Nanotale: my type of game

I’ve always enjoyed typing games. There’s something quite relaxing about completing a mission armed only with your keyboard, whether it’s shooting at zombies in The House of the Dead: Overkill or being Master QWERTY’s apprentice in Keyboard Sports.

During a week off work a few years back, I spent most of my time unsurprisingly playing video games and the one I had the most fun with was Epistory – Typing Chronicles. You play as the muse to a writer who’s lacking creativity and so your adventure starts on a blank page; but as you gather inspiration, solve mysteries and defeat enemies by typing the words shown onscreen, the world opens in an origami fashion and becomes filled with both life and danger.

I was therefore pleased when I heard developer Fishing Cactus was working on another project and that I’d have a chance to get my hands on a demo of Nanotale – Typing Chronicles at the EGX Rezzed event in 2019. It felt quite similar to Epistory but a lot of thought seemed to have been put into how to evolve the mechanics since the previous title. Thanks to the offer of a review key from the Plan of Attack team, I’ve finally been able to play it in full this month.

The story centres on novice Archivist Rosalind on her 18th birthday. She’s now old enough to explore the Ancestral Forest so, armed with the field notebook gifted to her by teacher Lavender, she sets off to discover rare plants and creatures. But when Dissonant Magic is lingering in the air and she’s attacked by slinking creatures after finding a Spirit Fox lying hurt in a clearing, she must set out on a journey to fix the corruption that’s filling broken hearts in her home and beyond.

Anyone who’s ever played a typing game will be familiar with the gameplay: words appear onscreen and you must enter them on your keyboard to strike enemies, pick up health and talk to non-player characters (NPCs). Nanotale builds on its predecessor’s formula by adding a few RPG elements however. New spells learnt as you progress can be used to build up bigger attacks: for example, combining ‘large’ with ‘fire’ will throw a fiery ball at your chosen target.

As seems to happen naturally with RPGs, you find your preferred spell and tend to stick with it for the majority of your playthrough, but the puzzles dotted throughout the three biomes encourage you to mix things up a bit. You can create bridges made from thick vines if you shoot your lightning spell at sand with ‘zap’ for example, but how do you do this if the ground is formed of rock? It was surprising to see a couple of new abilities introduced so late in my progress that I didn’t even use them, not even with the final boss.

Nanotale, Typing Chronicles, video game, boss battle, typing

Speaking of bosses, you face several during Nanotale and they come in the form of a large antagonist who must be defeated by taking down waves of smaller enemies in a particular way. Although these events don’t feel as frantic as those in Epistory, they’re still rather tough and there’s always a risk of hurting Rosalind through your actions. Don’t do what I did on several occasions: it’s never a good idea to use a fire spell when you’re hiding in tall grasses. Who knew they were so flammable?

It’s a matter of staying calm, being as accurate as possible with your typing, strategically choosing which creatures to attack first and picking the right spell for the environment. There are some stressful moments when you’re trapped in an arena with a wave of enemies slowly crawling towards you but at no point did I feel overwhelmed enough to stop. It’s a pleasant level of stress and there’s a great sense of achievement after you’ve made it out of a battle alive.

It’s not all about fighting though. Rosalind is an Archivist at heart and by entering the words shown above plants and trees throughout the environments, you can add them to her catalogue and find out more about them once she has enough information. There are several Steam achievements to be gained from collecting but sadly, I found that some of them didn’t trigger during my playthrough. The developer seems to be working on these issues though as fixes have been mentioned in the Steam discussions.

For anyone who’s reading this post and feeling their typing skills would stop them from playing such a game: don’t worry, as several accessibility options can be changed to suit your needs. Adaptive difficulty means Nanotale gradually changes to match your level and you can also set a time-break to help you escape from difficult battles, opt for health regeneration and use the OpenDislexic font for more readable text. For those who are interested, you can check the typing speed recorded in the menu too.

Nanotale, Typing Chronicles, video game, spirit fox, typing, desert

Unfortunately, I did encounter a few bugs; at times I became stuck on the edge of ledges, friendly creatures approached me but then wouldn’t move so I became blocked me between rocks, and at one point I was unable to leave attack mode. These problems became more apparent during the last half of the final biome and I had to respawn every 30-minutes or so to progress. At least the last checkpoints were never too far away and so I never had to go back to repeat actions already completed.

Nanotale’s map feels far bigger than Epistory, although my playtime of 14-hours was only three more than for the previous game. The lack of a fast-travel option didn’t bother me at all because the environments are so pretty and the transitions between the different atmosphere in each biome – the Ancestral Forest, Sunken Caves and Blue Desert – is lovely. The only small niggle I had was the lack of a quest marker onscreen as having to keep leaving the game to check my direction on the map broke my immersion a little.

