You know how there are those games that immediately stand out, but don't quite live up to expectations?
That's the problem I have with Stone Story RPG, the autoplaying RPG where all the graphics are entirely in ASCII. It went into early access on Steam last week for $23, but the current version already has the entirety of the main story arc, which runs for about eight hours.
You start as a hero on a rocky wasteland, lit by moonlight, only for your ASCII hero to wander along and discover a plateau. After gathering enough stones to build a shelter door, the game directs you to a canyon where you start gathering sticks.
Piece by piece, Stone Story starts to unfold. Your character moves from pegging rocks and mosquitoes and rogue trees, gathering enough stone and wood to make a little workstation where you can begin crafting shovels and swords. Eventually, your character gets enough material to journey across seas, caves and waterfalls, encountering bigger enemies, magical foes, bosses that include angry trees, a pissed off skeleton and an ASCII version of Shelob.
The whole shtick with Stone Story comes undone when you realise that, for a large part, it's really just an idle RPG. After a couple of hours you can equip a crafting belt that lets you tab between loadouts with the press of a button, but once you've sent your character on their way, they take care of all the battling.
So apart from occasionally swapping weapons in and out, your job is really just to craft items and send your hero on their way. You'll also die quite a lot and tread over areas a fair bit, particularly in the early game while you're collecting the resources you need to upgrade simple items.
As much as I wanted to love Stone Story RPG, I also found myself growing disinterested with the game as it progressed. The art style is incredible, no doubt, and exploring new areas for the first few times and seeing a brand new boss come out is a great moment. The MIDI-esque soundtrack works well too, particularly during boss fights.
But for a game that's halfway between an idle-clicker and a light RPG, Stone Story doesn't really have the right balance. There's even a scripting system that you can play around with to automate things, if that's the experience you want.
So perhaps the best way to avoid disappointment is to fully know what you're in for. There's also plenty of time to smooth out the progression and those early hours as Stone Story works through early access. You can see half an hour of gameplay in the video above, and there's more info on the official Steam page.