It’s time for school but you’re not feeling it right now.
Or ever, really. But you and Hanna have no choice. School it is, then.
Oh, and Hanna is a ghost.
Contrary to what the game’s title suggests, Hanna is not the PC. You play as a high school girl named Jing who goes to an international school in Singapore called the American Independence School. Unlike Jing, Hanna expresses some excitement about going to school. Soon, though, we see that this excitement is masking underlying pain as we face the daily mundane and rocky reality that is school.
The start of the gameplay really sucks you in. It captures how Twine’s interactivity can be used to make a more dynamic scene. We begin in Jing’s bedroom.
You get up.
You are in your bedroom, which consists of a desk full of books, a desktop computer, a bed, and a cabinet.
Hanna eyes at your schoolbag.
Here, "books," "desktop computer," and "bed," are all links that expand the text to reveal more information about each item while clicking on the cabinet link moves the gameplay forward as Jing gets ready for school.
While the scene’s outcome is not impacted by your choice to examine the scenery, the links provide an extra sense of interaction that make it a little more interesting than if it were one big room description. It also engages the player with Twine’s choice-based format. Why read when you can click on links?
This structure continues for the rest of the game as we venture into Jing's school. After your first playthrough, the game allows you to skip ahead to crucial parts in the gameplay to save time. Much appreciated.
(I’m going to do characters first, then story.)
We do not learn as much about Jing as I hoped. After all, she is the starring PC. She’s Chinese, lives in an apartment, her parents both work (we never meet them), likes to use art and books as a portal for exploring sexuality, and has befriended a ghost named Hanna! Alright, we learn a fair amount. But her character is intriguing. More would be nice.
It would also be nice to have more context about Jing’s everyday school life. While I understand that school day structure differs across the globe, American Independent School has a somewhat bizarre (to me) daily schedule. (Spoiler - click to show) It offers cafeteria lunch twice and holds a separate student council-led karaoke party between Trigonometry and European History class. Actually, that doesn’t sound so bad. Ultimately, however, I felt out of touch. (If this really occurs in real life, thank you for diversifying my understanding of how teens go to school in today’s world.)
Clara. Ah yes. Clara does not censor what she says. She just says it without considering her surroundings. Or those nearby. She also thinks that she is doing you a favor by letting you know what she has to say.
Consider: a group of young people with that one peer who, to everyone’s delight and dismay, confidently and loudly talks about daring and explicit things in a causal social setting. Just when you think the conversation has leveled off, bam, the peer in question takes it up several more notches and everyone around is just, “oh wow.” That’s Clara. The scene in the (Spoiler - click to show) hallway after homeroom (and onwards) showcases this perfectly.
She embodies the “mature” girl persona who claims to have a resume of sexual experiences. She also comes off as trying to convince herself that she knows the ropes and that her confidence on the subject matter is unwavering. A bystander (Jing/player) is then used as a sounding board as she pelts them with a mix of "advice," tidbits of knowledge that demonstrate credibility, and personal experiences involving sex and other adult-like activities.
My favorite sentence in this game:
You pretend to agree and hope Clara's done with her TED Talk.
Clara gives some intense TED Talks.
When it comes to her relationship with Jing, Clara does not come off as being the classic High School Mean Girl who breaks out in hives at the mere sight of you. Maybe that is not what the author intended, but that’s the impression it left on me. If anything, Clara sees herself as friend rather than foe.
Clara reads more like a bossy, we’re-friends-since-we-see-each-other-daily type of “friend.” One who considers herself to be your friend in a self-serving manner or considers you to be a friend more so than you feel in return. She latches onto you like a leech while insisting that she knows what’s best for you. Especially when it comes to sexuality.
It gets uncomfortable. Clara reassures Jing about her dating desirability. Because Jing is Chinese, Clara keeps advising her to embrace “popular” stereotypes by acting more submissive and “pure-hearted” since that apparently is what attracts dudes. Clara may be trying to help in her own way, but ultimately this persistent fetishization overwhelms Jing. And most likely the player.
But as the story’s antagonist, she does not seem so bad after all… Until your final encounter with her where she (Spoiler - click to show) goes full homophobe and transphobe. Everyone’s (Jing/Hanna/hopefully the player) response to this is more, way more, than just, “oh wow.”
While Clara excels in her character role’s persona, there are some scenes that feel- even for her- more like an endless rant of shocking content that is independent from the scene itself. I wish we could explore her character in other ways than just sex-fueled rants.
And as for bringing an umbrella, (Spoiler - click to show) careful kids, you can poke an eye out. I applaud the implementation of Twine in this scene.
Hanna is a neat character- she’s a ghost! - with a tragic past who still brings the perspective of a modern teen unimpressed by the school system and its expectations. She does not necessarily “haunt” the player. Instead, she tags along to offer commentary, friendship, and support without sugar coating your collective circumstances.
Before the game even begins, we are presented with a passage that leads to the game’s menu. The passage keeps it brief: (Spoiler - click to show) Hanna was a teen who jumped off a hospital rooftop to commit suicide. Later we learn that in life, she identified as transgender but never received support or understanding- quite the opposite.
Here’s the deal: The gameplay ultimately leads up to a (Spoiler - click to show) pivotal scene where Clara (as I mentioned earlier) starts rambling about an unnamed individual during which she unleashes homophobic/transphobic commentary. First time around, I struggled to piece it all together.
In this scene, Clara explains (claims?) that she was engaged to a young man her age since they were kids except that he expressed interest in dresses, dolls, and feminine self-expression. She mocks this which only further traumatizes Hanna who is also transgender.
Then it clicked.
I need someone to spell it out for me so I can be sure: Was Clara engaged, in whatever form it may have been, to… Hanna? Before her death when people refused to recognize her identity? (Is it true that her previous- I hope I’m doing this properly- name was Alex? I only ask since Clara mentions the name once in her rant.) Talk about a plot twist. In fact, I initially failed to make the connection that Hanna knew both Jing and Clara as former classmates since middle school. Scatter-brained on my part.
