystery when needed while not going overboard.
The acting itself, however, isn't much to brag about. In fact, the majority of the time is spent following that mysterious bird from one setting to another, and while the constant narration always keeps you company, there's not much else to keep you interested. There's a combat system that lets you take on all manner of nasties from time to time, but as the battles are tied to small arenas and it's mostly a case of quickly hammering a button and dodging incoming attacks, it's not the most rewarding of pursuits. It does break up the constant wandering in a good way, but in terms of action entertainment it mostly does an acceptable job without shining in any way.
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Also, the visuals could have been better, and it's clear that this isn't a big, lavish production. The art style is lacking in detail, and overall the world you visit feels very desolate without any immediate subtlety. It does get better when you visit a recurring location called "The Realm of Revelations" as it's a nice break with its sinisterly dark purple hues and more nightmarish aesthetic from the plain and pale forest colours that otherwise characterise the setting. It's by no means anything special though, and if you're after nice graphics and cool design then there are plenty of other indie games that do a better job. The music is also acceptable, although it doesn't stand out much either, and overall this is a game that doesn't impress in its presentation if we ignore the voice acting.
In the end, however, The Tale of Bistun delivers a charming story with equal parts passion and tragedy, and with its 2.5-hour playtime, it's an easy title to get through in a single sitting. The gameplay is far from the best and the visuals leave a lot to be desired, but if enjoyable indie games are your thing in general and if you like short stories in particular, here's a cosy, tragic tale to wallow in. The price tag is a manageable £14, and for that money it's an okay adventure without leaving any major lasting impressions. In other words, don't expect a masterpiece.