The Ballad Singer is Italian developer Curtel Games’ debut release set to fully launch February 2019. It is currently still in early access, but the progress that has been shown thus far and the promise of what lies ahead have The Ballad Singer looking to be one of the most immersive visual novels to date.
The main story consists of four individual character stories that each have lasting effects on the rest of that playthrough. Every choice in the story each has its own beautiful illustration partnered with a vocal narrative creating a true story-telling experience. A player does not have to fear death, as it is a natural part of stories and if one of the characters dies then that branch of the story simply ends and any decisions made up to the point of death will persist through the remaining branches.
The concept of a visual novel is a simple one, but Curtel Games has added whole layers of complexity to the formula with The Ballad Singer. It is simultaneously a versatile storybook with hundreds of striking illustrations as well as a personal experience where each decision transforms the narration into a one of a kind fantasy adventure.
The Ballad Singer offers a deep narrative in a unique and ever-evolving story. The intricacy of beautiful illustrations and the voiced narration immediately pull players into the story. There are hundreds of unique works of art paired with dozens of hours of different adventures. The amount of variety in the ever-branching story almost seems limitless.
Each decision in the game has its own unique narration and piece of art to accompany it, making every choice good or bad worth exploring. There are over 400 individual detailed deaths, emphasizing the idea that a death is not the end of a story. It may be the end of that character, but their choices still linger as the other three characters have their stories played out.
The struggle of most visual novels is they lack a sense of urgency instilled by most other genres and The Ballad Singer is not an exception to that rule. The ability to tune to a higher difficulty does not seem to alter the challenge of the game itself. It only seems to affect the number of times a character can avoid death before their actions are permanent and their role in the current story ends. While there are numerous ways to complete the whole adventure, once the branches are discovered and the paths are memorized the game loses any real sense of challenge.
There are also some unclear elements to the design such as the character attributes. When selecting one of four characters, each has various attributes and bars displaying their unique stats such as alignment, combat strength, fame, and more. The problem with these attributes is that there is no clear indication of how or what they do if anything at all.
The Ballad Singer is a remarkable example of what visual novels are capable of. The idea of “choose your own adventure” stories have existed for decades, but in a book format, those options are limited by pages. The Ballad Singer takes the elements of what makes that genre so enticing and packages them in a digital format to optimize the experience. With over 1700 different stories and 40 different endings available no book would be able to reasonably fit this amount of content. Because the game is still in an early release it is still up in the air, but if the rest of the content is as detailed as what is currently available then Curtel Games has successfully created the most immersive storybook to date.