Also, part of the reason Hanna transitioned was to avoid being drafted into the army since male Singaporeans are drafted into the National Service when they turn eighteen. This fact completely went over my head. It was not until I read the explanation in the content warning that I connected the dots- and it gives you some interesting things to think about since many international kids do not have to worry about this requirement. I just feel that this part of Hanna’s backstory could have been clearer.
There is one thing that I did not figure out. During Clara’s rant, we see a link that says, “Hanna’s wailing floods the whole room.” Clicking on it expands it into the following:
why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet why am i not dead yet
Hanna is dead. There’s something I’m clearly missing.
NPCs (besides Hanna and Clara)
Finally, some of the remaining dialog almost seemed melodramatic in the sense that there is not much context around NPCs’ behavior. Like (Spoiler - click to show) Harold's outburst when you ask him what is wrong during homeroom. If I had not known better, I would have thought these characters were pre-teens who just entered middle school.
Nonetheless, they are still intriguing.
Story + Themes
The story takes place over one school day where we get a glimpse of daily life for Jing and Hanna, even if Hanna is not an actual student. She almost functions as an extension of Jing which is close enough. Besides Hanna’s backstory, Hanna We’re Going to School is largely character-oriented rather than wielding a complex storyline. There are, however, plenty of themes to go around.
There are several slice-of-life themes about youth and adulthood that could appeal to a wide range of players. However, the intended audience is relatively narrow since many of the themes are explored through brief, sudden romance-oriented encounters that may not appeal to everyone. This runs the risk of the player not absorbing the key themes showcased in a scene if they are skimming past certain parts.
For instance, (Spoiler - click to show) Clara's attempt to matchmake you with Dan was surreal and disjointed. Is she serious? It seemed like an unbelievable exchange… unless it’s set in reality more so than I realize. While this specific scene made me raise my eyebrows, I could see how it ties in with the game’s discussions on the intersecting expectations placed on young people.
Much of the game is focused on the idea of adult expectations of who you marry, the achievements of your parents, academic performance, job prospects, and your ability to look casually desirable the entire time. I feel like the (Spoiler - click to show) scene with Dan is meant to shine light on several of these issues, but from a gameplay standpoint it leaves you a bit bewildered. Because of this, players may find it less relatable.
Also: I'm not asking for more in that scene between (Spoiler - click to show) Clara and Dan in the school library, I'm really not (no shame if anyone feels otherwise), but it came out of nowhere and felt completely out of context. Even for this game. In the school library? I would say it is the only truly explicit scene in the game and is completely avoidable.
The game uses a basic set of visuals that opt for something besides the typically default Twine appearance of a black screen, white text, and a standardize font (you'll know it when you see it). There is nothing wrong with using the default, but when authors choose to use a slightly different background colour or multiple font styles, I notice.
Hanna, We’re Going to School features a grey screen with white text and blue-purple links. There is also a wine-coloured panel on the left side of the text body. It contains the “under” arrow that lets you go back a passage. Basic stuff but looks good.
Hanna, We’re Going to School is a bold, insightful game that bravely questions the intersecting issues that young people experience in the eyes of society and their fellow peers as they start to transition into adulthood. Jing witnesses this from a unique perspective.
She does not share the seemingly carefree lifestyle that her peers put on display, nor does she possess the social status wielded by peers from more influential families. But Clara’s attempts at “mentorship” provides a closer glimpse of the privilege differences within the student body. This slightly departs from the typical formula of popular girl vs unpopular girl while still showcasing the various forms of harassment that can occur, especially when it comes to gender expectations.
Meanwhile, Hanna’s own story raises implications of the harm done when one’s gender identity is mocked, especially if one is still trying to find themselves. As we see, Hanna (Spoiler - click to show) experiences some uncertainty about her motives for transitioning while simultaneously feeling at home with identifying as a girl. Her character is fun, quirky, and honest, making her a highlight of the game.
However, there are some drawbacks. The game could use more clarity for the plot along with additional worldbuilding shown in the gameplay. Right now, I feel like I know more about Clara than Hanna and Jing which is too bad since Hanna and Jing are a fantastic duo. The explicitness of some scenes may also drive some players away.
Otherwise, it is a strong slice of life piece about high school and teenage futures.
These are NOT spoilers, but since my reviews are so darn long, I’m spoiler-tagging it to save screen space. I write a lot.
(Spoiler - click to show)
Hanna, We're Going to School reminds me of an unrelated graphic novel called Anya's Ghost. The premise is similar in the sense that it depicts a teenage girl who navigates life and high school while being followed around by a ghost of another teen girl. While that may sound like a carbon copy of Hanna, We’re Going to School, I can reassure you that they diverge in story and subject matter. But the way Hanna coasts along with Jing and offers commentary just reminded me so much of the duo in Anya’s Ghost. If you like this game, you may like the book, and vice versa.
Also, if you are interested in further exploring the social dynamics of an internationally oriented school setting, consider the ChoiceScript game Learning to Be Human. It is an educational game about bullying where you play as a humanoid robot tasked with making connections with middle/high school aged students from different countries. While it is not a particularly thrilling game, it is more interesting than it sounds. Just note that it is strongly character centered, so don’t expect an in-depth storyline. The game covers subjects on popularity, body image, bias on cultural heritage, and inclusion. Recommended if you were drawn in by the peer social interactions found in Hanna, We’re Going to School.
In this bite-sized adventure, seventeen (or so) Ebenezabeth Scrooge is training her powers with her adopted father, Ebenezer Scrooge. She has the skill of traveling across space and time simply by staring at fire. While she has not been hired for an official mission, as is the case in the second and third games (nor is there combat), she still encounters challenges that, as the title indicates, result in acquiring her signature weapon. For good, of course.
