Nanotale Review

April 15, 2021
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Gaming taught me to touch type. I didn’t go into the original Counter-Strike aged 20 expecting to come out of it with a transferable skill, yet it ended up being an unexpected side effect of play. I didn’t have a mic for the first few years so my communication was done over the console which necessitated fast typing, lest I get headshot by an AWP. The idea of turning typing into gaming via a dedicated game is therefore a smart one, assuming that you can nail the actual gameplay; the arcade port of Typing of the Dead, for example, wasn’t one I played but I imagine would have been up my street. Likewise, I was intrigued by Nanotale, the second in the Typing Chronicles series following 2015’s Epistory. Does mashing together a typing tutorial with an RPG actually work? In this case, yes, if you are willing to overlook some annoyances.

So that's why my ears were burning

Rosalind is the magical protagonist who comes of age and is thrust into a quest in a rather uninspired introduction to the game’s story. You’re taught by a kindly elder, go through the motions of learning how to navigate the map, and are then left to follow a series of quests to completion. Literally everything else outside of movement — searching, interacting, combat — is done through typing. 

Glowing plants and (friendly) animals you encounter can be logged in your journal by typing related words. Similarly, conversations with NPCs require you to type the words of the topics you want to discuss with them, rather than selecting a dialogue option in a traditional RPG manner. Combat involves keeping enemies at bay by quickly typing words that hover over their heads — each word reduces their health bar, just as yours will get damaged if they get close enough.

Word length and complexity varies along with creature health levels

What I wasn’t expecting was the level of environmental interaction at play. While it’s not quite at Divinity: Original Sin levels of depth, there is still a decent amount of fun to be had. Some plants drench the ground, growing brambles which you can hide in. Others explode in a burst of flame, setting fire to those same brambles and removing anything they touch — such as pesky branches blocking your way — from the field. Effects can cause damage to both you and your enemies, so there’s a level of strategy in hiding and picking off critters as they get in range, or typing the appropriate word to set off a juicy damaging plant if they get close enough.

There are a lot of skills available for you to unlock

The words you need to type to defeat enemies vary in length and complexity, so even a seasoned typist will occasionally pause when an uncommon (and uncommonly long) word pops up. Furthermore, certain special words can be used before the main attacking word, which enhance both your powers and the amount of damage you inflict as you progress. For instance, typing “RAY” and “LARGE” before a word will — yes — send a powerful beam in the direction of the enemy you’re targeting. The problem is that this ignoring these combos is often a far easier and quicker method of progressing than using clever word combinations. Less confident typists will likely prefer a steadier and more thoughtful approach. For me, I was more interested in moving on and trying to learn more about the world.

Even though the main storyline isn’t particularly thrilling, there’s a significant amount of worldbuilding in discovering more about the flora and fauna you encounter. Each new entry for a plant or animal adds to the overall lore around it. Secondary quests are available for you to attempt as you explore the map, although navigation can be a bit confusing. Certain paths are blocked off for you until you activate lodestones or switches, but the map doesn’t detail these in most cases. The world isn’t massive so this isn’t a huge bugbear, but it’s a niggle added to several others — including a choppy framerate, dodgy animations which sometimes see you float across the screen, an unreliable dash button, and surprisingly long load times for a game that doesn’t feel overly detailed in the graphics department. Conversely, the voice acting is decent for a game of this type. Nanotale is not looking to be The Witcher 3, but at least it knows that. 

Ah, the classic act of shaming an enemy to death

does look and sound pretty, but it’s the kind of pretty that would have looked the part around ten years ago. In 2021 it looks a little like a game out of its time. Yet, it’s balanced out by RPG mechanics, such as a varied and interesting set of upgradable skills and talents, that have no place being so good in what is essentially a typing simulator. The gameplay is more engaging than the presentation, then, and with a bit more polish and some bug fixes, it might be a good eight hours’ worth of game (or lesson) for players who want to learn to tap out words at speed. Whether I’m the target audience for this kind of game or not is another matter. For a seasoned typist the challenge might not hold up, but for newbies to this very niche genre it’s a far more engaging touch typing lesson than slamming opponents on an FPS. 

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If you’re looking to improve your typing and can forgive some minor grievances, Nanotale wraps up your keyboard in a light, but often engaging RPG.
Rob Kershaw

I've been gaming since the days of the Amstrad. Huge RPG fan. Planescape: Torment tops my list, but if a game tells a good story, I'm interested. Absolutely not a fanboy of any specific console or PC - the proof is in the gaming pudding. Also, I like cake.