An excellent short game. Great atmosphere, setting the table with the wicker-and-smiles live laugh love mindfulness and health and family cooking blog aesthetic.
(Spoiler - click to show)The game did a great job of annoying me while keeping me going, well it CAN'T JUST be that, can it? so the twist was quite satisfying. Seeing a fresh human heart as one of the ingredients pop out between the other spices was delightful. The gruesome murder scene still filled with cheerful, on-tone nudges to the reader was perfect.
The word I'd use is "versimilitude". The Varytale version that is available is sadly hobbled, with the endings unreachable. I highly recommend checking them out through the source code after a few playthroughs. The ones I could find are epilogue.scene.dry and running-away.scene.dry.
Key moments that characterize the scenes are:
(Spoiler - click to show)
Your father speaking of the pecking order of the husband, then the wife, then the children below.
The choicelessness of all the children.
A competition that for winning is as much a literal unattainability as a wished-for reverie of things just out of reach.
The family living in poverty, and also donating away any money or help other people offer.
The futility of running away where neither societal safety nets nor individuals can help you.
"It gets better," Sara says, and her expression is wry. "It gets much, much better. You just have to stick it out until you're older, and then you can choose for yourself what you want to do. Go to college, travel the world, change religions, shave your head if you want."
"It's going to be years before I'm that old!"
"I know," Sara says. "I really, really know."
That it seems like the only thing that can be done is wait.
It is a familiar misery like dust on unopened living room cabinets. I've had neither spelling bees nor Christian homeschooling nor poverty but the melancholy is the same, and the desire. The paint strokes are very fine. The image is suffocating, a blanket so soothingly familiar that you won't realize you haven't breathed until you're gone.
(Spoiler - click to show)
This game is a lot shorter than it first seems. You have a really nice intro where you solve some very basic puzzles to obtain a few items, that also shows off the tantalizing "rest of the house" and gives you two information sources about "Runecrafts" and "History" that seem to promise greater digging.
Then game follows up with a bigger challenge to find some more items, but as you go around solving them, they appear relatively uninvolved with the settings. In fact, nothing from the two information sources from earlier, or from the first two rooms, are used again. This trend continues with the later puzzles, where a cauldron and set of 4 ingredient dispensers appears, but is only used for an 2-turn put-this-in-the-pot. Each dispenser is lovingly described and three of them are just scenery, which is especially disappointing when it was sitting there with its possible alchemical mysteries earlier.
On the other hand, the teleportation wand + stone was a pretty nice combination and possibly the most complex puzzle in the game. It still felt pretty limited: there are very few things you can throw the stone on and nothing gave fun responses to it, so it was a dry lookaround for things you could throw it on. I suppose what I'm missing is the sense of magic or possibility that magical artifacts feel like they should have: they're really just macguffins to move the game along, and their only use is to solve the next simple puzzle in line, without any surprises or new ways to think about things from them. It kind of feels like the game started off bigger and got scrapped down, since you could get rid of the wand and just have the game auto-teleport you to wherever the stone is thrown and it would work the same. Same for the cauldron puzzle, actually. The bolding is also really not necessary in a game of this size (the pool of objects to look at is already really small), or the notebook (exactly what items you need to find isn't necessary, just knowing there are 4, and the game already reminds you of what spell phrases you need right before you need to use them). Stripping down unnecessary components like these would strengthen the game, I think, by not promising something larger than it gives, and allowing the focus to be simply on the items and the puzzles.
I also think this game had a bad case of game divorced from story. The protagonist's backstory and the twist at the end are both completely irrelevant to the player's actions and abilities, making it play like a simple puzzler with story painted on top. It's not really a Remedial Witchcraft as much as another Apprentice Fixing Things game. A way to ameliorate this would be to add some simple details, like making Lina have a hard time finding the right way to pronounce shyn to show how she's a bad student, or to have the cat lying around somewhere examinable and give un-cat-like responses to things to tie in with the twist a little better. It might actually help to simplify or remove things altogether- make the cat just a cat, because... said twist seems to come completely out of left field. See-
["The witch-my master-put a hex on me. She doesn't want me to talk human to her. It's active when she's in the house."
You consider this. "Why?"
"Because. She doesn't appreciate my advice." Sade tilts her head. "Bit odd, since she's the one who put a language charm on me in the first place. She wants me to be a silent familiar. Which is a bit of a waste, don't you think?"]
This seems to be setting up for some kind of relationship conflict between witch and familiar (someone keeping a very sapient silenced like you would a phone...), but instead the twist is that the cat is actually an evil giant!!! Why does the witch have said giant kept as a cat and given free reign of the magic mcguffin house? Why do none of Sade's actions line up with her helping Lina when she could have just told her to read the spell book as a lie to catch the missing objects in the first place, instead of waiting till Lina was done finding each of them? It doesn't make sense and I'm really not sure how workable it is without changing much of the game. And for a light puzzly experience, it may be better to remove it to not overcomplicate it with something that doesn't make sense.