Apparently, there is a puzzle design challenge called EnigMarch where a prompt is assigned to each day during March to inspire authors. How the Little Match Girl Got Her Colt Paterson Revolver, and Taught a Virtue to a Goblin was made for March 13 (I promise I’ll shorten the title from here on). The prompt?
MATCH. I think that seals the deal.
It’s pretty straightforward. The game begins in the Scrooge household, London during 1846. Ebenezer presents you with four fire sources: a lamp, streetlamp, candle, and fireplace, each of which lead to different settings. This is a game where you do not need fire to return home. All you do is “wake up.” Which is probably a smart idea since the (Spoiler - click to show) paper castle location would not fare well with an open source of flame.
The gameplay follows a fetch/trade quest structure. I give you something in exchange for something else that can be used as leverage for another character so they make a similar exchange with me so I can appease yet another character elsewhere with my new item, etc. That’s how the game flows. Many of the NPCs have struggles, and the goal is to help them out with a useful object.
Later, it occurred to me that you can only have one inventory item on you at a time. Certainly not an inventory-intensive puzzle-fest. The puzzles are not particularly awe-inspiring, but they are consistent and enjoyable.
There is one little subtly that I must acknowledge. It’s barely been a week since I first played The Little Match Girl 3 which was recently released. One memorable moment from that was (mild spoilers for the third game) (Spoiler - click to show) with the location on Deimos, one of Mars’ moons. I distinctly remember seeing Mars and being able to examine Tharsis, the planet’s largest city, on its surface. It was described as- here, I’ll go find it:
Mars is a waning crescent, so Deimos must be waxing gibbous... you think.
On the night side of the planet are the lights of cities: The biggest one is Tharsis.
The Martian capital of Tharsis is so tiny, you could blot it out with your thumb. You hope never again to see it in any greater detail, if you can help it.
Well, guess what, Ebenezabeth? That’s exactly where we’re going.
Oh. Joke is on me. How the Little Match Girl technically takes place before the third game in which she is nineteen years old. But the third game was released first… which means “You hope never again to see it in any greater detail,” foreshadows How the Little Match Girl.
I wonder if anyone else has made this connection. It would be interesting to know if anyone spotted it before I did. If anything, the overlap only continues to show the complexity of the “Little Match Girl” universe.
I'm not kidding you. I remember observing (Spoiler - click to show) Tharsis and thinking how cool it would be to visit a (Spoiler - click to show) fictional Mars city. And so, I was thrilled to see (Spoiler - click to show) THARSIS, CAPITAL OF MARS flash across the screen when I glanced at the streetlamp.
Voices are shrieking at you from all angles, hawking skin treatments, hallucinogens, escort services, antiques, homegrown organs, designer handbags, religious experiences, illegal pets—monitors and loudspeakers are built into the walls, into the ground, into the railings and utility poles. Everyone but you is ignoring all this effortlessly.
One shop, way at the edge of the open-air mall, seems to be fairly quiet. Streets lead southwest and west.
But Ebenezabeth had things long figured out: (Spoiler - click to show) Tharsis would not be the best place to live.
If you are new to the series, this is a fantastic starter guide. Naturally, one would consider starting at the first game, but How the Little Match Girl would also be an appropriate start. Heck, all of them would, due to their flexibility. For first timers, though I would still recommend either the original The Little Match Girl or this game. The latter gives you a solid understanding about the mechanics of Ebenezabeth’s powers in a compact gameplay experience.
As I have mentioned, How the Little Match Girl is less structured around a specific objective or “mission” like we see in her other adventures. However, a narrative does emerge. The game does not begin with, “Father, I am going on a quest to find a mystical revolver.” The possibility of acquiring said revolver emerges later. If anything, the story is centered on (Spoiler - click to show) fielding the romantic advances between the tin soldier and paper dancer in the paper castle. They both like each other but have been told by a felt goblin that love always lands in heartbreak and thus be avoided.
But Ebenezabeth does not accept that nonsense. (Spoiler - click to show) She makes the tin soldier and the paper dancer to feel more confident about themselves but ultimately it is not enough. She must deal with the goblin as indicated by the game’s title. To “deal” with someone means different things in each game in the series, but here, it is simply about educating a goblin. If you want to know what that entails, play the game.
I was pleased to find the adventure recap that occurs after you (Spoiler - click to show) feed Colt. As he works on his revolver, Ebenezabeth gives an overview of the characters and places she encountered from the first game. Because I have already played it, there is a feeling of, "heh, I know who you're talking about."
NPCs are not the focus in this story. Except for Colt. He’s literally in the title. Most characters encountered in the four locations never form a relationship with Ebenezabeth, although some still express their gratitude after receiving help. Everything is ultimately about the little match girl and the focusing of her skills through fire.
My only disappointment is the cat only gets a mention this game.
How the Little Match Girl is slick but not without roughness.
There is a bug that occurs when (Spoiler - click to show) trying to smell items in Zadar’s shop. This is merely my experience:
(Spoiler - click to show) I was puttering around the location called BYBLOS, PHOENICIA (which has a lovely blue background) when it happened. After I punched in "smell" or "smell [object]" just to try it, the game froze and then crashed. At first, the parser did not respond. I waited. Then the words disappeared leaving a blue screen behind. This later became a white screen. It was if the game just decided to call it quits. I had to abandon the playthrough when that happened.
There are also some other, more superficial technicalities in the gameplay. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show) I think it could be made clearer that the great hall in the paper castle can be accessed from the courtyard. But since this is already a high-quality game produced within a few days, I have to cut it some slack.
I happy to see that colour-coding the background for each location is still shown. Parser does not always have to be an unchanging white screen.
