REVIEW: The Pale City
A short, challenging, and interestingly written dark RPG adventure.
Genre: RPG, Adventure
Developer: Kyle Muntz
Publisher: Kyle Muntz
Release date: 20 March, 2020
Roughly seven years in the making, and nearly all made by one man, The Pale City brings a world and narrative inspired by works such as Planescape: Torment, Xenogears, and more. In addition to its story, The Pale City makes an effort to really test your ability and skill in its turn-based combat, often requiring careful decision-making by the player. While fairly short for an RPG, and lacking in optimization, The Pale City is worth a try if you’re into weird and unique titles.
Writing and Narrative
The Pale City has you take the role of a man named Vasek, a blunt and jaded man who lives in the Sink, a grim city of deceit and filth, where everyone is liable to kill and being killed. Life in Vasek’s world is tough, brutally tough, and the characters, environments, and prose of the whole game reflect that fact well. The Pale City radiates an oppressive atmosphere through its visuals, music, etc, successfully capturing the feeling of the world it wishes to convey. It is important to talk to everyone and examine everything, as it often leads to minor stat and exp increases.
The story of The Pale City isn’t all too of a happy one either, rather, it is a story of unearthing some sense of value in a universe where even the gods fail to find purpose. Vasek’s character is of an original nature, morally ambiguous and devoid of many admirable qualities that are common in many other RPGs.
The story begins in the midst of when Vasek is tasked with the mission of finding the necessary parts to resurrect an ancient golem. Events follow that soon turn into a chronicle of manipulation, betrayal, regret, and the slight possibility of finding something worth toiling for in the end. Vasek’s journey of labelling himself as an ethically questionable mercenary to someone who is in truth perhaps severely emotionally stunted is fascinating and oftentimes a touch sorrowful.
While much of the prose is strong, which is to be expected coming from a successful author, at times it can be a little tiring to read, and some of the text in the game can tend to drag on, if only just a little.
Gameplay and Design
The Pale City uses a turn-based combat system that is more than what meets the eye at first sight. While contrary to screenshots, for the majority of the game you’ll be playing with only Vasek in your party, whereas at most you’ll only have two in the group. Of course, this might seem like a small turn off for people who enjoy having multiple people in the party in most other turn-based RPGs, but The Pale City will still bring quite a lot of challenge and difficulty to someone who isn’t prepared.
Fights often require you to bide your time and wait for the exact critical moment to strike. You’ll be mostly relying on defensive manoeuvres, especially so in the latter half of the game. Combat works mostly by attacking and parrying. While this might seem simple at first, whenever you do an action that warrants it, you’ll build up something called TP. When you build up enough TP, you can execute a useful skill or ability that will greatly raise your chances in combat by debuffing the enemy or doing large amounts of damage that you couldn’t do normally. If you have played one of The Pale City’s inspirations, Xenogears, the TP system is extremely similar to the AP system, whereby holding off on an attack would give you the ability to execute a much stronger attack later on.
Unlike some other RPGs, buffs and debuffs in The Pale City play a much larger role overall. Normal attacks can inflict the bleeding status, which can be either a godsend or your worst nightmare depending on who is on the receiving end of it, and healing items are not as abundant as a lot of other titles either.
All of this might sound understandably intimidating, but fortunately there is an optional Story Mode for those who may simply want to experience the narrative of game and nothing more. However, if you’re willing, I would recommend trying to overcome the trials that the game throws at you, as it adds more depth to the game and somewhat a sense of replayability as well.
While only being about 9-10 hours or so, and admittedly rough around the edges, the well of ideas that spring forth from The Pale City is impressive and telling of the vast imagination of its main creator, Kyle Muntz. If you’re a fan of charmingly odd worlds, worthwhile character studies, or distinct and rewardingly difficult combat systems, then it is without any doubt worth checking out.
If you’re interested in playing The Pale City you may be in luck! Ask JimDeadlock on our Discord server and he may have a free key for you, if you’re quick!