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Faeland isn’t the first Metroidvania to use pixel graphics and a fantasy setting, but there’s no denying that it has that attractive retro art style that calls to mind classics like Zelda II and Faxanadu. There is a beauty and charm to the environments that almost invites that lackadaisical wandering and getting lost that doesn’t usually feel that satisfying in adventure games. While the combat and action parts can feel a little slow, I got the sense that this was deliberate: using patience and decision-making to win the day rather than jamming buttons and expert timing.
The PAX West 2019 demo starts with a basic character select screen that allows for hairstyle, hair color, and skin color. My understanding is that this will be a little more fleshed out in the full release. As you do, your character begins his journey asleep in bed, waking up to find a dagger, a bow, and a suit of clothes in various storage places. All of these must be equipped before they can be used. After leaving the house, you speak to Gus who gives you your first quest: finding a missing scout, and so you follow a patrol to the East in pursuit of the scout. Heading to the right one screen takes you out of the small town and into a field where you begin to encounter enemies.
The first enemy I fought was an evil-looking mushroom, which you can dispatch by crouching and swiping at it with your dagger. Enemies can drop coins and health restoring items that enter your inventory and can be used at will, given they are equipped to your character. As I explored further, I found treasure chests with useful items and then fell into a dark cave with some trickier combat situations. There are backflip and roll abilities you can use when fighting to evade enemy attacks and position yourself behind them. The movement and action felt pretty solid throughout the demo. All the while, the art and animation of Faeland continue to impress, and the simplicity of the gameplay seems to heighten the enjoyment, at least early on.
After taking out a few smaller spiders that hang from the ceiling and drop down—giving me flashbacks to similar foes from the forests of Zelda II—I encountered a giant spider boss fight. Again, being methodical was a much more valuable strategy than simply trying to slash away or fire volleys of arrows at the creature. I had to wait out or backflip away from the boss’ web shots in order to have an opportunity to get a hit in. The boss would also generate random groups of smaller spiders that I had to dodge or eliminate. A stock of health items helped me survive long enough to whittle down its health, but I fell just before landing the decisive blow. It’s clear that there is also a good level of challenge to be found in this vibrant fantasy world.
While some may find the pace of play a little too leisurely, I welcome an experience that encourages players to slow down a bit and take in the sights. My time with Faeland was brief, but its visual style was one of the most striking things I saw at PAX West, and I’m excited to see and hear more about it. I’m a sucker for pixel art and nostalgia, and Faeland reminds me of oft-remembered times in my youth when exploring and finding new places in games was the highlight of every weekend. It was part of a successful Kickstarter campaign and is also attached to the Square Enix Collective. Players can lose themselves in the world of Faeland when it comes to Switch next summer.