WarningMight contain spoilers.

What a phenomenal and unique game. It’s a masterclass in procedural storytelling that isn’t just ‘Adjective A, Noun B’; instead, the handcrafted stories fit together beautifully while incorporating a significant degree of unpredictability and contextual awareness. Of course, they aren’t perfect: I was distracted a few times by anachronisms, jarringly dissonant jokes, and tiny grammatical oversights. There’s also obviously some repetition, given enough time. Regardless, none of that detracts from all the poignant, awe-inspiring, affecting, interesting, humorous, and fascinating tales I encountered.

The central conceit is brilliant: heroes start out as greenhorns and gain experience until they retire, possibly permitting them to be part of your legacy and live beyond the current narrative. Their oft-mysterious appearances and the gradual accretion of history only reinforce the epic, mythological quality of every campaign. I still remember how two characters I carried over to a new campaign retained their father-daughter relationship, or when one character mentioned another’s transformation in the context of an unrelated story quest because it was part of their shared history.

I once encountered a random event where my favourite hero (now in her fourth campaign) contracted a serious disease. Prompted by hearing how someone else tried to save her sister when she contracted the disease decades ago, we set out on a quest to find the cure and were able to vanquish its guardian together. Afterwards, I was presented with a choice: keep it for my hero, Mulfure, or use it on the sister, Quanthai, who had been frozen all those years ago. I gave it to Quanthai. She joined the party, but my heart stopped as I watched the disease steal three decades of Mulfure’s life. She would now retire at the end of the chapter. In a stroke of luck, though, that also turned out to be the end of the campaign.

Combat is a satisfying mixture of puzzle and strategy. Excepting some save scumming in a few key battles against overwhelming odds, the most astonishing thing about the game is that it makes you want to take decisions—in and out of battle—not according to game logic but in accordance with the characters and their stories. I rarely wanted to go back and change things. In fact, the irreversible yet controlled transformations are an element I especially liked.

I was impressed by the art, too. I wish the characters were animated in action; I’d have liked to see that in this style. I’m not sure the varying order of panels in cutscenes is effective: it takes a moment to understand how to read every new page. I also noticed a strange bug where going in and out of fullscreen made the current cutscene start over.

It’s clever to have a number of campaigns with distinct styles. The Drauven campaign, for instance, might adhere to an obvious archetype, but it’s a heartfelt, tragic, and emotional story that I thoroughly enjoyed. I was sad to finish the last of the prefabricated campaigns, and though I’d been looking forward to trying the procedurally-generated ones, I realized it just wouldn’t be the same without an overarching story.

While the music isn’t very expansive, nor something I’d listen to in isolation, it’s an important part of establishing the ambience. Even today, I occasionally catch myself humming a particularly striking piece only identified as dungeon on an unfamiliar YouTube channel.

For posterity, here’s another one of my favourite heroes—Sorfure, of fire and lightning—whom I’ll never forget: