A Game With Tons of Personality But Needed More Time In The Oven
It wasn’t until the pandemic that I hooked up my old Nintendo 64 and finally played Paper Mario. I had never understood what made it so special to others. I never got the hype around the engaging combat, the humor, the art and style; it all blew past me. There were other games like it and sequels galore, but nothing could quite explain what made it special until I experienced the delight for myself. Now seeing games like Sea of Stars and Bug Fables, I get the same sense of reverence for that series. Similarly, Born of Bread by WildArts Studios shows a level of love and care that can only come from fans of the Paper Mario series, but they’ve also attempted to add their own unique spin. Does Born of Bread stray too far from the formula, or does it achieve the high bar Nintendo and Intelligent Systems set back in 2000?
As is the format in many classic RPGs, our hero starts from humble beginnings–the humblest of beginnings, a loaf of bread. Loaf is a flour golem that over the course of a roughly 15-hour adventure, faces off against enemies from another time to save the kingdom. Throughout the journey, you are acquiring a quirky cast of misfits to join your cause, from a lost raccoon, to a child detective; it’s easy to fall in love with each and every one of them. That’s something that Born of Bread has in spades: personality. Every character, from the single line NPCs to major villains, feel like fully fleshed out individual personalities.
Unfortunately after that, the dough fails to rise anywhere near its lineage. Combat is a classic turn-based RPG style, with action commands to do extra damage, like hitting a button at a specific spot on a gauge, hitting a proper button sequence or holding a crosshair in the middle of a target. All are simple enough, but it's the defensive timing that really has issues. You can hit the A button at point of impact to negate some of the incoming damage from enemies, but it never felt comfortable to find the sweet spot nor did it feel impactful. Even with repeated encounters with the same enemies, I couldn’t quite get the timing right. I even found an equippable boon (perk items) that would display when to hit the button, and this only exemplified to me how unpredictable the timing windows are.
The combat gets more complex in how new attacks are added to your arsenal. Loaf gets his attacks from using weapons found on your adventures. These weapons are slotted into your backpack in a Tetris or Resident Evil 4-like fashion, and the backpack can be upgraded when you level up. The other members of your team each have their own skill trees that are leveled up by finding hidden collectable lizards. What’s confusing is that there are tiers of abilities, but it’s not explained how to unlock the next tier. You really only learn through trial and error. There’s also multiple elemental types of damages, but I never really used this system too in depth, if at all, and I had zero issues with progressing through battles.
I think this example of the basic systems of combat is what makes Born of Bread feel overcomplicated. The two separate combat attack mechanics are only the start of what there is to explain. In addition to your standard HP, some attacks take WP, but special attacks take RP, which get boosted a few points per level at your choice. Food items can replenish HP, WP, or RP, but also certain characters have specific tastes, so different types of food may provide them with bonus replenishment? There’s a viewership mechanic, where your fights are live streamed so the crowd may shout commands for you to do, for a WP bonus reward. There are boons to equip that once equipped can give buffs like more WP, or the ability to see each enemy’s health remaining. Some are more helpful than others, but sometimes it feels like some of these things should just be built into the game instead of taking up a boon slot. There are also collectable cards and color palettes that allow you to change character colors or menu icons in combat. As well, each character has special abilities that work in the world to create new pathways so you can swap to different party members for their traversal abilities.
All of the mechanics taken in at once feel overwhelming, and what makes it more damning is the fact that it’s all mostly superfluous. Making combat actions both weapon-based with an inventory system AND skill tree-based on scavenger hunting seems like they had two good ideas and couldn’t pick one, so they chose both. Having a boon perk system for added buffs is fine, but why include basic gameplay functions like displaying enemy type, health, or the timing window behind this feature? (Couldn’t these be options in the pause menu?) Collectable cards and color palettes are completely unnecessary and don’t have their functions explained at all, so I had to find out how to make those changes largely by accident. I love RPG systems but this seems like a lot thrown in just for the sake of having more. None of it felt impactful and I largely ignored these elements unless they became mandatory.
While the character personalities are fantastic, there is a “try hard” level of comedy within the dialogue that doesn’t feel natural. Every conversation comes with at least two puns and a joke; every other character has to break the fourth wall. One example is that the cast of The Office (of Steve Carell fame) appear in the game as characters, spouting classic catch phrases from the show. Some jokes hit, but when a game can’t let the jokes breathe and instead overload the audience, it can come off as desperate. There’s diminishing returns on the humor in this one.
By the end of my time with Born of Bread, I was left largely unimpressed. The overcomplicated systems, poor attempts at comedy, lengthy load times and handful of crashes left a disappointing impression on a largely competent story. I liked the characters and world plenty, but they couldn’t fully carry the weight of the bloat contained in the rest of the game. I enjoyed Born of Bread despite how much its flaws became more glaring the more I played, and I think that’s the most incriminating and interesting thing about it. The story kept me hooked and the charm of the world made me want to see it through to the end even though my issues with it never got any better. There’s something special here, buried amongst a lot of redundancy. Dial back some of the mechanics and forced humor–trim the fat (or crusts)–and this would be a definite recommendation. As it stands now, though, maybe wait for a Thousand-Year Door-inspired sequel.