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The Tale Of Bistun

Platform(s): PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: IMGN.PRO
Developer: Black Cube Games
Release Date: July 13, 2022


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PC Review - 'The Tale of Bistun'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 12, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

The Tale Of Bistun is a story-driven, action-adventure game inspired by the famous Persian tragic romance, "Khosrow and Shirin."

Adapting stories from other forms of media is a common notion in video games. Movies and TV shows are easy subjects, and comic books are a common source of inspiration. Traditional books occasionally get into the mix, but poetry isn't something we usually see adapted in a playable form. The Tale of Bistun is one of the few games to try and do so, and the result is mostly impressive.

The Tale of Bistun is based on a portion of the 12th century Persian poem, "Khosrow and Shirin." The title casts the player in the role of a man named Farhad, who's suffering from amnesia as he awakens in a mountain clearing. Thanks to the efforts of a colorful hoopoe bird, he learns that he is a stonemason and that he can somehow travel to an alternate dream dimension. In that alternate dimension, he rescues a sentient tree named All Seeds that tells him of a blight affecting all life in the Bistun mountains. Farhad agrees to help out because the reward is magical pomegranates that can help him recover lost memories.

Although it isn't a complete retelling of the poem, it uses some of the stronger themes, like romance and tragedy, to propel the tale forward in ways that keep things engaging for the many who may be unfamiliar with the work. It throws in some more fantastical things, like mythical creatures that can defeat gods and the aforementioned sentient tree, but all of them are done in ways that feel like they were well merged with the original tale. Accompanying this is a narrator who speaks almost all of the time; the narration outlines some of the character emotions, interactions and speech to emphasize the game's roots as a written work.

Presented from an isometric point of view, the game's chapters play out in a specific cycle. Each chapter starts on the mountain of Bistun, giving you a specific area to traverse as you free some of the pomegranate trees from the corruption that plagues them. The way to the trees usually has a few areas where you can carve out statues or uncover stone tablets to get more of the story; in some areas, you discover altars that either let you upgrade your two weapons (a pair of hatchets or a great ax) or swap them out. Once you reach the tree, the game closes you off in an arena as you hack away at emerging enemies, using their energy to weaken the corruption affecting the tree and allowing you to progress and find the next tree to save.

Free the trees from danger, and The Tale of Bistun takes you back to your home camp, where you can replay some of the story or pick up the fallen pomegranate to regain more of your memories. You'll then reach the next portal in the mountain, where you travel back to the dream world to unblock pathways and uncover more of the story before being whisked back to the real world to start the cycle anew.

The loop can sound tedious, but it isn't in practice because the game is so short. The whole journey clocks in at about three hours, and while the loop isn't completely broken, it changes a bit by the halfway point due to slight alterations in narrative focus. The flow works, since the changes aren't abrupt, so by the time you start to tire of any one aspect, the entire journey is over.

If there is one thing that could have used some improvement, it would be the combat system. The game only has two weapons to choose from, and none of them provide any statistical difference in damage output. You have a basic attack button and a special attack locked on a cooldown timer, and despite the attack cones showing the hatchets delivering a frontal special attack and the ax providing a more radial special attack, the damage area ends up being the same. The only defensive maneuver you have is a dodge roll, so the game devolved into a pure button-masher during combat, with occasional dodging if you get careless. To be fair, the encounters aren't difficult, and if you manage to die, the checkpoint system is fair enough that there is minimal backtracking. That said, you'll probably only die at the final boss fight since you get a brand-new weapon there with a slower swing time, and that throws off the timing that you've been using up to that point.

There isn't too much to do beyond the campaign's conclusion. The difficulty is fixed, and while the game has two endings, a chapter select option allows you to experience both of them without replaying too much of the game. There are an extensive amount of achievements to unlock, but you won't do too much hunting there, as most of them pop up with a normal playthrough. This really is a "one and done" title, if you're not fond of replaying completed titles.

The presentation works well. There isn't much diversity to the environments, but they all look quite nice, with a bit of a storybook-illustration style to some parts without relying on full cel shading. The fixed camera doesn't cause any issues like hiding your character or any enemies in the environment, and the zoom is at a good enough level where nothing feels small, even when playing on the Steam Deck. The zoom also hides just how low poly most of the characters are, which you aren't going to mind much since the animations are well done.

Musically, the soundtrack sounds authentic to the region and provides a good backdrop to the situations, especially since the use of local instruments makes it sound distinct. Kudos to the narrator for doing almost all of the heavy lifting in providing some emotion to the narration and adding just the right amount of inflection to each speaking character. The same can be said for the person bookending the game's beginning and ending cut scenes, but a bug restricts her end game cut scene performances to Farsi, unlike the opening cut scene, which also has an English track.

The Tale of Bistun is surprising in several different ways. The story is intriguing not only because it's from a place we don't see much of but also because literature is rarely been done in games at all. The game's length is short but welcome, as a lengthier game would stretch out the repetitive combat a touch too much. For adventure gamers who want something narratively different and don't mind it being something that can be knocked out in an afternoon, The Tale of Bistun is worth a look.

Score: 7.5/10

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