Role playing games are generally inspired by other media. For many players who fell in love with worlds of fantasy, these inspirations include everything from Lord of the Rings to Conan The Barbarian and dozens of fantasy novel series since. Japanese console role playing games like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger have also influenced generations of gamers. While there have been dozens of games out there emulating the former influences there have been relatively few that allow players to make characters wearing giant pixelated wizard hats. Fabula Ultima, from Italian designer Emanuele Galletto wants to evoke that feeling of fast battles ending in epic emotional cutscenes. Is the game worthy of its name? Let’s play to find out.
Fabula Ultima features characters built from fifteen classes inspired by Ryuutama. It reminded me a little of Star Wars Saga Edition where every character dips into multiple classes to fit their concept. Multiclassing is fairly quick and easy because of this assumption and flipping through the classes and the evocative artwork makes it easy to come up with characters that pull from different classes. Roulette assassin firing guns loaded with random bullets? Build a Sharpshooter and Entropist. A brooding knight encased in ice? Make an Arcanist and Darkblade. Don’t worry if fifteen classes seems overwhelming; the game included 20 classic CRPG archetypes for folks who want to jump in and play.
The mechanics feature ranked dice attributes rolled in pairs. Attacks target a character’s HP while special effects from classes like spells and skills often use MP. This red mana/blue mana split is one of the many places where Fabula Ultima hits the feeling of playing a video game. Initiative is a group check that determines which side goes first with alternating actions throughout the rounds. After the battle, players play a small inventory minigame generating potions to restore health and energy. I enjoyed how wandering merchants work in the game: you can spend money to restore these slots with in the field but if you make it home and rest they automatically get restored.
The game’s templating reminded me of an RPG that’s often been accused of being too much like a video game: Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. Everyone’s powers are laid out clearly and cleanly on either side, often with options to spend more MP to beef up an ability or hit multiple targets. Many class abilities can be taken multiple times which makes the levels feel like maybe they could be compressed. But that’s also how I feel about some of the source material, too.
Characters in these games are often hailed for their emotional attachment to each other and the rules emulate this with Bonds. The Bonds come in three paired positive and negative sets. For messy drama, characters can have both positive and negative bonds with the same person. Your character might like Sir Ashigan as more than friends but they might also feel they are the superior blademaster. Depending on the circumstance, the bond that comes into play during a roll can prove interesting.
Fabula points can be spent to use those bonds in rolls. They function like plot candy for the most part but one of the most interesting things about them is how players can earn them. If a character is reduced to 0 HP they must choose if they Surrender or Sacrifice. If they Surrender, they get taken out of the scene, gain 2 Fabula points and accept a consequence, such as changing a party of their identity or gaining a negative bond with another player character. The only way for a player character to die is through Sacrifice. Here, the character gets their final moment in the spotlight, perhaps gets to give a teary eyed speech and ensures that a step is taken towards the heroes’ final goal. I get to make one of those speeches instead of scrolling through page after page of one! It’s a fantastic element of genre emulation.
Of course, what would be the point of having these heroes without big villains to battle? Villains get their own Ultima points that give them many of the same powers as the good guys. My favorite bit is that as long as a villain has one Ultima point remaining when they hit 0 HP they live again to battle another day. The game also encourages villains to have some sort of connection to the heroes they fight. You’re never just battling bad guys in these sorts of games. It’s always a lover, a mentor or a relative with a personal connection.
Fabula Ultima encourages tables to build their own world using a guide of several pillars which might also be called tropes. Worlds can exist without these tropes but the players should all discuss the differences they want to see in their world. Players are also encouraged to create factions and historical events to shape their worlds before play. The game seems easy to adapt to a pre-existing CRPG, but I think would could also be fun to play a game of something like Channel A, pick the best title and then make a world based on that.
There’s a lot of good stuff packed into the core book but that’s not everything I liked about Fabula Ultima. Their Press Start quickstart intrigued me enough to check out the full game. Galletto’s Patreon also has a vibrant community where they are working out new rules to add to the game, such as ones that simulate limit breaks. I enjoy RPGs that have a solid central rules system that also offers options and Fabula Ultima does this very well.
Fabula Ultima packs in a lot of great genre emulation and game advice into a small beautiful package.
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