Edited by: Tiffany Lillie
Let’s go on an adventure
After selecting one of the characters available to pick from, you embark on their story. All four characters have completely different backgrounds and origin tales and contribute to the fate of their world in a unique manner. The adventure itself is presented in the form of a book. Depending on your preferences, you can either read the printed text on the page, listen to the narration, or both. Each character has their own narrator and narration style unique to them, as well as an extensive collection of individual illustrations that change with every new scene. Right from the get-go it's obvious that the varied characters provide a lot of replay appeal.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU CHOOSE
You make decisions via a selection of choices — anywhere between one and about five. These choices have an immediate and often quite dramatic effect on the story, with more than a few choices ending with the death of one of the characters. You get several “rewinds” so to speak, that let you rethink the choice that killed you, but these are not unlimited.
Exactly how many “rewinds” you have available to you depends on what difficulty level you select at the beginning. So, whatever level of challenge you take on, you’ll have to make your choices carefully, as you only get so many attempts. Between that and the dozens upon dozens of different choices and story branches, The Ballad Singer provides a lot of play time, as well as a fair bit of challenge both for players familiar with this genre and those that aren’t.
To die or not to die?
This visual novel takes a unique approach to death and to “Game Over” — there is no such thing. If one of the four characters dies, the adventure continues from the viewpoint of another of the other three, in the same narrative. This way, the death of a character impacts the happenings of Hesperia but does not end them, much like real life.
A SPOILER PROBLEM
As for the gameplay mechanics, The Ballad Singer is very simple. The adventure is moved forwards by choices you make while you read/hear the story. One major flaw here is that the story will often spoil itself. The next set of choices are visible even before the text has been read. Since said story is often up to about seven pages long, seeing choices like “Face the Abomination” rather spoils what’s going to happen next.
Despite this, the game moves at an enjoyable pace with interesting plot twists and characters, as well as a great world that acts as a backdrop for this adventurous tale. The artwork that accompanies this title is pleasant to look at and suits the game itself quite well — including the many and very varied illustrations for the death of a character. Even on lower difficulty, there are plenty of choices that can kill a character. In fact, in battle situations, it’s often that all choices but one lead to that character’s demise. With this comes a nice level of suspense to each choice you make.
The Ballad Singer does a good job of hinting at what the right answer is without making it too obvious. Sometimes it doesn’t give a hint at all, leaving it up to you whether you can get out of a sticky situation.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
Since the focus of this title is very much placed on interactive storytelling, it would have been easy for the developers to neglect the sound effects, music, and even looks of the game, yet this is not the case. Pleasant and story-appropriate ambient music plays while very clear and easy-to-understand narrators take you through the adventures of the four protagonists. If you are worried that you might find yourself bored, think again; there is plenty of content, as well as plenty of beautiful visuals and audio elements to keep things interesting.
The Verdict: Good
The Ballad Singer is a narrative-centric, text-driven adventure title, where you’re presented with lots of choices and left with a feeling of suspense as you risk the lives and limbs of your characters at every turn. The story itself is interesting and told well through the viewpoints of the four varied characters, each of which have their own abilities, opinions, and experiences. This Early Access title has a lot of potential as a unique visual-novel experience and features great voice acting and music, though it does suffer quite strongly from spoiling important plot twists by revealing choices too soon.