The year 2009 was a big year in gaming. It saw the likes of Batman: Arkham Asylum, Mirror’s Edge, Braid, infamous, Trine, Halo: ODST, League of Legends, and Dragon Age: Origins. Even if you were really plugged into most video game news outlets, chances are that you never heard about the free downloadable title Exit Fate.

Exit Fate is a turn-based RPG that made was released back in 2009 by a single man who goes by the pseudonym “SCF”. The sheer size of the game and the amount of polish that it shows are very impressive for having been developed entirely by one person using RPG Maker. There are some slip ups, like the occasional spelling error in the text dialogue, but in a 40+ hour game the minor errors are forgivable.

Since Exit Fate was made with the almost archaic RPG Maker software, the game comes across as an old school RPG that plays similarly to the Suikoden series. Throughout the game you acquire a large number of party members that you can mix and match for use in battle. You can recruit up to seventy five of them if you complete the various side quests. That’s right; SCF even included side quests including secret party members and boss battles.

Combat revolves around the typical attack, defend, magic, and use item options found in many other turn-based RPGs. From a hub area you can select up to six party members and place them strategically in a 3x3 square, which can effect what sorts of spells they can be hit with. Enemies are also similarly placed on an opposing 3x3 square. Exit Fate mixes things up when it comes to magic, treating each spell as an item that refreshes every battle. For example, if you have three “Waterfall” spells, you can cast it three times every battle. There are shops in different towns where you can purchase magic, so you don’t have to rely on finding it in the wild. Weapons are neither bought nor sold. Instead at each armory you come across, in addition to selling armor, the smith will be of a certain skill level and can upgrade a weapon’s strength, accuracy, and critical hit chance. Whenever you encounter an enemy, before going into the battle there is a period of about three or four seconds until the battle actually starts. In that time it is possible to bribe the monster with money to avoid the battle or interrupt the impending battle by leaving the area or interacting with an object or NPC.

These are all well and good, but an RPG with a story that falls flat is no good at all. Have no fears on that account when it comes to Exit Fate. While at first I thought it was going to go the route of standard RPG fantasy story (i.e. young man with ideals and humble beginnings champions over incompetent underlings and becomes a great champion over evil because it is his destiny… or whatever), it turned out that the story had some very surprising twists and turns that I did not see coming with a nice build up of mystery surrounding certain events that unfold early in the game.

The basic plot involves a man named Daniel who is a colonel in the service of the Kirkgardian Empire. Kirkgard has plans to invade a disputed island between themselves and the territory of the Zelmony Federation, a collection of states banded together against Kirkgard. Daniel is at heart a pacifist who wishes to end the war between the two nations that has long plagued both sides. He swears that after Kirkgard takes back the island he is going to use whatever pull he has in the army to try and stop the war. However once on the island… AND THAT IS ALL THE STORY YOU GET. I found the plot very involving and I actually have come to care about many of the characters. There are interesting points of the plot that could serve to promote interesting debate about topics as varied as “just war,” “destiny vs free will,” “epistemology,” and much more. It is very rare that you would find a game of such large scope this interesting and thought provoking FOR FREE.

Hand in hand with the plot goes the writing. There is a lot of written dialogue in this game. Like I said earlier, there are some occasional typos, but they are forgivable due to the scope of the game and because SCF is based in the Netherlands. Barring that minor issue, there are some genuinely touching, freaky, and hilarious scenes over the course of a play through of Exit Fate. Two of my favorite characters are a pair of Kirkgardian commandos who are incredibly incompetent and have a sort of Abbot and Costello thing going on. They recur periodically throughout the game and have some lines of dialogue that made me laugh quite a bit.

It should be mentioned that most, if not all of the music in Exit Fate comes from other games. This might be a large part of why the game is free (to avoid copyright infringement). I did not find that this detracted from my experience as the music was used appropriately to increase the effectiveness of whatever was occurring in the game at the time.

One of the most common gripes about old school RPGs is the lack of save points. Exit Fate has easily the most save points of any classic style RPG that I have played. They are spaced throughout dungeons, in every town and village and you will even be prompted to save before and after important battles. The only time I encountered trouble was because of my own stupidity, saving over my farthest file right before a major battle that I discovered was impossible for me to win because I was not nearly strong enough. Keep multiple save slots and you should avoid this issue easily.

Another problem many RPGs have is grinding to be able to take on particularly hard boss battles. Provided you fight most of the monsters you encounter, there should be few problems fighting the bosses of the areas through which you travel. There are a few areas where I found myself wandering around to fight monsters, but they were few and far between and usually just to get money for another weapon upgrade (they make a world of difference).

Not all of the battles in Exit Fate are turn-based melees on a 3x3 square. Exit Fate mixes up the action with having Fire Emblem-esque turn-based tactical battles. Before each of these segments you can assign different party members to different regiments, giving each more men (i.e. hit points) and possibly special abilities like a chance to dodge incoming attacks or increased effectiveness against infantry units. You can differentiate your regiments of soldiers into infantry, cavalry, scouts, and mages. Infantry are good at defending and attacking but not very mobile. Cavalry is more mobile, but gets no bonuses to attack or defense. Scouts are also more mobile and can attack from two spaces away, but are weak defending themselves. Mages cannot defend themselves, but can attack up to three spaces away with devastating force.

The Bottom Line: Exit Fate is good… Really good. If you like retro RPGs like Final Fantasy IV and Suikoden you are going to love Exit Fate. Again, this game is worth a look from a technical standpoint if only for the fact that it was made by one guy using RPG Maker.

You can download Exit Fate here from SCF’s website as well as view his other projects.