Preview by Lindsay M.
Gataela has been thriving for several years after the war that selected its ruler. While the victims of war still struggle to recover, trading has been on an upswing and everything seems to be on the mend. At least, until Zack Chen learns that people are not spending money with the vigour they once used to; something is clearly not right. Don’t worry — Gataela isn’t a real place. There’s no reason to panic… I think. I’ve spent so much time immersed in the game of the same name that I cannot be 100 per cent certain anymore. The music, which seems almost Sims-esque until it ramps up and sweeps you away with images of vast green valleys with enemies scattered about floating about in your brain, has become the unofficial soundtrack to my life.
Gataela is the brainchild of Paige Marincak, a University of Ottawa graduate with a serious love for RPGs. While the influence of RPGs such as Tales of Symphonia and Pokemon are certainly present in the game, Marincak has put new life into the ever-popular genre by adding a Victorian steampunk theme. Indeed, all the characters are dressed in Victorian clothing. I swear you can tell someone’s personal wealth based on their clothing, although I may be reading too far into it. The user interface (UI) uses gears to represent their menus. The town’s goods come from boats, not airplanes or a later mode of transportation.
But let’s return to Zack, the first member of your party. Zack, an orphan of war, is a likeable guy who works in the marketplace and runs the local food bank. He always tries to do the right thing, as is proven when he chases after a boy who has stolen break from a market stall. The whole scene initially reminds me of Aladdin for some reason — I think it’s the child from the 90s in me jumping with glee at the memory. Zach chases the young man in attempt to retrieve the stolen goods, and the impending chase in an engaging way to do a tutorial: learn to interact with menus, characters, checkpoints, etc.
As I mentioned, Zack is only the first of a large cast of characters you that can join your party. I don’t want to delve too far into the characters as I believe they are the heart of Gaetala and don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone, but I will say that there is an impressive cast with an even more impressive background. Gataela is a military country, so expect to see some military folk in your travels (and maybe one or two will even join you). Bringing it back to Zack, he is the one that begins it all by seeking out help at the Lord’s castle when his efforts prove to be not enough — and thus, the adventure begins.
An amazing amount of detail went into creating the cast of characters waiting to be discovered. For example, you can decipher a person’s prominence based on their name. There are six noble families, all of which have “de” in the last name. Whoever from these families becomes ruler changes their last name to “de Gataela.” Other than the ruler, only their spouse can also have that last name. Offspring will use one of their parents’ former names. As I have come to expect from life in general, not all of the elite have always been in their position; during the war, many families were left devastated and those they once shunned became family heads.
While only certain characters can become party members, you can interact with just about anyone during your travels. Often you will just hear their thoughts aloud, one of my favourites being from early on in the game: “Where is that damn idiot? He better not have drank his weigh in beer again.” Sometimes instead of speaking with one person you end up eavesdropping on two; for example, when someone says “Ugh, everyone is complaining about money,” the shopkeep replies, “It’s expensive, okay? Live with it.” These thoughts and small conversations give a lot of insight into what is happening at the current time, and it’s always worth taking the time to hear with others have to say. Players can further learn about their party and other people by watching skits. Skits are small stories that remind me of visual novels, and provide extra insight into the characters (who knew Zack doesn’t like apples?!).
The battle system in Gataela is, as promised, inspired by those of RPGs past. When approached by an enemy, your party will enter battle. The opponents are at the top of the screen, and your party at the bottom. Click on a party member, then select an item (from the left) or a skill (from the right). Then click on the enemy or party member you would like to use the action on. Items of use could be a first aid kit or bottles of poison, whereas skills vary by charactter but can include actions such as attack, dodge, block. During your turn, a countdown timer displays how long you have to decide what you’re going to do. The stronger the party the less time you’ll have, increasing the difficulty as your party levels up. The timers makes the battle system fall somewhere between turn-based strategy and real-time strategy, which adds a good amount of weight to any decision you make while short on time. You receive gold and/or XP when a battle has been won.
The debate system is something not usually seen in RPGs/JRPGs, which I believe gives Gataela a leg up on its competition. Debating can completely change the outcome of your interactions and how characters speak to you. You’ll know you’ve entered a debate when there are choices for what to say to a character. Similar to the battle system, the debate system has a timer so there is limited time to make a decision that could have a huge impact on your party. To make someone see your side of things, you have to understand their personality and work with it so they aren’t angered by or frightened of you. The debate system now looks a bit different than the above video (choices are on the right, the progress bar to the left) and I like it quite a bit better than what it shown.
Navigation is quite simple in Gataela. There is a map on the bottom right to show where your party is currently located and their current surroundings. The objective is shown as a big red arrow that you must follow. When you are close enough, it will appear as a small white blip on the map. To know where to go, pay close attention to what characters say to you: important words and phrases will be highlighted in yellow. The one thing I found lacking is the ability to check what quest you are currently engaged in, as I am horrifically forgetful. The arrows on the map are great, but if I put the game down for a bit I’d love a reminder for why I’m going to that location.
If you’re a fan of RPGs, Gataela is certainly one to keep your eye on. Gataela will be available in four parts on tablets (Android, iOS, Windows) and PC. For more information check out the website or Marincak’s live Twitch steams on Mondays at 10 a.m. EST and Saturday and 8 p.m. EST.
– Lindsay M.