What are you willing to do for your family? It’s a question that has followed mankind since we’ve been able to think for ourselves. It’s as universal as language, since we all come from somewhere that we call home. Some are born into poverty, some are born into loneliness, but everyone has a family. A bond made of blood that cannot be broken. Whether you despise them or cannot imagine a world without them, it’s important to remember that we all have this shared commonality.
Children of Morta takes this idea of a familial bond and makes it the centrepiece of a conflict against corruption. Where even as the world is falling apart and decaying, protecting who you love is still the number one priority. It’s something beautiful, something distinctly human and Children of Morta explores this in one of the most creative ways I’ve seen a game do it yet.
It runs in the family
Children of Morta stars the Bergson family, a diverse family of heroes that have called Mount Morta their home for generations. A spreading corruption seeks to put their land in danger and it’s up to them to stem the coming tides of evil by venturing forth into the dilapidating land of monsters that need to be defeated. The massive Bergson family house sits atop a hill, housing our heroes as well as a magical crystal that holds answers that will help them save their home.
The game’s narrative is done in a very different way than you expect. None of the Bergsons have dialogue, but in place of it, we have a very sultry-voiced narrator telling their stories as they unfold in front of your eyes. The narrator, along with the excellent writing, creates this fairytale feel that almost instantly captures your attention. The Bergsons animate and interact with their environment beautifully to the point where we almost don’t need the narrator to infer what is happening. It’s not a simple feat to animate pixel art characters in such an evocative way, but the game does it with flying colours.
Children of Morta takes this idea of a familial bond and makes it the centrepiece of a conflict against corruption.
However, the narrative’s greatest strength is how it’s structured. Whenever you return from a dungeon, whether victorious or otherwise, you get a new scene that plays out. This scene can be a continuation of the story or it can just be a slice of life from this bizarre heroic family and their interactions with each other. Despite the game having no spoken dialogue, you still build this connection to these characters as you see their individual struggles as well as the trials they have to face together as a family.
This creates this amazing sense of progression as well as connection as you go through the game, making you fall in love with our heroes and you really get to understand why they do what they do in order to protect themselves and their land. It just works so well and you keep wanting to see what comes next for the Bergson family. It’s just so well structured, so well written and everything about it just makes me happy that we have such an ambitious new way of telling a story.
Thicker than blood
Children of Morta is an action RPG as well as a roguelike. The game plays out in an isometric viewpoint similar to something like Diablo and you steadily improve as you go more and more into the dungeons. The combat is heavily skill-based and entirely dependent on which Bergson you chose to venture into danger. Each Bergson has their own style of combat, their own skill trees and their own unique powers that greatly set them apart from their other family members.
Since this is a roguelike, a lot of the genre’s rules apply to the game. Head into the dungeon, kill enemies, find items and kill a boss at the end. If you die, you head back, brush yourself off and try again with a new slate. It’s very standard roguelike systems, but once again the game does its best to set itself apart from the horde of similar experiences.
The Bergsons don’t die if they fall in a dungeon, rather teleporting at the last second back to their home. Each run you do awards you with gold that you get to take back that you use to upgrade stats and perks that apply to every character you play as. Additionally, once a character crosses a certain level you also get perks unique to that character that benefits the entire family. These can be simple stat increases or more substantial perks that are extremely useful in the game’s copious combat encounters.
Ever-changing, never boring
You head through a procedurally generated dungeon with enemies littering the field everywhere and you have a big arsenal of tools to take them down. Each Bergson has their own unique powers and attacks that they can take advantage of and it’s a learning experience to come to grips with the intricacies of each character. They have special skills that can be used as well as a rage mode that they can enter to give them a distinct combat advantage. In addition to all of that, the dungeon is also littered with items that can be massively transformative to the combat experience.
You get passive powers, runes that meaningfully change or add to your attacks and powers, powerful and unique relics that you can use to turn the odds in your favour and so much more. Each run truly is unique since there are so many iterations that you can go through and those iterations are also multiplied by the unique character you choose to head into danger.
The game also encourages you to not just use one Bergson that you prefer since if they are continuously in the dungeons, they start to become fatigued which almost forces you to pick different characters. Since each character also offers benefits to future runs, it’s incredibly advantageous to experiment and play with each character on offer. That built-in diversity keeps the combat experience fresh and exciting as you try to master all the different characters and systems that the game provides.
Fighting for your home
The actual combat experience is fantastic as enemies are quite ruthless and you need to be on your toes to properly defeat them. Waves and waves of enemies descend upon you and it’s your skill that determines whether you get out of there unscathed or gasping for life. It’s all so satisfying and before long you’re aching for just one more go with the lessons you have learned from your previous run as well as all the improvements you’ve made with the various bounties you collected.
The boss fights, in particular, are also each fantastic in their own way as they provide a real challenge for you, Learning patterns is extremely important and it’s quite feasible to die numerous time while the enemy is almost dead. Defeating these ferocious enemies brings along that huge rush of accomplishment and it never gets old, no matter how far into the game you are.
You keep thinking just how in the seven hells they managed to make something so astoundingly beautiful.
As you head through the dungeons, you also randomly stumble upon unique scenarios that offer these surprisingly deep narratives that can sometimes last across multiple runs. Things such as stumbling upon an injured wolf pup that wants to protect its deceased mother that you have to rescue and give a new home or protecting a caravan of passing civilians that have their own story of struggle. This actively encourages you to explore as much as you can since these little scenes and scenarios are some of the strongest parts of the game and they also sometimes provide tangible benefits to the Bergsons.
The only real negatives I’ve found in the game is how I often favoured ranged characters over melee ones. It’s quite feasible to be very proficient at melee by practising, but compared to range, there’s a big power discrepancy since being away from enemies is much more preferable. Enemy attacks are also sometimes hard to see since the hordes of enemies usually create chaos and it takes a lot of brainpower to dodge any incoming attacks. Since the majority of the roster is melee-focused, this can create some problems, but it’s not entirely insurmountable.
One of the biggest praises I can give this game is just how jaw-droppingly gorgeous it is. It’s probably the best-looking pixel art I have ever seen and you will be enchanted by the beautiful and colourful vistas that the game has to offer. The animations are buttery smooth, immensely detailed and just an absolute treat to the eye. Seeing this game in motion is a thing of beauty, but you also sometimes just stop to wonder at the vistas and keep thinking just how in the seven hells they managed to make something so astoundingly beautiful.
The game’s characters each have single pixels for eyes, but even then they emote with as much feeling as is humanly possible while all looking incredibly unique despite being related to each other. It’s a game that inspires wallpapers and you will be hard-pressed to find anyone that will even dare to call the game ugly.
But Children of Morta‘s biggest strength isn’t its unique narrative, the familial bond that you grow to love, the entertaining and fulfilling gameplay or how beautiful it is. Its greatest strength is how cohesive it is. How everything just works together in harmony. In a game focused on family and working together to achieve a common goal, I think that was an important thing to get right. And they definitely got it right.