I want to preface this by stating that Märchen Forest is a ‘renewed’ version of a JRPG released in 2018 by the name of Märchen Forest: Mylne and the Forest Gift. It features enhanced graphics, deeper dives into the game’s story, and new combat mechanics, as well as including the later-released DLC Requiem of the Astral World, complete with English, Chinese & Korean subtitles.
I say this because Märchen Forest already has quite a major genre shift after Part I, and the inclusion of Requiem makes this more apparent and causes the experience to play like three completely different videogames and stories that have been awkwardly super-glued together. Players will find themselves going from picking carrots for their potion-making grandfather in an Animal Crossing-esque sequence that is essentially the entire first part and concluding with acts like dropping into the astral realm and fighting an undead pirate ship on your way to destroy an eldritch demigod.
There’s so much of a stark contrast between the three parts, especially the first one, that I had half a mind to split this review into multiple write-ups, but for as weird as it feels, part of Märchen Forest’s charm is it’s progressing gameplay and how it evolves with the narrative (something I spoke about in Resident Evil Village, albeit to a lesser degree), and as such is best received and discussed as a single package
Now that’s out of the way, let’s get down to the game itself. We play as Mylne, a young apothecary belonging to an unnamed anthropomorphised feline-race, living in a small hut among a forest with her grandfather and aiding him with his craft. The first part of the game encompasses this and has players wandering a small section of the forest and talking to its residents to gather information and ingredients. Those who come into Märchen Forest expecting a dungeon-crawling JRPG experience and end up in this two hour Harvest Moon section will likely get mental whiplash so hard that they may have to drag themselves to hospital, especially as basically all the mechanics that are introduced in Part I are never brought up again. Only one character you meet here is a recurring character, and the way potion-making here works differently from how it functions in the later game. Overall it makes Part I of Märchen Forest feel like it existed just to introduce us to the story of the rest of the game, and while it does do this successfully, it absolutely could have done it in a more engaging or relevant manner.
Part II is where the main bulk of the game is, as we find Mylne exploring a mysterious cavern in search of her long-lost mother. Here we meet some more characters, with the standout character being Rosetta, who acts as a sort of merchant. Here, Märchen Forest plays out almost like a roguelite, with the cavern having multiple floors and bosses for Mylne to fight through. Any items you collect in the dungeon will be ‘unidentified’ until you bring them to Rosetta by returning through the use of an escape rope, or by using elevators found at the end of each floor. Dying will remove any unidentified items in your possession, and returning to the start via an escape rope is a one-way trip, leading to some circumstances in the later floors where you need to weigh up whether you think you can push forward, or not take the risk and return back to Rosetta.
When adventuring, you have two attributes you have to worry about, HP and food. HP can be restored by returning to the starting room, drinking health potions, or using certain special moves in combat. Food can be recovered by, surprise surprise, eating food, and will otherwise slowly drain, slowly sapping your HP if you let your Food hit 0. This scarcely becomes a problem until you reach Part III, where the rate of food consumption is increased exponentially and you regret chugging all the Big Meat’s you had in Part II because you got bored.
Combat in Märchen Forest is an interesting part of gameplay that can be difficult to get to grips with initially but becomes very fun and rewarding once you get into the swing of it. Combat is semi real-time — when you encounter an enemy you’re locked into a 1v1 scenario with them vis-à-vis older Final Fantasy games, and from here you have the option to Attack, Dodge, or Block. You can choose any action at any time, with the only limit being your Agility modifier, which dictates how long you have to wait between actions before you can take another. All enemies have a variety of attacks that each require different reactions; some can only be dodged, some can’t be avoided at all and you must block to negate the damage, and others can be parried. Blocking as soon as the enemy does a basic attack (choreographed by them flashing two times before they swing) will result in a parry that will stun them, allowing you the time to unleash a devastating special attack (known as a Secret Skill). They all do an amplified amount of damage, and while you have several you can collect, you can only have two equipped at a time. Thankfully, only one special skill has a secondary function (Soul Steal, which allows you to regenerate HP equal to your base DMG stat), meaning you typically will have Soul Steal and the highest damage Secret Skill equipped without having to worry about juggling them around.