How the Little Match Girl is a great game made even more impressive by the fact that it was written in a meager three days. Does it have the pristine shininess from the games in the main series? Well, no. That said, if you had never played Ryan Veeder's works before but tried this one, I bet you would ask yourself: "If this is what he can do in three days, imagine what he could create without any time restraints." Super awesome games, that's what.
And if you are a fan of Ebenezabeth, playing this game is a given.
(In light of some helpful feedback, I have edited this review for clarity.)
Our little match girl is nineteen years old and still on a (new) mission.
For those who are hearing about this for the first time, The Little Match Girl 3: The Escalus Manifold is the third game in the “The Little Match Girl,” series, the first game simply titled The Little Match Girl. They follow a kind-hearted girl (she gets older in each game) as she learns to travel to new realms through her connection with fire. Hence the match reference. You do not need to play them to enjoy them, but if you are curious, you might as well start from the beginning. It’s up to you.
Before the game begins, we get a briefing from the protagonist's father, Ebenezer Scrooge. Almost like Mission Impossible but with the appropriate atmosphere suited to this story. The Snow Queen has been manipulating people far and wide. She controls them through Mirror Shards that can alter a person’s behavior to make them act destructively, and an unnamed client has tasked you with ending this abuse.
The Snow Queen is dangerous. But you are not alone. Or at least you won't be.
Because this game? Is all about teamwork.
The gameplay is about recruiting a team of NPCs to travel and fight with you as you prepare for your fight against the Snow Queen. Only the best companions are accepted, which means searching high and low for teammate material. Staying true to Ebenezabeth’s origin story, you travel across space and time through fire. Look at a fire source, and bam. New place, new time. You start at Finland, 1848.
There are six exciting realms in the main gameplay, and each have fire sources for travel and places to take naps (you will need them) to recharge your energy levels. The exception is with (Spoiler - click to show) Nonolulu 2933. It lacks both. That one’s a bit of a wild card.
Once you identify a potential team member, you must solve a puzzle to “free” (literally or figuratively, it depends) them to join your cause. These puzzles* were creative and fun to solve. For me, they were one of the highlights of the gameplay. You fight the Snow Queen if you think you’re ready. She’ll be waiting in her palace where the game begins. (*My favorite puzzle of all was (Spoiler - click to show) communicating with the stones. You can’t recruit them, of course, but it was an excellent puzzle.)
The Little Match Girl 3 does not have death or graphic violence. No assassinations this time. But combat is a central feature in the gameplay. There are many people operating as the Snow Queen’s puppets. To save them, you must "deliver a sound thrashing to the afflicted party," to borrow Ebenenzer's words. Defeating them in combat frees them since it expels the Mirror Shard that was keeping them under the Queen’s control. And, in fact, most characters will thank you for doing so.
The gameplay is not “about” freeing as many characters as possible. Aside from (Spoiler - click to show) the two guards in the palace, fighting characters is technically optional. Thing is, you must increase your skillsets before taking on the Snow Queen. Mirror Shards allow you to upgrade yourself and your teammates, making it in your best interest to win in combat as much as possible to acquire them.
Not a fan of combat in interactive fiction? The Little Match Girl 3 just might surprise you. I won’t hash out the rules since you can go play it for yourself, but I liked the flexibility of the combat’s mechanics. Freedom of movement is not dependent on fighting your way through hordes of NPCs. This allows you to pick and choose your battles at your convenience while enjoying the scenery. It’s well-balanced.
Similarly, the strategy for combat is nicely implemented because it provides technicality while also being easy to master. During combat, you make a move for Ebenezabeth, and then a move for each teammate based on a list of possible actions that are unique to each character. These lists are further developed throughout the gameplay.
What should Ebenezabeth do?
SHOOT - Fire your revolver at an enemy. (Ammo: 6/6)
DEFEND - Brace yourself for an attack.
RELOAD - Load up the barrel of your six-shooter.
BOLSTER - Spend 3 HP to increase an ally's Attack temporarily.
KOYNNOKSET - Spend 8 HP to summon entangling vines that grasp at all enemies.
It was cool how you gain extra skills by collecting wearables which can be worn by you or another teammate. Mix and match. Once you get the hang of everything, you zip through it all quite quickly. (Spoiler - click to show) I was surprised at how quickly I defeated the Snow Queen (but if you think you can take her out at the start of the game, think again).
I want to chew the fat on one technicality: Putting a Mirror Shard in a phylactery automatically upgrades your level and health points but can also upgrade any of the six other stats you possess. However, the number of stats that are upgraded are chosen at random. Sometimes you only get two, other times it is more fruitful.
To be honest, (Spoiler - click to show) I would undo until I got upgrades for five or six stats. People reading this will probably sigh at me in disappointment, but I'm not ashamed to admit it. I'm trying to make the most out of resources. When you are a time traveling assassin, you have to take what you can get.
You insert the Mirror Shard into Eunoia's Phylactery. Eunoia levels up!
Max HP +1!
Her lip quivers. "That can't be all I get. I insist you UNDO and try that again."
She said it, not me.
In all sincerity, this game is extremely generous with its resources. I would hoard inventory items that can replenish your HP during combat, only to learn that I never really needed them. Frequent use of UNDO is probably why I found it so easy to dominate without any NPC team members. I was so effective on my own, having them would only function as an extra step in the combat scenes.
In that regard, it is probably a good thing that every stat is not upgraded with every Mirror Shard. Plus, I am saying this as someone who has strategized through the gameplay. First-time players will experience it with a blank slate (hence why I put some of this under a spoiler tag), and it will have plenty of challenges.
The only feature that confused me was changing my affinity. The (Spoiler - click to show) man at the bar in Honolulu explains how you can temporarily alter your affinity to try new skills, but no matter which beverages I consumed, I could not find an application for any of them or notice any effect on the gameplay. I am probably overlooking something, but what? It would be nice to know. I’m probably missing out on the fun.
