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About the Story
Age of Fable is a free role-playing game which you play through your web browser. Its style is deliberately 'retro', based on the gamebooks whose popularity peaked in the 80s such as Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf, Tunnels and Trolls, and Fabled Lands.
Once Upon a Time in the Age of Fable
I wanted to talk a bit about a singular and peculiar pre-Twine, choice-based game that came out in 2006 called Age of Fable. Even now there’s not anything (that I’ve found!) particularly like it.
The FAQ for the game also points to this indeterminate, fluid history. The text describes the game as an “RPG” but then a “gamebook”—not entirely the same thing! And this is borne out in the gameplay. The character creation involves 12 different attributes, and with a randomly generated character, you are often at the mercy of attribute checks, which happen nearly every page. There isn’t really any opportunity to alter a roll or add bonuses to things that are really important for you to accomplish, like you can in some RPGs. But at the same time, this is far more robust than even most online gamebooks. And if this had been released as a Choice of Games story, it would be considered irrevocably broken.
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Number of Reviews: 2
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The official website for this game does not work, and the author's website seems to be entirely offline. It's not playable using Wayback Machine either, as it was a PHP game relying on a server backend.
Fortunately, the author released the source code of the game. I downloaded the code and was able to run the game on my own computer, with some modifications. My repository for this game is here (the hardest part was actually finding and downloading the images). You can try it out, if you have php installed.
While writing this review I discovered that this game was not lost after all; there is a playable version online at https://aof.guzh.me/, with a Chinese translation. This link didn't work when I first discovered the game, which was why I downloaded the source code.
Now, about the game itself: this reminds me of the Choice of Games style, although with more randomness, something like an open world, a lot more opportunities to die, and a more DnD-like stat system. So not really like CoG at all. I know it's supposed to be more akin to pen-and-paper gamebooks, but I'm not familiar with gamebooks (CoG might have also been gamebook-inspired). The basic structure of the game is adventuring in various hub locations (in a city, in the wilderness, in the ocean) with randomly chosen events/storylets in each location. There is a large number of random events, with moods ranging from comedy to tragedy to horror, and I still have not nearly discovered them all (the total word count might be over 100k). Despite the variety of events, there can be a lot of repetition at the hubs; you often find yourself back at the main city after a random event in the ocean.
From the links provided in the game and the author's blog, it seems that the author has put a great deal of thought into fantasy worldbuilding. But sometimes that didn't quite come through in the game itself. I enjoyed the moment-to-moment writing and the variety of situations in the game, but the scenes felt disconnected. The game doesn't really have a through-plot, or a critical path that the player can follow to reach an ending (I did reach some endings, but that was a while ago and I don't remember them). Even so, I think the game provides an interesting world to explore and a space to play around in.
I enjoyed the artwork, which include classical public-domain paintings, modern fantasy illustrations, sketches, and some CGI.
Anya Johanna DeNiro wrote an excellent review/retrospective of the game at Sub-Q.
I am not that impressed with the RPG style text-based games that I've played in the past, but Age of Fable offers something that I feel like sharing with others. It is a CYOA with a seemingly complicated dice-roll based system responsible for determining the success or failure of most of your decisions. My first play through left me unsatisfied, though. It seemed that there was no way to create a character with high enough skills to make any decision favorable. That was my first play-through and I was naive. It was only after playing it again and again and again that I realized how beautiful and wonderful this game is. There appear to be nine or maybe twelve characters (based on the beginning attribute values) that you can be, either by creating a character, choosing one, or randomly generating one. The story unfolds quite differently for each type of character that you choose, and there is a a lot of story here. In my six attempts at the game (all of them leading to death) I only saw the same descriptions or events a handful of times. I don't know if there is some ultimate goal that bathes you in glory and ends the adventure, but the playing is worth it. There's no need to describe the verbose adventure itself, as you will soon be playing it. The game is well written, very fun., with great illustrations. Highly recommended.
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