Children of Morta had been in development for years before I wrote my first article on the game back in July of 2018. The excitement level had already grown and many Indie game fans couldn’t wait to meet the Bergson family. This wouldn’t be a hit title with over the top graphics and Mo-Cap facial animations that make you feel like you’re talking directly to the person. No, this is pixel art at its finest. Described as a dungeon crawler and focused on family lore with an intriguing story, Children of Morta was set to take center stage. Could this story about a family of protectors live up to the hype though?
Meet The Family
In the beginning you meet the majority of the family but as the game goes along you will be introduced to more of them. John the father is the focal point at the start along with Linda one of the children. When the corruption becomes a problem for not only the family but the surrounding areas the Grandma attempts to find out why on her own. When her questions fall on deaf ears she turns to John who must leave his pregnant wife Mary and venture out to learn more about the corruption. This is where the game takes off and you start to learn about the combat and the skills of our family members.
In all you will unlock six different members of the family to play with. John, Linda, Joey, Lucy, Kevin, and Mark. Each family member has their own set of skills and their own way of doing combat. For instance John is a sword and shield up close fighter while Linda is an archer that stays at a distance. More on the combat later. What makes these characters special is the obvious bond they have with each other. They are a family of protectors and nothing is more evident of that when they jump in at moments during combat to help out. The love John has for his wife Mary and the worry she has for her children is an emotion the game tapped into perfectly. It’s hard to imagine a pixel game such as this one pulling on your heart strings but it does happen.
As the story progresses finding out more about the characters and their place in the family is worth discovering multiple times. Take Uncle Ben and the relationship he has with Kevin. Ben is the blacksmith of the family and he makes Kevin a set of knives to fight with alongside the family. Unfortunately the mother isn’t fond of her young son joining the ranks of fighter just yet. Uncle Ben is clearly saddened by the decision as he sees something in Kevin. After a brief period of time the mother and father come around and let Kevin begin his training. The thing that stood out in the excitement that Kevin had was not only for himself but for his Uncle as well. These types of touching moments of family bonding are all throughout the game and it gives it an incredible amount of heart.
Give Me All The Skills
The combat and skills of each player is well thought out and suited perfectly for each member of the family. As previously stated John uses his sword in close range combat but he can also call upon his Heaven’s Strike a powerful barrage of swords sent from up above. Each skill such as this one has a cool down timer and they can all be upgraded by leveling up the character. Once a character fills the experience bar you will get a nice display that you have gained a new experience point. You can spend the point on skills that will ultimately level up your character. What is awesome about leveling up is that reaching levels 4, 8, 14, and 20 gives the entire family a bonus. This goes for every character and their skill set furthering the bond of the family.
I was able to level John all the way to 20 and got close with others by the completion of the game but you would need to grind heavily to max out all six members. What makes it even more difficult to focus on one character is that the game does not allow you to play with one single character all the time. For instance if you play as Lucy for multiple runs through the dungeon she will gain corruption and you will need to switch family members. This is the only way to lose the corruption. It is basically using fatigue in order to force you to experience gameplay with other members. I found it to be a genius aspect of the game as I wouldn’t have focused on different types of combat that I would need later in the game. Early on hacking away with John is fine but there will be times where a more ranged member is needed.
As if you needed even more ways to help your character you can use Uncle Ben’s workshop to gain other advantages. In the workshop you can use Morv which is the shiny little pieces you pick up in the dungeons. You can use it to increase your armor, attack damage, critical hit chance etc. There is no reason to horde the Morv as you will gain it quickly as the game progresses. Want to gain experience points and Morv quicker? Well head on over to the Book of Rea where the Grandma resides and you can spend some of your hard earned Morv there as well. Unlocking the skills and finding a balance between character uses is vital. You want the family members strong and powerful but you also want to be familiar with their skillset and how best to use them in combat situations. Joey is powerful with his huge hammer but he is also slow and takes timing to use. Whereas Linda is quick and more evasive. Learning this and when to use them will be a big part of your runs through the dungeons.
Speaking of Dungeons
Where do I begin? No seriously can someone help me? First off a magical thing about Children of Morta is how the dungeons work. If you fall in one you don’t actually die. Nope. What happens instead is that you are teleported back to the family home with all the experience points and Morv you collected in the dungeon. So basically you can do a dungeon run as many times as you would like. Wait a minute…but doesn’t that make it easier to complete said dungeon? You wish it did. Each one is constructed of levels and you have to find your way through while fighting hordes of corrupted monsters.
If you fall before completing it then you must start over from the beginning. Oh, did I mention that each run is different? That is correct. While the dungeon doesn’t change in appearance itself everything else will be different and in new locations. During your travels you will pick up items such as runes, divine relics, charms and Obelisks (They do not carry over to the next run). These give you buffs, bonuses, special effects etc. Some ways to find them will be rooms that have panels on the floor that you will need to touch in the correct order to receive a gift or just touch one panel that is the correct one and receive a gift. Now if it tells you to touch the one panel you only get one shot at getting it right and if you get it wrong not only do you not receive anything, the panel could cause damage or it might conjure a horde of monsters. Simple enough.
