To anyone weary of the pixel art/retro aesthetic that seems to characterize so many indie games, I simply say: go check out Ghost of a Tale. The beautifully rendered medieval fantasy world and its sometimes fanciful, sometimes frightening animal characters are gorgeous. It's worth the price of admission and easily pulled me through those frustrating and occasionally tedious stretches of actually playing the game.
Ghost of a Tale reminds me a bit of a scaled down CGI film from the likes of Dreamworks (for which Ghost's creator has been a lead animator) or a dark young adult novel come to life. You play as Tilo, a mouse who has been imprisoned by the ruling rats (literally) of the Redpaw Garrison. You are freed from your shackles and set out on a stealthy journey to find your kidnapped wife. Along the way you will encounter a large number of anthropomorphic animals that both assist and threaten you as you sneak your way out of the dank prison and into the world at large.
Ghost of a Tale is a stealth action RPG where combat takes a distant back seat to sneaking through the levels, collecting and using objects and fulfilling quests from NPCs. While the game is relatively linear, some of the quests involve a fair amount of backtracking, and not everything is well explained. Prepare for quite a bit of trial and error and some frustration. There is a bit of puzzle solving along the way, but aside from knocking out guards (for a limited time) with well-timed blows to the noggin, Tilo is not a warrior.
Tilo is, however, a beautifully animated little mouse. In fact all the animal characters are lifelike, charming and impressively rendered. Likewise, the world itself is richly textured and bursting with detail. It can be very dark for long stretches of gameplay, but Ghost of a Tale's use of light and reflection are masterful from the first frame to closing credits.
Developer Lionel Gallat might be a polymath, but any game developed by a small team has at least minor deficiencies of one sort or another. In the case of Ghost of a Tale, those faults come in the form of level/quest design, gameplay mechanics and stealth, which can be pretty unforgiving. I died a lot, and the game could really benefit from a save anywhere system.
Despite these minor complaints, Ghost of a Tale is such a unique and captivating looking game that it deserves your attention for its aesthetics alone. Graphics don't make a game, of course, and happily, Ghost of a Tale has enough story and RPG gameplay to keep you entertained throughout. It's quite an achievement for a small team, and a reminder that not every indie game needs to be a blob of pixels in search of a retro niche.