Back in the days before the pandemic, which sounds like it was a lot longer ago than a year and a half, I happened across a demo of Forgotten Faiths at an indie expo at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle.
It instantly got my attention, because there’s a part of my brain that’s always looking for a replacement for the old SSI Advanced Dungeons & Dragons “gold box” games from the ’80s. Forgotten Faiths isn’t a one-to-one match for them, but it’s very much in the same wheelhouse.
FF is a low-fantasy visual novel/tactical RPG set in Genassia, which is based off of the city-states of the Mediterreanean Sea. It’s primarily built in Unity by a single developer, David Snider, with art, animation, and music provided by a number of contractors.
You initially play FF as Moira, a ranger trainee, who gets into a tavern brawl one night with her friends. Her performance there is enough to convince a passerby that she and her friends are worth hiring for some more organized violence: specifically, to serve as a bodyguard against the local criminals who are hassling him.
Her success there, in turn, puts her in contact with a mysterious woman who’s got money to burn, secrets to keep, and an elaborate multi-stage plan that involves upsetting most of Genassia’s criminal underworld.
Initially, FF is a low-stakes dungeon crawler, with narrative-based choices like a visual novel. Its combat is tactical, turn-based, and takes place on a wide grid that’s four spaces tall, so positioning and movement are both significant factors. Initially, it features XCOM-esque hit rates, improvised weapons, almost no magic, and very little in the way of in-battle healing.
I found this perversely refreshing. You aren’t heavily-armored members of the nobility, Fire Emblem-style, with full plate mail and spellcasters for backup. Instead, you’re in control of several low-born brawlers smacking thugs around with clubs and gaff hooks, and at least for the first hour or so, it’s exciting to find an actual sword.
Each of your characters has at least two classes under their belt, which gradually unlock more active and passive bonuses as you level up, including new combat maneuvers. Spells are handled through “invocations,” where you can find magical items that provide casters with limited uses of various spells during a fight. Healing primarily involves potions as far as I can tell, and you can only carry one of which into a fight as one of a character’s equipped items.
The “faiths” of the title are represented by each unique character’s particular values, which are indicated on their character sheets. Characters who act in accordance to those values pick up small but relevant bonuses, while going against them can result in penalties.
This is primarily useful when you’re checking against skills, which is handled via quick card games. Moira, for example, is good at wilderness survival, so she’s usually the one who has to draw a skill check to hunt for food or avoid an ambush.
After the opening scenario, FF opens up its world and takes off the training wheels. At this point, it goes in a more ’90s direction, with a big map to explore and quests to tackle in any order.
You end up operating out of a countryside manor, where you can spend resources to upgrade its facilities and add features like stables. In the final version, I’m told, FF will feature up to 18 playable characters, which you can dispatch into the field in teams of up to 6 at a time.
Snider provided me with a playable demo of FF that took me through the opening levels, to the point where the world opens up. While it’s rough around the edges—this is a one-person indie, after all—it’s got a certain ’90s feel to it that I didn’t realize I missed. It’s difficult, relatively complex, and forces you to put a lot of thought into preparation before you dare to set foot into the field.
I described it to Snider as reminding me of something I’d have found in a yard sale around 1995—some random boxed PC game that felt like it might not have existed before that moment, with an inch-thick manual, hand-made graphics, and a learning curve like trigonometry—and I did not mean that as an insult at all. If you know, you know.
At time of writing, Forgotten Faiths is Snider’s full-time project, funded by the stock options he received as an early employee at a successful software startup, and he estimates it could be complete in a year or two. It’s planned to debut on Steam, with a publisher to be determined.