The final negative is that some of the smaller areas just don’t feel completely finished. There’s a section to the right in the desert that isn’t filled with anything other than rocks and seems to be missing both NPCs and enemies. And a bridge to a new location is marked on the map in the forest but when you arrive there, there’s no switch to activate and you can’t cross it. The fact that there’s plenty of content to see in other places unfortunately makes these omissions more obvious.

But did I enjoy Nanotale? Definitely. It’s very easy to escape into as the typing gameplay and lack of more action-y elements usually found in RPGs make it a relaxing change from many other games in the genre, yet it’s still challenging in all the right places. The environments and soundtrack are both gorgeous too to top it all off. It’s a great follow-up to Epistory and you can see how much Fishing Cactus have learnt from their experience of creating the previous title.

I’d recommend playing Nanotale – Typing Chronicles if you’re a fan of typing games because it’s a lot of fun; I finished it over four sessions and each one went on for longer than I intended because lost track of time after being sucked into its world. It’s just good to be aware of the bugs you might encounter during the final third of the game or be patient enough to wait for them to be resolved. The developer does seem to be actively working on fixing these and is keeping everyone updated via Steam discussions.

I hope the Fishing Cactus team go on to create more instalments in the Typing Chronicles series. Until we hear more news, I’ll be working on increasing my typing speed.

EGX Rezzed 2019: Nanotale

A couple of years ago, I took a week off work and ended up spending it playing video games. The one I remember most fondly was Epistory – Typing Chronicles, an adventure game with a twist. Everything from movement to menus to action is controlled through the keyboard.

I’d really enjoyed the title and so was excited when I heard the news that developer Fishing Cactus was working on its next project, Nanotale – Typing Chronicles. And when I found out that it was due to be on display at this year’s EGX Rezzed it was added it to my schedule and made the first stop of the event. Several other attendees had done the same and the stand was full by the time I got there, but after fifteen minutes or so I managed to get my hands on the keyboard and give the game a go.

A recent press release explains that Nanotale tells the story of a world on the brink of destruction as the heart of magic siphons its last hits. Archivists have studied the mysteries of the planet since time immemorial while holding their vow of neutrality, and players step into the role of novice Rosalind. She sets out to the magical valley to collect plant and rock samples and catalogue any strange occurrences in an attempt to unravel the secrets surrounding the demise of the world.

The demo I had the chance to play started with a simple tutorial to ease players in gently. The WASD or arrow keys can be used to control the protagonist’s movement and standing next to a sparkling plant causes Rosalind to document it in her journal, a way of gaining experience points. Every now and again a page of the book pops up on screen to tell you more about what you’ve found and it’s necessary to type a highlighted word in correctly to advance the text.

After a few minutes the demo advanced to a later stage in the game so attendees could get a feel for what Nanotale’s full mechanics are going to be like. Pressing the spacebar causes words to appear above various plants in the environment and entering these results in Rosalind throwing a spell at them. Do so at a blue bulb and water will appear from the ground, causing foliage to grow; while aiming for a red bulb brings forth fire and burns it all down again.

Not everything is peaceful however and enemies can be found lurking in the forest. Fighting these involves first typing a word for a spell such as ‘push’; and then inputting the word that appears over the creatures’ head so the spell is thrown at them. Certain foes take more than one hit to defeat though and you can face a number of them in one go, particularly where you have a hold an area for a certain amount of time, so it’s a matter of trying to stay calm, being as accurate as possible with your typing and strategically picking which enemies to aim for.

EGX Rezzed, video games, Nantotales - Typing Chronicles

This magic isn’t only used for combat: entering ‘hot’ changes your spell to a bolt of fire while ‘ice’ turns it incredibly cold. The former is useful when you need to transform any thick brambles in your path into ash or melt walls of frozen water, while the latter comes into play when you need to form bridges over rivers. You also have the option of typing in additional words including ‘ray’ and ‘large’ which have the effect of changing the shape of your magic, and these were used quite nicely to solve certain puzzles.

Fortunately the developer had taken the decision to not allow the protagonist to die in the demo so even when my health bar drained, Rosalind persevered. It’s incredibly hard to focus on playing a typing game while the noise of an expo is going on around you so I was very thankful for this! I therefore didn’t find out how to regain health but refilling mana was simple enough; you could either find crystals dotted around the environment to fill it up in one go, or enter words above certain objects to do so incrementally.

Nanotale gave me the same feeling as Epistory but it’s clear the developer has put a lot of thought into how to evolve the mechanics since their previous entry in the Typing Chronicles series. The experience feels fuller thanks to the inclusion of some of the new RPG elements described above, and I’m looking forward to seeing how these will be used throughout the complete game when it’s released in Q3 later this year. The project looks absolutely gorgeous too – check out the alpha gameplay teaser video above.

While you’re waiting, you can add the title to your Steam wishlist and follow Fishing Cactus on Twitter to stay up-to-date on their progress. If you liked Epistory or enjoy playing typing games, Nanotale is definitely one to keep an eye out for.