As much as I adore rogue-likes and the feeling of meta-progression that often comes with mastering maps, combat and enemy types I do think one of the weakest aspects of the genre is the integration of any meaningful narrative. Most rogue-likes tend to provide only the barest of stories in the hopes that players won’t query how their character keeps being resurrected only to charge into the fray once more. That’s okay, I honestly don’t mind that; I play rogue-likes for dense, synergistic mechanics and skill progression rather than searching the lore for titbits on my favourite characters.
Yet with the market recently so flooded with rogue-likes of every conceivable genre and setting, Children of Morta does what few have tried to do in setting themselves apart from the crowd. The combat is great, the character progression satisfying yet what’s truly unique about the whole game is how I love in love with the Bergson Family and their quest to rid their world of evil.
I want to talk about what Children of Morta does so exceptionally right than describing exactly what the game is so in the interest of not getting bogged down in tiresome summaries: You know how a rogue-like RPG works. You have a selection of different characters, each with unique playstyles, that you take through procedurally generated levels all the while gaining randomised upgrades and tools that make you grow in power and change your run. At the end of the dungeon, there’s a difficult boss to overcome and if you fail at any point throughout the run, you’ll be kicked back to the beginning with nothing but your knowledge of what to expect next time you venture forth. For the most part, Children of Morta doesn’t really rewrite the playbook for rogue-likes, but it does make some unique changes that make the game feel so much better to play- and they really speak to the game’s theme.
Children of Morta is about strength through your family. The Bergson’s start off the game fractured and afraid of their responsibilities as the heroes to purge the corruption from Mount Morta. They’re a family that physically lives together but they’re very much isolated from one another. John and his wife, Mary, are focused on their soon-to-arrive new-born, leading to their older children Kevin and Lucy feeling neglected and distant from their parents while their older brother Mark left long ago to “find” himself; having left the family duties to protect Mount Morta, his decision is frowned upon and is thought of as abandoning the Bergsons. In the older generations, Uncle Ben (no Parker relation) is stuck in a pit of his own self-loathing as his previous drinking habits drove his wife from him, an incident he remains bitter about towards this day.
They’re a family of fallen heroes and champions that have never been given a chance and yet must put their woes aside when some form of evil corruption takes over the mountain they’re sworn to protect. Reluctantly, the family rises to the occasion and ventures into the caverns to do what must be done. Children of Morta wears its theme on its sleeve, incorporating the fractured family becoming whole again through the game’s mechanics.
As characters slay monsters and venture deeper into the game’s dungeons they level-up specific skills; once a certain amount of points have been spent, the next passive bonus they acquire becomes available to the entire family. As one grows stronger so too the rest become inspired by their efforts. As a unit, as a family, the success of one is a success for everyone.
What makes these instances of character and power growth so effective is just how much care went into designing each of the playable Bergson’s. Their mechanics tell a story of their personality; even without a narrator detailing the events of the family in a beautifully melancholic tone, you can tell who fills what archetypical role in the family. John, the father, is slow to move but quick to defend with his shield, while over-eager, confident and occasionally brash Kevin throws himself headfirst into combat to build his frenzy meter. Each of the Bergsons doesn’t just serve as minor mechanical changes to one another but fundamentally different playstyles altogether. With the aforementioned levelling system incorporating each member into the growth of one another, it never feels like you’re being punished for misunderstanding how a character plays; I’ve logged over a dozen hours hardly using Lucy and her stationary-fireballs yet if I had to jump into one of the late-game dungeons with her, she’d still be able to hold her own because of the support she’s been provided.
And I think that’s what really sold me on Children of Morta: It’s a game made with heart. The developers didn’t need to provide adorable and often incredibly sad vignettes about each of the characters after each run, but they did. I grow closer to the family as I saw John and Mary dancing next to the fireplace in their downtime. I began to route for Kevin to prove himself as he spent hours practising his fighting form in his room.
I started to sympathise with Ben as he stood on the balcony of their house, waiting for a messenger pigeon that he knew would never come. There’s a beautiful development of character as the game progresses for the individuals of the game as well as the family as a unit. By the end of it, not only was I satisfied with the mechanic growth of the characters, I had to smile as the family that had started off so despondent towards one another found themselves once again. It’s a strange thing to describe a rogue-like as emotionally wise.
Yet that’s really the best way I could describe Children of Morta.
Last Updated: September 2, 2019