Usually I have the “Story” section before the one on characters, but we’re shaking it up. The Little Match Girl 3 is all about the NPCs.
I've played this game several times already. I snatched it the second it appeared on IFDB. Following The Little Match Girl 2: Annus Evertens, I was looking forward to what came next. However, I wanted to hold off on writing this review until after I recruited all four characters. They are a key component of this game’s experience, and I was not sure if I were missing anything important.
It’s not required that you recruit team members. In fact, fighting the Snow Queen alone- you promised not to- has an unexpected but hilarious impact at the end of the game: (Spoiler - click to show) An invite from The Universal Sisterhood of Naughty Little Girls.
Such ruthlessness, coupled with such wanton disregard for filial responsibility, is more than sufficient qualification for membership in our highly selective organization.
In the end, I could only recruit three characters. And so, I decided to proceed with the review just to get it out there. I'll figure out the rest some other time (see the note at the end of this section).
Moving on. As is often the case with the author’s work, the characters shine. There are four NPCs who can join your team to help defeat the Snow Queen. Here, they aren’t just firepower for combat. Their implementation is discrete and yet enriches the gameplay with a refreshing vividness. They feel like traveling companions rather than invisible accessories.
The NPCs I have managed to recruit so far are (Spoiler - click to show) Hrieman, Eunoia, and Nuci. A highlight of the entire game is the spontaneous dialog that occurs as you travel to new locations or examine scenery.
The sky is blazing with millions of silent stars. The ground is bare rock, the color of charcoal.
A nearby crater has been converted into the dish of a large radio telescope.
You can go north, southeast, southwest, east, and west from here.
(Spoiler - click to show)
"How exciting!" Eunoia says. "What an adventuresome place this is!"
Hrieman flies up for a better view, wheeling around for a while before returning to your shoulder. "It's curved!" he says. "I mean, it's round! I mean, of course it's round. But I'd never seen the curvature of anything before."
Nuci stares up at the stars. She is speechless.
It adds unexpected flair that also reminds you that everything is being done as a group.
I was especially pleased to see (Spoiler - click to show) Eunoia, the mermaid princess from Atlantis. I immediately recognized her since she is introduced in the series’ first game, The Little Match Girl. And I'm liking her more and more. She seems genuinely affectionate for Ebenezabeth.
Eunoia sits on the beach, regarding you expectantly.
Oddly enough, in the first game she seemed colder, as did her father and sister. There was- it’s hard to describe- not a bitter or envious vibe but... something that gave the characters a sharp edge that you could accidentally cut your finger on. The effect was subliminal. Now, she has evolved without losing her core identity. Warmhearted, though still dramatic. I’m glad her character made it into this episode.
I must admit though, my favorite NPC in this game was (Spoiler - click to show) Nuci.
Note: I have a hunch about the fourth one: (Spoiler - click to show) Cole, who lives on Deimos, one of Mars’ moons. Issue is that his cow is orbiting overhead. He’s trying to figure out the calculations to retrieve the cow. I don’t know how to help him. Does the large net have a use in this puzzle? I tried (pathetically) throwing it at the cow but that did not work.
I have little to add here. Your contract is to take out the Snow Queen (you already know this) who is fooling around with Mirror Shards to (Spoiler - click to show) channel energy into the Mirror of Reason on the first floor of her palace. It’s an ongoing project. She wants to reach/use a realm called Escalus Manifold via the Mirror. Hence the game’s title. I did not make that connection right away.
Word of advice: If you’re curious about the Snow Queen’s scheme, I highly encourage you to (Spoiler - click to show) examine the Mirror of Reason when you have NPCs (more the merrier) in your party because it produces dialog that provides additional background context for the story.
Sitting at my computer in the 21st century, Finland in the year 1848 sounds so long ago, but that’s at the same time period for Ebenezabeth’s “present day” life in London. The (Spoiler - click to show) date on the official letter at the end of the game reads 1847. So being dropped into Finland a year later would not be much of a difference for her. Just some random tidbit that put things into perspective.
This is a parser game that uses colours in the gameplay. Every location gets its own screen colour. In fact, colour-coding settings was also shown in the second game in the series. It’s excellent at making the player feel like they are being transported to another place.
Also: Is that (Spoiler - click to show) Nuci in the cover art? I pictured her as having less of a humanoid body shape, but that’s cool either way.
Let’s reflect on how far we have come (so far): I have now played three games starring Ebenezabeth. Each one is unique in plot and gameplay while still sharing the same essence. As for a favorite, you can’t really pick one. It’s like having a selection of beloved film DVDs that are neatly organized on the living room shelf.
The Little Match Girl (first game) is where the magic begins. It is a high-quality game and a strong introduction to the series but did not quite have the same blow-your-mind effect that the next two games had. It’s still well worth your time. Especially if you want to know the full story behind the protagonist. As for the next two…
There was a stronger sense of satisfaction at the end of The Little Match Girl 2, but the gameplay mechanics were more consistent and impressive in third game. For me, the key difference is being able to revisit realms by eyeballing an open flame. It weaves the puzzles through time and space while also giving the player a little more control over the chaos. Both are unique adventures. I can’t pick a favorite.
The Little Match Girl 3 is a treasure to play. It is a mix of action and heartwarming moments blended into a truly unique game. The narrative, character dynamics, and combat mechanics are all integrated together to create a piece that beckons you to play it and return for more. It is perfectly playable if you have not played the first two episodes, although I have a feeling that if you end up liking this one, you will be tempted to play them all.
I am looking forward to the next game, The Little Match Girl 4: Crown of Peals (currently listed on IFDB), but I am also dreading it since it will be the last in the series. Ebenezabeth is getting older. Bittersweet, although I have loved viewing her transformation throughout each game.