When there are four panels on the floor you will need to touch them in the correct order. Get it wrong and each time it will conjure a horde of monsters. This is pretty much trial by error and sometimes you will get lucky and sometimes you will not. Figuring it out though will give a divine relic that could provide a temporary shield around you or create a temporary aura that damages nearby enemies. There are tons of other types of divine relics to find as well, good luck. Runes are sort of the same as they can give you advantages of other family members when you are using one of your special skills. For instance use Mark’s scourging whip could also bring forth John’s heaven’s strike. Obelisks are a little different. These are more like buffs for your family member. They are spread out in the dungeons and when you see them there is no mistaking them. These are vital to find as they can stack and make your run a lot smoother if you are lucky.
Luck is one part of the game as well. You will need this when finding the perfect set of runes or charms. Being able to activate a charm with a well-timed rune can be the difference in a battle with the horde. Some charms will be powerful such as the gain constant health regeneration charm. Find that one and you are well on your way to completing the dungeon. It’s not all about the specials and buffs though. Down in the depths you will find moments that will touch your heart or even break it. You will find chambers with waves of enemies that if defeated will give you things such as a merchant that will sell you items. You will even find a game of Pong that if you win will give you great rewards. Most of all you will come across all different kinds of monsters and hideous creatures that want to stop your progress.
Finding the merchant is a must as he will be in every dungeon once you have freed him. You will need to find gemstones in order to purchase anything from him. What makes this difficult is there are chests of sorts that you can open but you will need one gemstone to open it. These usually give you a good amount of Morv and other items as well. Knowing how many you have and when to use them is very important. Of course this wouldn’t be considered a worthy dungeon crawler if there wasn’t boss battles. The boss battles are incredibly well done and worth all the time you spend trying to find them. If you fall to a boss though be prepared to start all over! That is what keeps you on edge. Fighting through a dungeon for twenty plus minutes only to fall at the very end can at times feel crushing. However, with each run you collect more Morv and gain more experience until finally you become the boss. Well…not exactly but you know what I mean. There are plenty of dungeons and plenty of boss fights so don’t rush. Take your time, learn your characters and gather that Morv. I have to say each dungeon looks fantastic and while they don’t change drastically over time it’s still something I enjoyed with each new run.
Combat and a Little Bit of Story
The combat in Children of Morta is pretty much decided on how you attack. You already know that you can’t use the same family member at all times. You will need to adjust your gameplay. This forces you to not only learn how to fight up close but from a distance as well. When I first started the game I was under the impression that I would be using more of the up close members. This was not the case. Not only did I become good with using John and Joey, I also found out I was really good with Linda and Lucy. While Linda can move and shoot until she gets tired, Lucy needs to stand still in order to launch her fireballs. The combat works great with each character and you honestly learn their strengths and weaknesses fairly quick. The best part is they are not limited to just one attack as well. You are given multiple ways to dispatch of the enemy. Simple attacks usually focus on one or two at a time but each member has special attacks that will damage numerous enemies. For instance John has the heaven’s strike but he also has a shield smash that will damage and stun enemies in range. Linda has something similar with her arrow barrage and a stun circle. Once I unlock Lucy I switched out between her and Linda quite often. Using distance comes in handy when facing some of the stronger enemies and coupled with precise attacks can be very lethal.
The combat coincides with the story as our protectors must fight to further the progress. Even in defeat Children of Morta gives you some kind of story to pace the game. It can be something as simple as the children playing games or one of them honing their skills. The meat of the story is surrounded around the corruption and the family. They must work together to figure out why the corruption is taking over the land and how to stop it. This might seem pretty straight forward but I promise it is not. There are plenty of tidbits that will keep you glued to your screen. Whether it be rescuing some people in the dungeon from a horde or searching for medicine to cure a sick family member the story is there to entertain you. You will find as you defeat each dungeon and each boss that the more secrets you unlock, the harder it is to put this game down.
Watching the struggles of certain family members and their emotions is enough to draw you in emotionally. You can feel their pain or understand their sense of urgency. It’s difficult to try and walk the line of what I can say and what I shouldn’t say about the story. When you take a step back and not only enjoy the ride but also the detail to this game it’s amazing. The house is beautiful with each room and its use like the library where you can look up history of what you have discovered in the game such as items found, the Bergsons, lore and the Grandfather’s journals. Uncle Ben’s workshop where you upgrade and even Grandma’s lab where you have the book of Rea. It is all worth a look at and gorgeous. You can also pan around the house and see the scenery outside in splendid detail. Honestly the thought and vision behind this game is impeccable. I did dabble a little in the co-op but felt that the difficulty raised a little too much for our likening. I mean I like a good challenge and the game certainly isn’t a walk in the park but sometimes going it alone is the better option. With that said, co-op worked fine and was actually fun making runs together as a team.
With each passing dungeon I knew I was getting closer to finding out what was behind the corruption. I also knew that meant the game was drawing to a close. This was a harsh reality as I thoroughly enjoyed every second of the game. The family members and their role to play is felt on almost every level of the game. The attention to detail with skillsets and the attacks is worth playing the game just for that alone. The controls during combat are responsive and work well. The game keeps a fluid motion even when there are hordes of enemies on the screen. You couple it with an amazing story and beautiful pixel artwork it’s hard to deny this game could find itself in the conversation for Indie game of the year. If there were any nitpicking it would be in the slow loading times and a few crashes I experienced. The dungeons did at times appear to not change much for stretches but overall they present too much fun to care. Children of Morta is a stellar dungeon crawler with a family that is worth fighting with and a storyline to take it over the top. The range of emotions the game will cause you to have is just one reason this is a must own.
Rating: 9.5 out 10 (Amazing)
A review copy was provided for the PS4