A Story Beside Review - Putting the R&R in RPG
Updated: Jul 7
A Story Beside
A Story Beside certainly isn't the first game to put the player in the shoes of a character who would typically be an NPC, but it is one of the first I've played that truly commits to it. This is a game where the story of an early JRPG like Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy is clearly going on in the background, but you're never going to engage in anything remotely like combat and nearly all the major events of that story happen off screen without you. If you've ever wondered about the backstory of a village or innkeeper who appears briefly in the hero's quest, this is that.
The story takes place over seven chapters that are (mostly) separated by seven years. You play as Lyric the innkeeper as she grows from a seven year old to a middle-age (and older) adult, facing new problems and forming new relationships along the way. Your choices determine which characters stick around and can cause changes in what's available in the village of Pyreside in later chapters. I'm not sure how much major story events will change, but you definitely control the fates of characters offscreen and will have to deal with repercussions of unwise choices later on.
A game like this gets by almost entirely on the strength of its writing, so thankfully that, possibly alongside the art, is its best feature. The characters may not all necessarily be likeable, but they're believable people and you'll likely get attached to at least a few of them as the years go by. Sometimes you don't get to make the choice you might want to, but it's all justified by the established traits of Lyric's character. You're roleplaying as her rather than a self-insert, so abandoning the village or tearing up her friendships isn't an option. This also explains the possibly disappointing lack of attention paid to all of the many failed adventuring parties that pass through the village - Lyric resents adventurers for much of the story, so we don't get to interact with them because she wouldn't want to.
The dedication to character can also hurt the game, though. There's no run button (presumably) because adult NPCs don't typically sprint around town, but since there's also no fast travel or map, this results in a lot of slowly walking through the same parts of town only to discover there's nothing there. The hint system in game only provides a vague description of what you absolutely must do, so there's no way of finding optional content and characters other than checking every room and corner of the map. I spent much more time than I would've liked simply getting from point A to point B, and it's even more noticeable when there's ultimately nothing there in the end.
These are all small problems, but then this is a small story. There's nothing to really distract you from the slow walk speed or empty corners of the map and the story intentionally lacks many dramatic moments that'll stand out more in your memory. It's an overall pleasant and unique experience, but not one that will stay with you as much as the JRPG in the background might have. It's worth getting on sale.
I played on Steam Deck and had no compatibility issues beyond some minor visual bugs when moving between large areas.
Time to beat: 5 hours for one playthrough
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