UPDATE: I FINALLY FIGURED OUT HOW TO RECRUIT THE FOURTH CHARACTER. In case anyone wants to laugh at me, read on. MAJOR STORY & GAMEPLAY SPOILERS. (Spoiler - click to show)
I would wait until the cow was directly above me: The flying cow passes right over your head. If you need more context, look at the character section of this review.
I tried the following commands:
>throw net at cow
>catch cow with net
You can't do much more than look from way down here.
I now had the impression that I needed to be higher or have some additional mechanism that would allow the net to reach the cow. Or maybe the net was for a different puzzle. Perfect case where I overthink things. The correct solution was "take cow" or "catch cow." Simple as that.
But hold on a minute. Cole and Nuci... get married? WHAT? I did not see any chemistry/individual character dynamics between them at all during the gameplay. Good for them, though.
I want to make sure we are on the same page. At the end of the game, you can get letters from three out of the four possible teammates, assuming they were recruited. Cole sends a yellowed letter and Nuci sends a crisp letter. However, if they are both in your team, you don't get either letter. Instead, you get a picture postcard that says:
I never heard of no honeymooners cutting into their honeymoon time to send any Wish You Were Here cards but Nuci says it's de rigueur so here we are.
It's signed by them as Nuci + Cole. Married? Am I reading that correctly? Wow. Great game.
You are fourteen-year-old Kyle, a Boy Scout looking to earn a Community Service badge. Peanut the cat has run off, and this is your chance to show initiative. Time to investigate the local neighborhood.
When the game began my first impression was that a Boy Scout troop was out looking for a cat (does that occur in real-life?) which immediately creates a cool ambience. A closer look soon showed that Kyle is the only Boy Scout around. Meanwhile, a group of middle-school aged kids, are running about and talking about a kid named Max. Naturally, the player is roped into participating in Max’s plans.
I really, really, like the (Spoiler - click to show) occult twist. Yes, you heard that right. The start of the game sounds like a light, wholesome game about a youth trying to save a cat (which also sounds like fun) to earn a badge only to surprise the player with an unexpected thrill. Eerie ten-year-old Max (Spoiler - click to show) wants to hold a ritual in the groundwater tunnels. Sounds cool! Max needs three Native American artifacts for the ritual. He has one and wants you to find the other two. By now, finding the cat falls to the wayside as you pursue this new objective.
This is not a puzzle heavy game but there is a lot of exploring. The gameplay has a moderate sized map consisting of a suburban area. You will probably want to make a light map of the underground tunnels. Nothing too fancy, but you may find it helpful.
There is one bug/issue that made the game unwinnable. (UPDATE: I've received feedback that this is NOT an unwinnable state. I'm leaving this paragraph in as a formality but understand that my calling it unwinnable was an incorrect assessment on my part). (Spoiler - click to show) Max wants Clem to solder the three artifacts together. Clem follows you around for most of the gameplay. You are supposed to retrieve the hand-held generator from his garage, fill it with gas, and give it to him so he can use his solder iron. I put the game in an unwinnable state by giving him the generator before Max has all three artifacts.
He looks at you, “Give me the hand-held generator.”
I already gave it to him at the garage. I tried to take it back, but…
That seems to belong to Clem.
I restarted the game because I could see no way of soldering the artifacts together to start the ritual. CORRECTION: While Clem may still ask for the generator even after you give it to him, he will solder the artifacts together once everyone arrives.
I was expecting the story to have more focus on the protagonist’s goal of earning a badge, perhaps incorporating themes of “character building.” Maybe I am misinterpreting the process of earning a Community Service badge. Point is, Kyle obviously takes this seriously, and as a game, the idea of earning a badge takes center stage. This is the first Boy Scout PC I have played in interactive fiction, and I was excited to see where it would go. Ultimately, this part of Kyle’s identity was not showcased as much as I thought it would be.
The setting is intriguing. After snooping around you come across some newspaper clippings that outline two main controversies in the area. The first follows the development of a (Spoiler - click to show) new museum on Native American culture that has been delayed over conflicts of the museum’s focus. There is also mention of Native American artifacts being discovered while the neighborhood was being developed. The second controversy looks at a trend of (Spoiler - click to show) health issues in residents that seem to be connected to the water supply. Plans were made to re-design the water drainage system, but those plans were brought to a halt. The story focuses more on the former issue.
The storyline reminded me of an element in Anchorhead where a (semi-spoilers for Anchorhead coming right up!) (Spoiler - click to show) specific tribe- I believe it was a fictional tribe- of indigenous people who worshiped celestial entities that were of interest to the Verlac family because it was connected to a vast ritual that had been planned for generations. The player, lucky you, gets to deal with the impending doom of this ritual. Right near the center of town is a big obelisk that covers the tribe’s ancient burial ground that also seals off a hell-dimension on the other side of mortal existence. You learn about this through newspaper clippings and content from the library. It’s wild. I mean, it’s Anchorhead, obviously.
Max (Spoiler - click to show) speaks of a monster in the southernmost tunnels that had been sealed off by Native Americans. This can be unsealed with a ritual using the three artifacts. Max himself also seems to be possessed. Disturbing, but not disturbing enough to dissuade the other neighborhood kids, including Kyle, from helping. Don’t get me wrong, (Spoiler - click to show) suburban Boy Scout cat search + occult ritual hosted by a ten-year-old named Max is novel as it brushes on Anchorhead themes. My complaint is this: there is hardly any story (or gameplay) about (Spoiler - click to show) finding Peanut the cat.
Start of game: You have been tasked to find the missing cat, Peanut. You're hoping this simple mission will earn you your Community Service merit badge. You head into the woods where the cat was last seen.
We’ve seen Peanut at the start of game. She’s behind a storm tunnel grating and runs off when you open it. Onwards, you try to run and chase her. Throughout the gameplay are cues such as, “You hear the tinkling of a small bell,” and “You hear a cat meowing,” amongst NPCs’ advice to look in the tunnels! And from there on, the cat takes a back seat as the gameplay shifts to finding artifacts.
