Hidden Gem: A Story Beside
I love keeping up with indie projects during their long developmental journey, so I often become attached to games I can’t play yet. But with so many awesome works-in-progress to follow, I have to admit that I’ve accumulated a pile of forgotten ones, leaving them sitting in my library or wishlist. My forgetfulness comes with a perk though: once I decide to look through my backlog (months or years later), the games are finally finished, and I inevitably uncover some magnificent hidden gems among them.
In fact, that is exactly how I rediscovered A Story Beside, a narrative-driven fantasy game created by solo developer Wayward Prophet. The first few available chapters enchanted me back in 2019 when it was playable in Early Access, but its full release in May 2022 flew under my radar. Restarting my playthrough years later was like meeting an old friend for a warm cup of coffee on a calm rainy day; the charming characters, quiet town, and lovely piano music were still there just as I remembered. I’m happy I found this heartwarming hidden gem again because now I get to introduce it to you.
A Story Beside is, well, story-heavy! You begin as young Lyric, the daughter of humble innkeepers. You are able to decide who Lyric falls in love with, what her personality is like, and what she does when hard choices arise. As you progress, you’ll experience her life over many decades, as the game has seven chapters, with each one containing a time jump of seven years. All the while, an older Lyric narrates cut scenes reflectively, giving you a peek at where your decisions will lead, whilst also reminding you that there are parts of the tale you can’t change.
The story takes place in Pyreside, a peaceful mountainside town that has everything a rag-tag team of adventurers would need — an apothecary shop for elixirs, a blacksmith for weapon repairs, farm stalls with fresh-grown produce, and a cosy family inn called The Sleepy Dragon. We quickly learn the life of a hero doesn’t charm Lyric. In her heart, she is meant to be an innkeeper, and grand quests beyond Pyreside don’t call to her. She also finds adventurers to be arrogant, self-absorbed, and they leave as swiftly as they come — though that won’t stop her from providing them with a place to rest and a hot meal. In her narration (which is beautifully voice-acted), Lyric will often remind you that her story is different — one of cherished friendships, bittersweet memories, great love, and long-felt loss. So it’s not surprising that Lyric chooses to stay in her village following the night an evil shadow descended upon a Pyreside festival. Years after the tragedy, Lyric copes with her grief by holding tighter to what she knows as opposed to others who head off into danger, seeking the tonic of revenge.
A Story Beside’s aesthetics are full of vibrant colours, romantic sunsets, and cosy homes. A cheerful piano tune adds an extra touch of whimsy to the already dreamy atmosphere. You’ll explore the same areas multiple times, but it rarely gets boring as there is something new to find in each chapter, such as a lost cat or hidden love letters. Most of the gameplay involves talking with characters at different stages in their life, growing closer or apart, depending on your choices. Naturally, things aren’t always cheerful in Pyreside. Things often turned bittersweet as I stumbled upon subtle changes that made me pause: the addition of a gravestone, an abandoned building, and a door opening to an empty room. The passage of time never goes unnoticed, and it’s hard to forget that there’s still an evil shadow wreaking havoc on the world, especially when it starts affecting the local wildlife and climate.
There’s no combat in the gameplay, and it’s important to know that Lyric’s skills are limited to finding/collecting useful items, hacking down overgrown weeds, and running away. So you’ll have to depend on your familiarity with the surrounding areas to escape when shadow beings appear. The moments when danger rears its head are usually short-lived though, and it doesn’t take long for wholesome conversations, soothing music, or cute animals to appear again.
Honestly, it took me a few chapters to accept that Lyric wouldn’t be the traditional hero, but post-playthrough, it’s what I appreciate most about the experience. A Story Beside moves the hero’s journey we’ve come to expect from most RPGs and places it in the background; the “ordinary” stories — ones we’d likely associate with NPCs — draw into focus. I don’t blame you if it sounds mundane; I think this game reclaims the word as a compliment. You’re able to witness a firmly rooted tree stand the test of time, play a soothing melody near a crackling fire, and build meaningful relationships, determining who is by your side when your days grow to a close. A Story Beside sends you searching for joy in the smallest moments, and it’s an experience that will stay with you after the end. If this sounds like your type of game, I hope you give it a try!