Each year that goes by there is always a selection of indie games that really stand out from the crowd. Last year we were treated to Dead Cells and the critically acclaimed Celeste, and these games made a significant impact in the indie scene that really put them front and center when it came to the end of the year talks about the best games from the previous 12 months. This year Katana Zero was one of those games, and now, standing toe to toe with its contemporaries, is the beautiful, joyful and just sensationally well designed, Children of Morta.
Protectors of the Mountain
The stars of the show are the Bergson family; a lineage of powerful protectors of the land who live at the foot of Mount Morta, and who have long been tasked in protecting this land against the corruption that now spreads far and wide in this beautiful landscape, threatening the end of all living things in its path. Your playable characters, different members of the Bergson family; John, Linda, Kevin, Mark and more that I’ll keep secret so as to not spoil any story beats, all have a different fighting style; from John’s sword and shield, Linda’s bow, Kevin’s dual daggers, and Mark’s martial arts style, and any of the family members can be used to traverse the game’s procedurally generated dungeons.
Now, rogue-likes and rogue-lites are all the rage right now, and they are often wonderful games – see Dead Cells or Hollow Knight, among many, many others – but one of the biggest barriers to entry to new players of the genre, is the huge loss of progress after dying during a run. You’ll be feeling so good about all these new upgrades and weapons and abilities to only fall victim to a strong enemy, or a boss, and to lose all your progress and return to the beginning of the game. Children of Morta is somewhat of a rogue-lite, but I think what really makes it approachable for new players, but also enjoyable for those who may already have experience in the genre, is the fact that there is really no penalty upon death (besides having to replay the dungeon you’re currently in). Characters level up across multiple runs, and skill points and abilities aren’t reset after death, and gold found while traversing levels are available when returning to the Bergson’s home to improve family-wide attributes, like attack power, overall health, and movement speed, or improve the drop-rate of gold, effectiveness of totems and a host of other upgrades.
When you’re dungeon-crawling, you can kit your character out with an ever-changing build, by finding a multitude of different items. In your travels you’ll find Divine Graces; passive effects to your character which last the entirety of the run through the dungeon, Divine Relics; powerful items that can be activated upon cool down to buff the player or attack the enemy, Charms; one-use items that have active effects on your character, Obelisks; temporary items that give you extra damage or gold or other effects, and Runes; which temporarily affect your primary, secondary or tertiary attacks with different modifiers. It’s this huge range of items that you can find that can really change up how effective you are in any given dungeon, and some runs you truly feel unstoppable especially if a number of your found items complement each other. Once you’ve completed your run, however, and beaten the boss or died, all these are reset, and your next dungeon crawl will be a clean slate for your character.
And don’t think that you can find a Bergson that you really enjoy using and never choose another character, as overtime if they are used too much, that character will get corruption sickness and have to rest, lest you enter the next run with a significant health penalty. This mechanic pushes you out of your comfort zone and gets you to try other family members, and it means that you might find that someone you didn’t initially like will become a favorite eventually.
Much More Than Combat
So it probably sounds pretty focused on the combat, right? Well, unlike many other games in the genre, Children of Morta’s story really shines through as something quite beautiful. The entire game is narrated tremendously by voice actor Ed Kelly, and in tandem with the game’s simple yet beautifully designed animations, color palette and simply outstanding design, it’s a touching tale of this family that despite all the corruption around it, and such a looming threat on their land, these heroes are still human, and still a loving family with all its flaws and foibles like any other.
The family eats around the dinner table at night and shares stories, the children conflict with their parents’ wishes, there are tears and there are times of laughter, and all of these small yet impactful scenes play out in between dungeon runs to really flesh out this story and the family.
You feel attached to the Bergson‘s – through their struggles not only outside in the harsh and unforgiving world, but also the more intimate struggles; lost loves, bad habits, children wanting more freedom and trust, it is all so beautifully depicted in short vignettes in between missions, and it really does a wonderful job of creating this family bond that you feel between all of the members. At one point in the game, you find a wolf cub pining for its now-deceased mother, and you save it from corrupted enemies, bringing it back home and nursing it to health. The family then builds a shelter for the cub and gives it a loving home, where the kids can be seen playing with the pup occasionally, or it can be pestering the family cat in other scenes.
It’s these little things that expand the game from simply a hack and slash rogue-lite, to a touching story which keeps you coming back to learn more about this family of heroes.
It also helps to break up the game’s combat, when even if you’re struggling with a dungeon, when you return home upon death, there is a little tidbit of the story to keep you feeling like you’re still progressing. This is what I think makes Children of Morta so hard to put down, because not only is there little to no penalty on death, but there is always something more added to the story, even if it’s just a crumb to keep you on the path, and the way it is delivered with the lovely narration and wonderfully designed art style is unlike almost any other game in the genre.
With its brilliantly unique storytelling, sensational pixel graphics, great animations and not to mention its smooth combat – and a host of different combat styles – Children of Morta really hits on every single note. Not only is it an incredibly competent rogue-lite, dungeon crawler, with a cool array of enemies to defeat, interesting boss fights, loads of secrets to find and an array of different items to create a powerful build, it is also a wonderful tale of a typical (yet completely atypical in many ways) family, and all of their idiosyncrasies. I think I see why the designers of the game chose such ‘normal’ names for the family members – Kevin, John, Linda, Margaret, Ben, etc. – because despite the fantastical setting, this is just your ‘normal’ family.
If you want a game that will give you satisfying combat with gorgeous visual design, but also that’ll make you feel for the characters and have moments of joy and sadness, then Children of Morta is definitely for you. If you’re hesitant to play many other rogue-likes, then Children of Morta is also for you. And if you just want a beautiful game that can keep you intrigued and entertained for hours upon hours – Children of Morta is for you, too.
I can’t recommend this game enough. It truly is one of those indie games that will be remembered for a long time among fans and critics, and one you shouldn’t miss.
[Editors Note: Direckt Gaming is a content contributor for 181GAMING. If you would like to have your content published on 181GAMING, click here. We are always looking for content creators and community moderators.]