As I ventured out into Sable’s vast, colorful world for the first time and Japanese Breakfast’s exhilarating song “Glider” kicked in, I got the same nervous feeling of anticipation I got at the end of high school.
Suddenly, childhood is over, and real life is one hugely intimidating blank slate. Some of us went to college, others took a gap year and explored the world, and others went right to work. Still, we all had that moment just before we became adults.
Sable is a vibrant but tranquil coming-of-age journey that simulates this existential moment of our lives. With visuals inspired by the French artist Moebius, atmospheric soundtrack by Japanese Breakfast, and Breath of the Wild-inspired game design, Sable is the kind of game world you can easily get lost in (in a very good way).
There’s no combat and no fail state — just stress-free vibes that let you relive the final moments of childhood.
You control the titular Sable, a young girl that must partake in a rite of passage for anyone entering adulthood called “The Gliding.”It involves venturing around the world on a glider (think of it as your customizable floating motorcycle) to discover who they want to be.
You’re encouraged to help anyone you meet along the way, and many of them will reward you with badges. If you get three badges of the same type, you get a mask for that occupation. You can collect as many of these as you want before returning to your home village and choosing just one.
Getting badges encompasses a wide variety of tasks. One moment, you’re a detective tracking down the criminal who shut down a city’s power supply, and the next, you are collecting beetle dung for a camp chieftain. There are narrative-focused, puzzle-focused, and platforming-focused badges, so you can pursue whatever seems interesting.
Badges and masks serve as evident (and in some cases wearable) signifiers of what you’ve accomplished. The whole premise is a not-so-subtle metaphor for early adulthood. While Sable deals with some heavy themes, it’s rarely stressful thanks to its stunning presentation.
Sable’s distinct art style is inspired by the likes of the artist Moebius and Studio Ghibli films. The cel-shaded graphics with bold linework give Sable a warm and vibrant aesthetic. You see the lines form and slowly gain color in the distance as you ride across the vast landscape on your glider, creating a visually stunning instance that takes advantage of a draw distance limitation.
It’s the perfect visual design for a game as vast as Sable. However, it doesn’t always look as good indoors when the camera oddly positions itself too close to the characters or at an awkward angle. Some animations can also look janky if Sable or her glider gets stuck, though these moments are few and far between.
Japanese Breakfast’s music also plays a large part in achieving the game’s serene feeling. It’s often minimalist and atmospheric, but bold songs like “Glider” and “Better the Mask” incorporate vocals and bolster the game’s most emotionally significant moments.
Even if you don’t play the game, listen to the soundtrack on Spotify.
If you know what mask you want and how to get it, it’s possible to beat Sable in just a couple of hours. That said, the self-discovery journey is what you make of it. If you want to find every collectible or take the time to explore every nook and cranny, the game could easily entertain you for much longer.
Sound familiar? While the narrative is very different, Sable evokes The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in world design. But the game is far more than a cheap rip-off. It understands Breath of the Wild on a much deeper level than most other games inspired by Nintendo’s Zelda magnum opus.
In a 2016 interview with IGN, Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto and Bill Trinen described Breath of the Wild as an “open-air” game instead of “open-world.”
“I look at a lot of open-world games and the world is a setting for the story the developers want to tell in that space,” Trinen explained. “I look at [Breath of the Wild] and I see a world that is fully integrated into the exploration and the adventure. It’s not just a world that you’re passing through. It’s sort of a world that you’re a part of.”
Sable follows those same design tenets to make the player part of the world they are exploring. Whether you are getting acquainted with some townsfolk or making the trek up a large rock formation to meet a cartographer, you’ll feel connected to it all as you scout the landscape and complete tasks.
In Breath of the Wild and Sable, every individual playthrough can feel different. In a coming-of-age game about deciding what you want the rest of your life to be like, that sense of ownership is essential.
Many games stop their Breath of the Wild inspiration at including a stamina meter and paraglider. Sable does have its versions of those things, but it understands that world design should function in concert with the moment-to-moment gameplay to reinforce core themes.
Open world games often boil down to glorified to-do lists. Sable bucks that trend and embraces Nintendo’s “open-air” concept to meet the player on their level. The story can be as expansive or as focused as the player wants it to be. Distinct visuals will charm you, but the beautiful soundtrack and clever gameplay structure will keep you invested.
Sable lacks the same level of polish as Breath of the Wild or other AAA open-world titles. But as an indie game made by a small team, Sable is an unforgettable adventure that can elicit a deeply personal connection to the player.
Inverse played Sable on Xbox Series X. It is also available now for PC and Xbox One.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: When it comes to video games, Inverse values a few qualities that other sites may not. For instance, we care about hours over money. Many new AAA games have similar costs, which is why we value the experience of playing more than price comparisons. We don’t value grinding and fetch quests as much as games that make the most out of every level. We also care about the in-game narrative more than most. If the world of a video game is rich enough to foster sociological theories about its government and character backstories, it’s a game we won’t be able to stop thinking about, no matter its price or popularity. We won’t punch down. We won’t evaluate an indie game in the same way we will evaluate a AAA game that’s produced by a team of thousands. We review games based on what’s available in our consoles at the time. And finally, we have very little tolerance for junk science. (Magic is always OK.)
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