When you save your friends from the monster and win the game, Peanut decides to appear and jump into your arms. Great resolution, but I just sat there realizing how much time I wasted trying to corner the cat into one of tunnels, using the dead rat as bait (probably not as appealing to cats as I thought), and experimenting with the various exits and entrances in the tunnel maze to map out her movements. The kid doesn’t even get his badge at the end of the game!
NPCs wander independently. I always enjoy seeing this in interactive fiction because it feels more dynamic. That said, their behavior does not have much substance. When you first meet them, they introduce themselves to you which is a strong start. Then they wander around until aimlessly until you make progress towards the (Spoiler - click to show) ritual. To be fair, designing seven (plus Peanut) independent NPCs is probably not an easy task. And you will find moments where NPC behavior triggers a surprising effect, such as when they all (Spoiler - click to show) suddenly gather in the meeting room to start the ritual. That was cool.
I have criticism about the dialog. The game uses the “topics” command to offer a list of topics to ask other characters. I thought this was smart because it keeps the player close to relevant subject matters. The issue is that A, topics do not acknowledge the player’s progress, and B, the “topics” feature lack subjects relevant to the situation. To use an example for the first case, (Spoiler - click to show) if you ask Max about the artifacts after the ritual, he still acts as if you have not found them yet. This put a dent in the interaction.
The other concern become more apparent as the story developed. Characters were limited in their responses to these events. The topics list never expands. In Clem’s introduction he says, "'I'm Clem. I'm in charge of the reconstruction effort.'" But asking him about it (I wanted to know if this had any connection to the (Spoiler - click to show) water quality controversy) results in, "Clem doesn't have anything useful to say about that." Alright, maybe I am being a stickler on this one. Still, subjects about the (Spoiler - click to show) ritual, the Andelmans’ house, and characters’ immediate surroundings are excluded from conversation. (Spoiler - click to show)
Guarding the room is a fearsome pitbull. He eyes you while growling.
Clem comes up from below.
>ask Clem about pitbull
Clem doesn't have anything useful to say about that.
I was expecting some response.
Also, who are the Andelmans'? It’s in the title. First impression was when I tried to enter the basement before meeting with the NPCs in the meeting place near the start of the game.
You begin to head west when suddenly you hear a girl's voice scold you, "We don't go in there. We think it's the Andelman House."
There you go. Mystery. It creates a chilling, sinister vibe to the gameplay. A hint that there is more to this maze of storm drain tunnels than what meets the eye. Right away you think, Who are the Andelmans? Sounds like a neighborhood legend. Your curiosity is spiked because this suburban adventure just got a whole lot interesting. This never went anywhere. We explore the house, almost abandoned, if not for the (Spoiler - click to show) guard dog in the kitchen. I kept wondering what the big secret was. Turns out, I was on the wrong path. I was thinking of this in terms of character names. Andelmans' Yard is (Spoiler - click to show) apparently named after a song of the same title. I would never have known that if I had not looked up the game’s title on a hunch. The song’s lyrics details exploring tunnels and themes that are seen in the gameplay. That was the connection I was missing.
This game has a good start. While character interactions could use more polish, the game has been tested and it feels like completed piece. I enjoyed the surprises. Especially (Spoiler - click to show) Max’s surprises. The author does a nice job in mixing the everyday with the (Spoiler - click to show) paranormal. Even though I was expecting the gameplay to go through with its (Spoiler - click to show) original plot of searching for Peanut, I am glad that, in the end, we find her anyway. If there are any more games about Kyle trying to earn a badge, I would be interested in playing them. An enjoyable slice of life game mystery with a horror twist.
Your best friend has a change in plans for Friday night. Instead of watching movies like usual you are going to a party hosted by Henry, a former classmate. Henry... Vaguely familiar. No one fully knows why he stopped going to your high school but hey, a party is a party. Everyone will be there.
The player first customizes their best friend with a name and pronouns before the game begins. There is a brief intro that is skippable after your first playthrough. On the drive to the party your friend hits a pale and gangly creature unlike any animal you know. You can then choose (and this is where the gameplay begins when you skip the intro) to either step out of the car to look around or to continue driving to the party. This choice is relatively trivial, but its effects will worm its way into the rest of the gameplay in the form of tiny details.
At the party the player can roam around in three main areas: the barn, the yard, and the house. The game gives the player some free range of moment where it feels like they are strolling from each location. In these areas are some partygoers and light scenery, some of which the player can directly interact with. This is not a puzzle-oriented game, but it does require the player to use creative thinking to find every ending. Its combination of ten endings and short playthroughs make it a game with great replay value. At the time of this review, I managed to reach all but the fifth ending.
There are some rough areas that stood out. If you talk to Henry in the loft, he climbs down the ladder but leaves his thermos and key behind. You can then choose to take either item or simply leave. However, if you (Spoiler - click to show) do the latter and then return to the loft, the game repeats the encounter as if the player never visited with Henry in the first place. This did not give the impression of being purposely designed to cultivate a surreal effect for an otherworldly party. It just seemed like rough implementation. He can also be in different places at once. If you wear the mask, he will be telling a story around the bonfire while waiting in the loft at the same time (unless you previously took the key or the thermos).
Someone is sitting with his legs dangling over the edge, his back to you. It's Henry.
Climb back down to the barn.
The other rough edge that stood out is when content seem to replace each other. If you (Spoiler - click to show) eat five cookies in the kitchen you hear your friend calling you from the basement (and in fact, they are there when you open the door) but if you go to the cornfield instead of opening the door you find them under the suspiciously UFO-looking light in the field which defaults to either ending 8 or ending 7. It is as if the game suddenly rewrote the fact that the NPC was in the basement. This is not commonplace but still dulled the shine a little while I experimented with the gameplay. Nonetheless, it still offered immersive and compelling playthroughs.
