I don’t like Zelda.
I sometimes feel like I’m the only one.
Having been brought up on an Amiga 500, my first experience of the franchise was the N64’s Ocarina Of Time. While it was enjoyable to begin with, the constant dungeon crawling and repetitive gameplay left me cold. Not being the quickest fox in the chicken coop, I tried The Wind Waker. Again, it was fun, to begin with, but it felt exactly the same as Ocarina Of Time, except it was even longer and the sailing sections added years to my life.
What does this have to do with Fable? Well, it feels like the best parts of Zelda. There are cosmetic differences, obviously, but the bones of the game, the combat system, the fantasy setting, and the oversized-boss fights make it feel like a uniquely British version of the Zelda franchise. There is one thing that Lionhead got right in its version, however. They made it short enough that the player can’t get bored of the genre.
There are, of course, other things to get excited about within Fable. It has the Lionhead visual and audio style that has been evolving since Black & White. The look is dominated by oversized objects, be they feet, hands or weapons, and the sound by the cream of British voiceover actors. There is a musical theme written by Danny Elfman, but it hardly makes an appearance outside the opening cutscene and the credit sequence.
You start the game as a young boy and are thrust into the world of Fable after a brief tutorial. Your family is murdered in front of you and you’re taken into the care of the Heroes Guild. The guild is an apolitical organisation that is purely mercenary. If you have the money, no matter the cause, you can buy the services of the guild. This does raise the question as to the nature of the guild and whether or not it is really a heroic endeavour.
Even if you decide to be a saviour or a scourge, the game’s storyline leads you into conflict with the mysterious hero Jack-Of-Blades. He is seeking the Sword of Aeons for typical vllianous purposes up to and including the destruction of the world. His mistake, it seems, is to have used the players family as means to this end. Like an east-end gangster, the hero gets all tetchy when Jack decides to mess with ‘da family’.
Fable’s mechanics are an interesting failure. In particular, the passage of time flows differently for the player and every other being in the game. While the player’s age is dependent on the amount of experience he has the rest of the world is in some sort of suspended animation. Children remain children and old folk don’t die even when the player looks like a octogenarian hobo.
There seems to be no reason for some of the armour choices to exist, unless the player is a slave to fashion, as a mage can cast spells in plate mail and the light armours don’t boost your magical ability or increase your skill with the blade. Of course, aesthetically, its better if your rogue is wearing appropriate gear, but from a gameplay standpoint you end up severely hampering your ability to progress.
Despite these flaws, and the bugs that make it ridiculously easy, the game is enjoyable. The character and level designs are varied, distinct and avoid being overly familiar and repetitive. The twists in the story are easy to spot but not offensively so and this makes the game seem like an old sofa, cosy, and familiar.
So, bringing it back to Zelda, Fable is an easier, shorter, more English, quirkier and less pretentious game. Is it better? Probably not, but despite this, I like it more. It’s the little game that could.
- Three different classes that can be mixed and matched at will
- Multiple storylines based on Good/Evil choices
- If you like Zelda, you’ll probably find this offensive