The combat can be quite unforgiving at first, especially as you have to try and figure out which attacks are unblockable or undodgeable AND get the timings right for parrying in the event that you need to do that. On top of this, a general sense of when to strike is important, as a mistimed attack will leave you unable to react at all if the enemy decides to strike as well. Throughout the game, you can unlock ‘sword arts’, which are essentially combo-moves that allow you to get in massive damage at the risk of leaving yourself exposed, which adds another layer to the risk/reward of trying to swing at an enemy, or playing it safe and going for a parry. Once you get into this rhythm however, the combat feels very satisfying and the late-game enemies/bosses will often employ forms of guaranteed damage (with undodgeable attacks or even a consistent attack that slowly trickles your health) alongside regular attacks that, as long as you can hit your parries, do a great job of making you feel powerful whilst not letting you get too big for your boots. The undodgeable attacks are also employed in Part III, which turns Märchen Forest from a cutesy JRPG to Dark Souls levels of hard, and will sometimes have you bump into enemies that have undodgeable attacks that hit you for half your health even if you block, as a way of saying ‘yeah maybe don’t come this way yet’.
The level design of Märchen Forest helps keep things interesting. On each of the three floors of the cavern, there is a different quirk regarding how you get from start to finish. Floor 1 has players finding switches to open doors at the end of each room; floor 2 has players going up and down various ladders to navigate between rooms to reach the end, and floor 3 features a series of rooms connected by portals, but each portal is accompanied by a dummy portal that will send players to the start of the floor, which actually isn't as frustrating a feature as it sounds because the layout remains consistent. What is frustrating, however, is when the procedurally generated floor 1 employs similar tactics by having a room layout that consists of just a single area, a locked door and five buttons. Except for the button that opens the door, all of these buttons are trapped and totally indistinguishable from each other, with one button that straight up sends you back to the start. The problem with that is that ‘the start’ was ‘the starting room’, which would then make the floor randomise again when you tried to re-enter. I had four consecutive runs where I was given this room and sent back to the start, and it did kill a lot of my motivation to play the game in the early stages.
On a more technical standpoint, and this is a minor gripe but one that frequently made me uncomfortable, Märchen Forest plays from an isometric top-down view, and by using the keyboard you have eight different directions you can walk Mylne in. This is fine, except I can only think of two rooms in which the orientation of the room lined up with these directional inputs, meaning I had to constantly correct my movements to keep Mylne walking down corridors without catching everything along the walls. Is it game-ruining? No, absolutely not, but it is a small issue that I found strange as to why it was designed as such when they very easily could have not had this happen.
The music of Märchen Forest is enjoyable — it’s par-for-the-course JRPG style music, but it gets the job done of setting the scene for the player. The real standout when it comes to sound design comes from the voice acting, however. Apart from being able to politely tell someone that I am an apple, I can’t speak any Japanese. Despite this, I could really feel the emotion that was put into the voice acting, especially that of Mylne and Rosetta. Many scenes towards the end of Part II manage to pull at the heartstrings a bit, in no small part thanks to the astounding job by Ayana Taketatsu, Mylne’s voice actress.
This leads me quite nicely onto my main issue with Requiem of the Astral Realm, the DLC for the original Märchen Forest: Mylne and the Forest Gift that was included in this edition as part of the base game. Requiem is a DLC that adds Part III to the game and cranks the difficulty up by 12, designed as a great challenge for the player as they navigate Mylne and Rosetta through this strange land to uncover more secrets of Rosetta’s past. The issue with this (and an issue I find with a lot of post-game DLCs in general) is that the tone of the game just falls completely flat. The ending for Märchen Forest’s base game is a very touching scene that effectively ties up all loose ends and leaves the player and the characters in a satisfying position. This is then instantly followed by a contrived sequence that puts players into the events of Part III that just leaves a bad taste in the mouth, which is a shame because Part III is otherwise a welcome addition to the game, adding new enemy types, gameplay/survival mechanics, expands on the combat with new weapons/moves and offers an interesting deeper look into Rosetta.
Overall, Märchen Forest is an engaging JRPG that tells a compelling narrative across a wide range of genres that can feel weird if you go in unprepared and unfortunately will still feel weird even if you do go in prepared. Part II is absolutely the highlight of the experience, with Part I just feeling like a different game, and Part III leaving a bad taste in the mouth due to coming in right after what was otherwise an incredibly satisfying conclusion to the story. I’m not sure where to sit with Märchen Forest even now, but if you’re just looking for a nice little JRPG experience with enjoyable dungeon-crawling and rewarding combat, you can’t really go wrong with this one.
Märchen Forest (Reviewed on Windows)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
Märchen Forest is an engaging JRPG if you go in expecting things to get weird. If you’re just looking for a nice little JRPG experience with enjoyable dungeon-crawling and rewarding combat, you can’t really go wrong with this one.