The opening scenes of the 1977 Disney animated film, The Rescuers, is delightful. Foreign dignitaries arrive at the U.N. building in New York to go about their international business and then tiny mice begin to sneak out of the dignitaries’ briefcases and purses and make their way to a mouse-sized U.N., full of foreign mice dignitaries called the Rescue Aid Society. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in that world of mice.
Small Saga, a new indie RPG, lets me find out. It’s a story set in the world of animals that are always underfoot, pulling inspirations from the likes of Redwall and Watership Down, as well as Final Fantasy. Exploring this world and unraveling the stories within has made Small Saga a late addition to my top games of 2023 after it released earlier this month for $19.99.
Welcome to Londo... I mean the Kingdom of Rodentia.
The opening of Small Saga is much darker than that of The Rescuers. It follows protagonist Verm as he goes on a supply run with his brother into what we recognize as a grocery store, but that the animals in Small Saga identify as part of the domain of the “gods” (humans). Events go south quickly as Verm loses a tail and Verm’s brother loses his life at the hands of a character called the “yellow god.” Thus begins a story of revenge that will sound familiar to most RPG Fans — destroy a god.
This journey takes the player and Verm throughout the Kingdom of Rodentia and its many towns. Rodentia is, in reality, London. But the player experiences it in a new way, as the mice, squirrels, moles, etc. of Small Saga live in the alleys, sewers, and parks of the city. Along the way, Verm also collects a party of loveable weirdos and allies.
Small Saga’s immense charm lies in the Kingdom of Rodentia and its citizens. The game uses RPG tropes to turn London into the fantastical world, filled with characters crafting things as little as tools and as big as entire buildings, made from everyday human items. Furthermore, one of the great joys of Small Saga comes when you first board the game’s take on the beloved airships of Final Fantasy — a pigeon. Exploring London on a pigeon as if it were a Final Fantasy game is just the epitome of childlike joy.
But this world-building of animals who repurpose human items extends to Small Saga’s core combat. This is a turn-based RPG and a pretty standard-fare one at that, but the use of human tools adds some spice to the familiar loop. “God”-tools are special weapons that allow for powerful moves. Verm has a pocket knife that he wields as if it were the buster sword, while others have items like a lighter-flamethrower, and a pencil turned into a flute.
Oh, to be a squirrel dressed like Napoleon with a vape as big as my body.
There is another element of Small Saga that makes it a refreshing and enjoyable experience. the “Small” in the title doesn’t only refer to the scale of the game’s world and its citizens, it refers to the size of the game itself. While Small Saga is inspired by grand RPGs of the past, players can finish in about 10 hours, a fraction the length of its peers. And a relief for gamers stretched thin by the many multi-dozen-hour games released this year.
Small Saga still feels epic though, offering an expansive journey that has tight pacing. It also cuts out the biggest chore of RPGs — grinding. Battles are linked to story beats, meaning everybody hits battles at the same time and you don’t need to grind to progress.
Unfortunately, the few battles the game does have can feel tedious. Not because they are hard, but because they tend to be rather easy.
Despite combat lacking some needed bite, Small Saga remains a delightful experience thanks to its clever use of RPG tropes, mixed with its fantastical world built with typically mundane human stuff. Small Saga is a smaller, but by no means lesser, RPG that still delivers the same sense of wonder as its inspirations.
Small Saga is currently available for $19.99 on PC via Steam and itch.io.
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