Whispers in the Moss Review

Whispers in the Moss Key art showing a strange pixelated shoreline with a purple textbox over it and three people to the right side

Limitations can make a game, and Whispers in the Moss is living proof of that. It’s not necessarily the prettiest game going, in fact, some of the faces on display can be downright shocking. In spite of the unique graphical look, this 12-year-in-the-making love letter to old-school RPGs is the brainchild of a lone individual and clearly owes a lot to early micro-computers, as well as early Square-Enix.

If you enjoy this review, consider checking out our Another Crab’s Treasure review for a dose of a more modern-style game.

What Is Whispers in the Moss?

Whispers in the moss screenshot showing a bunch of characters in a small window made of brightly colored pixels with dithering and a similarly constructed face to the right
Now that is a face that only a mother could love.

 

Whispers In the Moss is an old-school RPG developed by Uncultured Games, a single-developer studio hailing from Finland. The game plays entirely using text mode, essentially using various different text characters to generate all of the game’s graphics rather than using sprites. Not only that, but the developer programmed the entire thing in QB64, a modern interpretation of a traditional BASIC programming language. If any of that flew over your head, then don’t panic, we’re talking about things that haven’t been common in the game industry in well over 30 years at this point.

If it’s not already clear, the developer has a lot of love for retro gaming. This entire game feels like it could have easily been produced for classic BASIC computers like the Commodore 64 or ZX Spectrum. It’s somewhat strange to see this game exclusively seeing release on modern hardware, with it slotting in quite neatly to the incredibly active micro-computer home development scene. Alas, modern hardware is what we’re sticking with, and it’s nice to know that some people will stick with the classics in terms of graphics rendering techniques.

 

What’s Going On?

Whispers in the moss screenshot showing a huge soldier made of large pixels facing off against three smaller figures with combat data all around the smaller image
Someone has never heard the phrase “Pick on someone your own size”

 

In terms of a storyline, it doesn’t get much more typical for a classic RPG. You are an intrepid group of heroes who are sent on an epic adventure by your local village elder. Along the way, you’ll discover that your local threats are a bit more global, and you will be drafted into a quest to save the world from a tyrannical king and some nebulous force backing him.

Sure, the plot lays it on a little thick, but that’s sort of what you should be expecting. This game and its story are steeped in nearly 4 decades of history, tropes, and cliches, and you can tell. The writing has its tongue so far in its cheek, it’s a wonder that the game doesn’t choke on it.

There are plenty of jokes pointing fun at some of the tropey plot points, and there are plenty of laughs and references throughout, and you can tell that the game is intimately familiar with the genre it is a part of. It all adds up to an experience that you’ll enjoy as long as you’re an old-school RPG fan, and you haven’t been destroyed by cynicism.

That said, it may be a little alienating to some people. You’ll need to at least have a favorite Final Fantasy game, or you’ll probably not enjoy it. On that note: Let’s talk about RETRO!

 

Retro in All the Ways

Whispers in the Moss screenshot showing a pixel art character appearing to fish with some vague information about bait and fish caught surrounding the smaller window
Token side mini-game = Check.

 

For better or for worse, Whispers in the Moss is a retro-style game. Not only are the graphics unusual and striking, but there is also plenty of jank to be found peeking around every corner. Admittedly, aforementioned jank isn’t on full display, with various minor quality-of-life changes made for modern pallets.

One great example of a change for the better is the inclusion of a simple set of controls you can read by pressing ‘C’ on your keyboard. This almost completely removes the need for a manual, which can make older-style games a bit tougher on younger or fresher audiences. There’s also a surprisingly small amount of grinding unless you intentionally run past every single fight going. You also have a counter for all the chests in an area, so you can collect them all without a walkthrough.

On the other hand, there still is plenty of weird stuff going on. Whenever you die, the game just closes the entire program rather than heading back to the main menu. You also have an issue that the program doesn’t register all keystrokes exactly, often resulting in accidentally trying to flee from fights you were eager to finish properly.

 

So, What’s New?

whispers in the moss screenshot showing some characters fighting a giant spider with a hilarious swear word being shouted by one of the characters from a giant speech bubble
Hearing the random insults Berin hurls made it much more enjoyable to fight this spider 300 times.

 

There are a few interesting mechanics thrown into Whispers in the Moss that help it to stand out, beyond the insane graphics. Firstly, rather than just having you horde gold to buy your weapons/armor/spells, you also have to collect various animal parts and ingredients to produce non-consumable items. It’s a good system for encouraging the player to explore to try and find all of the different enemy types and chests.

Another unique mechanic is EXP stacking. Whenever you complete a side-quest, the game grants a certain amount of EXP, but it stays “stacked” on your status screen until you next win a fight. If the system seems a little arbitrary…that’s because it sort of is. It very much feels like the developer just didn’t want to have to program in the ability to level up outside of combat, but it honestly doesn’t affect the gameplay that much, so it’s not worth worrying about.

One moment in particular I wanted to point out as interesting is a boss fight against a local gang. After making your way to the third settlement, a fox will tell you to deal with a local gang before you can carry on your journey. After fighting your way to the boss, the game presents a choice: Give the boss all of your cash or fight him.

It’s not the sort of choice that is typical of an old-school RPG, and it makes for an interesting choice. If you’re like me, then you’ll arrive with a tidy sum in your inventory from fighting your way across the desert and out of several caves you fell into. This is genuinely a tough call to make, or at least it would be if the slightly cheap boss fight afterward didn’t almost guarantee a death, meaning you can just spend your cash before heading into the fight and give him 5p.

 

Visuals & Audio

whispers in the moss screenshot showing a cutscene of a hot air balloon flying through a blue sky over bright green grass below
If you think you’re safe from cutscenes due to the ASCII graphics, then you’re in for a shock.

 

I almost feel like there’s not much to say about the visuals that I’ve not already said. They give Whispers in the Moss an interesting look, but they also come with their limitations. Various times I’d be exploring a location and would fail to discover a particular exit or entrance that was necessary to continue the game.

Luckily, once you explore everything, you get used to the game’s visual style. With the aforementioned problem gone, the visuals are mostly just a novel change to contemporary graphics in their various kinds. Say what you want for ASCII graphics; they’ve not been overplayed. Yet.

In terms of music, the composition isn’t exactly going to be topping playlists, but the tracks all have a certain nostalgic quality to them that makes them all enjoyable. The strong melodies will blast you back to the days you sat in front of your tiny TV, listening to the sound chip of your MegaDrive or 8-bit Micro squeezing out stellar compositions within severe limitations. You may find yourself humming them, I know I did.

That said, making the “it’s your turn now” noise basically the same as the Facebook Messenger ‘ding’ noise was either a stroke of genius or madness, but it certainly necessitated turning off the sound during combat.

 

In Conclusion

whispers in the moss screenshot showing a blue haired character giving a speech while staring out over a dark red sky and sea
While this speech is being given by Tom from Tots TV, it’s still a pretty epic moment.

 

Whispers in the Moss is a genuine joy to play for a retro enthusiast with a penchant for old-school RPGs. It is both steeping in gaming history and modern enough to be enjoyable without taking a 12-week correspondence course first. The graphics, while terrifying at times, give the game a unique edge, and the good use of tropes and comedic writing make hanging out with the characters a lot of fun. Now, someone just needs to make it work on my C64 and we’ll be in business.

Developer: Uncultured Games

Publisher: Uncultured Games

Platforms: PC

Release Date: 31st May 2024

Gaming Respawn received Whispers in the Moss from the Developer to complete this review.

 

 

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