Celestian Tales: Realms Beyond is a role-playing game made by Indonesian developer Ekuator Games. As the second game in the Celestian Tales series after Celestian Tales: Old North and its prequel DLC, Howl of The Ravager, Realms Beyond storyline takes place 9 years after the Old North.

Realms Beyond is a direct sequel and a continuation of the storyline in Old North and Howl of The Ravager. Playing and finishing Old North, or at least complete knowledge about its major plotline is advised, while Howl of The Ravager is supplementary. For those who want to play Realms Beyond straightaway, please be aware that this review contains minor spoilers of the Old North.

The game follows the story of the 6 main characters from Old North: Aria Geraldine, the pious estranged daughter of the Grand Inquisitor; Lucienne Leroux, the loyal and honorable niece of the realms greatest hero; Isaac Goldenlake aka Reed, a commoner posing as a noble as a way out of poverty; Reynard de la Foret, the strong, kind-hearted warrior; Camille Ryne, the smart and fully cognizant tactician of the group;  and the ever-playful Ylianne, a half-elf, half-human lady trying to cope with the realities of human nature. 

At the end of Old North, the 6 squires are knighted in the event now dubbed as the “Stained Knighting”, due to the tragedy that took place during the said event. The six are appointed as the “Companions”, the protectors of soon to be born Lady Alana, the heir of House Levant, the ruling house of the realm. 

9 years later, the six have become the caretakers of the realm, assisting Lady Alana and House Levant. During the “Day of Sorrow” ceremony, the truth about what transpired at the “Stained Knighting” and the true lineage of Lady Alana is revealed, ending House Levant’s rule over the realm and strips the Companions of their noble status, making them commoners branded as traitors of the realm. Now banished without status and a young lady to protect, the six friends must fight to survive and restore their honor, even if that means leaving the realm. 

The main theme of the Celestian Tales series is rather serious and grim in nature, making it suitable for more mature audiences. The games will often test your moral compass, with every choice making a real impact on the game world and altering the story and fate of its characters. As a direct sequel to Old North, the choices you made in the prequel will also have an impact on some details in Realms Beyond. At the start of the game, you will be given an option to insert your choices or simulate your choices using a default setting. The story itself is quite gripping, at times it will keep you playing out of curiosity for what will happen next. 

Just like Old North, Realms Beyond features a multi-perspective storyline. In Old North, you can choose to follow each of the six characters’ background stories, effectively creating six points of view that you can experience. In Realms Beyond, however, since the characters’ stories are already entwined, there is only one main storyline with slightly different story branches. You can choose which way within the dialogues to go at some major plot points in the story. Choosing one means not playing and seeing the events in the other unless you start another playthrough or reload the game and choose a different branch. 

The world of Realms Beyond is beautifully hand-drawn and aesthetically very pleasing. It gives you that nostalgic feeling of watching a children’s fantasy book come to life. It has to be said though that the character animations feel very generic and out of place compared to its surrounding. The realm is also brimming with towns full of NPCs. To top it all off, the developer composed beautiful songs and music to enhance that otherworldly experience.

Compared to Old North, the layout of the towns has changed; inns are now added where you can access Crafting, one of the game’s new features. You can use crafting to create some key story items and prepare meals to temporarily boost your stats. Maps are also added to pinpoint your location, which is especially handy when you visit a city for the first time. Curiously, the lore and logbook menu, as well as the achievement feature from the first game are missing. 

Realms Beyond features a classic turn-based battle system where you and the enemy take turns before performing an action. Your main, fighting party consists of a maximum of 3 characters. Whenever you have more than 3 characters in your party, the rest will be the reserve and you can switch between the fighting and reserve characters. Doing so will skip your turn. You can see the order of action and can plan ahead before deciding what to do. Status effects can be stacked to maximize impact and can be used to cancel turns. If your character faints, it can be revived but will have a wounded status effect, reducing its maximum health points. 

Since Arcane Magic is forbidden and considered as blasphemy in the Realm, support magic is stored inside crystal items that can be accessed through the item menu.  As a replacement for magic, the characters use Skills. Active skills are skills that can be used during battles. Passive skills can be equipped to boost your character stats and give you an advantage during battles. You have a maximum of 8 skill slots, of which some skills may occupy more than 1 slot. Using active skills requires stamina points (SP), that can be gained when attacking (gain 1 SP) or defending (gain 2 SP). This simple system creates balance and promotes strategizing, especially on a harder difficulty setting.

While the background art on the battle screen matches the quality of the overworld, the visual effects for skills are sorely lacking.  The battle sound effects are also very dull and uninspiring, especially when the characters and enemies land hits on each other. While this may seem nit-picky, considering the overall high quality of the sounds and music of the game, it really sticks out like a sore thumb.

Where the game, and the series as a whole, really shines is the worldbuilding. The developer has done a terrific job in creating a beautiful fantasy world with rich narrative and lore, complete with its own sets of strict laws and norms, conflicting religions and beliefs, and races with their own customs and languages. While one may be tempted to draw a comparison with Final Fantasy and Suikoden series, Celestian Tales’ narratives and the character-driven story reminds me most of The Legend of Heroes series. I certainly would not mind if the developer takes a leaf out of The Legend of Heroes series book and creates multiple sub-series in the same universe. This is a world I would love to revisit time and time again.

What really makes Celestial Tales stand out among other RPGs though, are the six main characters. If you played Old North, you will be pleased to see how this group of fictional characters has grown over their ideals and matured over the years. The characters are very relatable and very human, far from the idealistic, clichéd heroes imbued by the “Power of Friendship” tropes common among JRPGs. When confronted with conflicts and troubles, their reaction towards what unravels around them is very realistic and consistent with their individual personalities. This in turn gave weight to your choices, as characters will always re

These great characters, however, is also why I am not particularly fond of how the multi-perspective storytelling aspects of the game are being handled. Often the characters must split up into groups of characters and you have to choose which group that you want to play, thus missing the other group’s events and story arc. The off-screen character development may also ruin the nuance of later scenes, as we might not fully understand the change in the motive of some characters as they develop. 

My other gripes with the game actually aren’t about the game itself, but how it was advertised as a standalone game. This game is a part of a series with so much potential and I clearly cannot recommend playing the game without playing Old North beforehand. Playing both games back to back clearly improves the experience in both games, with Old North giving weight to plenty of Realms Beyond’s major plot points and vice-versa giving closures to some of Old North loose ends. The ending though feels a little bit rushed and made me wonder whether they are planning to release another game. The publisher really should consider bundling all the games together in the future, especially when they release the final part of the series.

All in all, Celestian Tales: Realms Beyond successfully delivered as a sequel and is a must-play for everyone that finished the Old North. For anyone unfamiliar with the Celestian Tales series, Realms Beyond can be confusing but is a good game for those into RPGs and fantasy stories. With its direct pacing and streamlined narratives, the 8-10 hours playthrough will give you a lot of stories to unpack and think about, and cannot help but wanting for more.

Celestian Tales: Realms Beyond is available for PC on Steam and GoG. This review is based on a copy purchased by Virtual SEA.

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