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Game Info:

The Ballad Singer
Developed by: Curtel Games
Published by: Curtel Games
Released: February 15, 2019
Available on: macOS, Windows
Genre: Visual Novel
Number of players: 1
Price: $22.99

Thank you, Curtel Games, for sending us a copy of the game for review!

The definition of a ballad is that of a light, simple song, usually romantic by nature. Originating in France around 1350, the definition has loosely changed over the years to the point where many people regard “ballad” to be synonymous with “song,” or sometimes even a longer song that tells a story (which actually is an epic).

I suppose for this offering from Curtel Games, “The Epic Singer” just doesn't have the same ring to it, so they named it “The Ballad Singer,” instead. Ironic, because the stories in this narrative adventure are quite lengthy, and there is very little singing that takes place.

In “The Ballad Singer,” the player reads through the story (which also is, for the most part, fully narrated) and then has to choose how to proceed. They start with two characters to play through the prologue, then can choose one of four characters to play through the bulk of the story. These characters include an elf assassin (who has an unfortunate resemblance to “bat boy” from tabloid fame), a sylph ranger (a woodland female who looks like she's constantly crying tears of blood), a human wizard who also serves as the main villain of the story, and a middle-aged human bard who serves as the central hero of the story. One of the things that makes these stories interesting is that, if the first character dies or is removed from the central narrative in some way, the player can pick up the story from the perspective of a second character in a world influenced by the choices of the first. For example, if the player gets the assassin killed early on, the assassin won't show up in the climax of another character's story.

The game includes four difficulty levels, which indicates how many save slots the player gets, as well as how many times they can “change their fate,” or rewind the story if their character gets killed. The most difficult level provides no save slots and only one chance to change their fate – however, this is simply an illusion, because the stories never change regardless of the difficulty. If the player can remember the correct choices from start to finish, they can breeze through the maximum difficulty without a problem (which this reviewer did successfully – it is a requirement for an achievement). Once one of the stories is successfully completed, a new mode called “explorer” is unlocked, which simply gives the player an infinite supply of “rewinds.” They can only rewind whenever the character dies, though – the only way to “back up” the story to a point where a different plot can be explored is through the use of save files – or starting the game over from the beginning.

The Ballad Singer
Highlights:

Strong Points: Lengthy stories with multiple endings; good graphics
Weak Points: Forgettable music; typos and grammatical errors; easy to memorize stories for repeated plays
Moral Warnings: Blood and gore; sexual situations, including nudity and rape; magic use; language; undead 

The game provides each of the characters with stats, but they seem to be completely arbitrary. There are no random components to the game. Combat is resolved simply by choosing the right maneuver (or, in some cases, by choosing the correct answer to a riddle), and it will always be the right move. As a result, by the time the player runs through the stories a couple times, it becomes a breeze to skip through the stories to try to get all the endings or achievements.

In my opinion, this is one of the weaker parts of the game. In order to play through all the stories, the player will have to go through the prologue several times. It would be nice if there was a way to simply bypass the prologue entirely after the first few playthroughs in order to get to the meat of the narrative. Sadly, this is not an option, meaning the player has to waste time clicking the same choices over and over again for a couple minutes. At least the cut scene announcing the duel with the dragon can also be skipped by clicking on it.

The graphics consist largely of still images, with an occasional bit of animation to provide a bit of variety, such as crackling fires or motes of light. The text can be read in a large book that dominates the left side of the screen, and the choices the player can make are along the right. There is a button that can be pressed to pull all of these to the sides so the full picture can be seen. The pictures vary in quality, from scenes that look fully painted to those which seem to be sketches, but they look pretty good and fit the flavor of the text. The background music is good, but hardly memorable. In my opinion, it is disappointing that a game with the name of “The Ballad Singer” doesn't put more emphasis on the musical aspects of the game.

The Ballad Singer
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 72%
Gameplay - 14/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 5/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 29%
Violence - 0/10
Language - 1.5/10
Sexual Content - 1/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 3.5/10

The game has a few other flaws. There are typos and grammatical errors sprinkled throughout the text, and the voice actors went ahead and read these as well without a break (which could be why they were never corrected). Some of the text never received any narration, including one instance where the reader stops when there are still several pages of text remaining. I did have the game lock up on me once – during a scene transition the narration started, but nothing loaded on the screen. Without any choices or menus to access, I had to force the program to quit. Fortunately, this only happened once, even after I took the same choices that caused the lock in the first place. Overall, while I found the story interesting, I've definitely read better. I did like how you could choose a “good” path for the elf assassin, where he turns his back on his murderous ways and tries to reform for the sake of love.

For moral concerns, there are many. The game is quite violent – several pictures show people and creatures being bloodily killed, and the text often goes into even more detail. There also is plenty of sex happening in the story – including rapes, which can be done with the villainous elf – and a few of the pictures spare little detail in the nudity or the actions the couples are performing. It certainly isn't to the level that could be found in a porn game, certainly, but it's prevalent enough, and for the “best” endings, even required. Pretty much every curse word can be found in the game, including the f-word, and the text is heavy with innuendo and sexual taunts. One of the characters that can be played is a magician and using spells is a heavy part of his story – however, the game doesn't go into detail about what he does to cast the spells, so it is of the generic fantasy-type magic. There is very little reference to the theology of the world, with the exception of one of the paths the mage can take, in which he fights elemental gods in order to achieve immortality. Finally – and this seems almost inconsequential in light of everything else – a couple undead monsters can show up during a mandatory portion of the story where some tomb robbing takes place.

The Ballad Singer has a lot going for it, but much to be desired, too. The storyline is good, but not phenomenal, and although it is tagged as a role-playing game, this couldn't be farther from the truth. There are numerous endings, though, and even achievements for those who play it on Steam (oddly enough, there are different “trophies” within the game itself, independent from the Steam achievements). Those who enjoy visual novels and don't mind the myriad of moral issues might find some enjoyment in this game, as it can take hours to find all the different endings and choices. Those who are looking for more of a musical offering, though, will be sorely disappointed.

About the Author

J. Todd Cumming

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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