One of the strongest aspects of this game is its atmosphere and familiar spooky themes. People telling unsettling stories around a fire, seances, a strange host, mystery beverages, etc. Then there is the odd fact that, when asked, none of the guests can say they know Henry at all. Intriguing. All of this sets a stage for the story.
But the storyline laced through it all almost stops short. The player does not quite feel like they are peeling back a mystery or some deeper layer. Some of the endings have a bit of cliche horror, such as the (Spoiler - click to show) Skin Suit ending. Others are more contemplative or make the player blink and say, “what just happened?” I liked all of these. It is tough to put into words. I sometimes felt like I was just skimming the surface of something more. Then again, horror games do not always need ultra-complex and detailed stories to be effective. Regardless, I still greatly enjoyed this game.
If I were to piece everything together to find the underlying story this is what I think it would be. Also: mega spoilers with yuck factor. (Spoiler - click to show) An evil (perhaps alien considering the UFO over the cornfield) entity killed Henry a while ago- explaining why Henry left high school- and stole his skin as a suit. If you go into the attic you see “Henry” slip out of his skin next to a clothing rack of, you guessed it, other human skins. Of course, the game ends with the entity claiming the protagonist as a new wardrobe piece. The game is not (particularly) graphic. Mostly implied horror (Halloween, anyone?). (Spoiler - click to show) These themes are only explored in endings 3 and 9. The other endings take a more generalized approach to the story. Does anyone have a different take on it?
The game sticks to a black screen, blue links, and (almost exclusively) white text. A strength is that the text is evenly spaced and easy to read. I know you are probably thinking, "So? Why are you rambling about this?" Well, text formatting can leave a dent in the game or enhance it. This game, I think, is a good example of a polished but basic look. It has a slightly distinctive look.
The game will occasionally incorporate some text effects to convey an effective atmosphere. This includes light animation and colours. It even dabbles with different font here and there. My favorite effect is when the lights in the den go out and the player has to "search" for the light switch by sweeping their mouse/cursor across the screen until the link appears. This demonstrates how special effects can be used to tell the story.
That Night at Henry’s Place is a solid and well-fleshed horror Twine game. Despite some rough areas the game effectively draws the player in with its dawning sense of horror and flexibility in free range of movement. The player can stroll freely from location to location but leaving the party entirely is another matter! I enjoyed the atmosphere and was motivated to try for every ending.
Right now, we are getting close to the end of September which means Halloween is coming up. If you are thinking about compiling a personal Halloween IF playlist for October, consider That Night at Henry’s Place. In fact, there are some Halloween references in the game!
Our protagonist is Karen Zhao, a high school junior from Massachusetts. Her full name is Qiuyi (Karen*) Zhao, but she goes by Karen. One day Karen’s mom informs her that she has been signed up for a beauty pageant, with the argument that it would diversify her extracurriculars for college. Karen, knowing that she cannot refuse, has no choice but to add pageant preparation to her long list of responsibilities.
This is a story about being forced to step out of your comfort zone while life adds extra surprises into the mix. As the player you must manage her hectic life and hopefully win the pageant.
*The player can actually choose her English name, but I always found myself sticking to Karen since it is the default. I will refer to her as Karen in this review.
Each week the player has three time slots that they can use on a list of activities including preparing for the pageant or attending Science Olympiad study sessions. There are additional activities on the weekend although those usually deviate from school. This management of responsibilities involves some strategy and provides incentives for replay. The gameplay will have “Introspection” segments where you can check your progress in preparing for the pageant and other goals.
There are no individual (Spoiler - click to show) stand-alone endings. No “Ending 1” or “Ending 2.” Instead, the game assesses the player in different categories such as their performance in Science Olympiad or their final relationship status with one of the characters. The pageant, being the focus of the game, is the closest thing to an overarching ending. You either win it or lose it (although losing it comes in a few different flavors). Based on your performance you may unlock achievements at the end of the game. I liked this format because it feels more flexible in its assessment of the player’s choices.
I only have two technical issues. The first is that if you (Spoiler - click to show) win a slot as co-captain the achievement remains locked on the achievements page. The second issue is that I have been unable to (Spoiler - click to show) win anything other than a bronze medal with Audrey for Science Olympiad. I looked at the source code and saw that it is possible to win a gold metal if you study enough with her. However, even when I spent every study session with her, I would always get bronze. The player has a limited amount of study sessions with Science Olympiad partners. Study sessions are once a week but stop long before the weekend of the competition. This means you need to choose which teammates get more interaction.
Story + Characters
Three main themes kept surfacing: the clash of perspectives between Karen and her parents, the stress of preparing for collage, and her identity as a gay young woman. Anxiety is a major theme. There is anxiety with school and parental expectations, the stress of wondering if you are good enough for your dream collage topped off with being acutely aware that your peers all seem to have the same ambitions as you. But for this review I am going to focus on the other two themes.
Karen was born in China and traveled to the US with her parents. The intersection of parental traditions and her experience as a modern teen are themes that are heavily explored in this game. Sharing family stories is a common activity. (Spoiler - click to show) For Karen, this sometimes cultivates feelings of guilt about the severity of her parents’ upbringing in comparison to her own. Her parents had to worry about things that she takes for granted and yet her struggles are unique to her own experience. Daily life also involves regular interactions with the local Chinese community. Potlucks and get-togethers are typical weekend activities. (Spoiler - click to show) During this the parents chat about their children’s grades and social activities. In these conversations is a traditional sense of what roles children should take. But for young people like Karen, Emily, and Audrey these norms may feel dated. That is not to say that they reject their heritage. One of my favorite parts in the game is when (Spoiler - click to show) Karen and Audrey are encouraged to sing with the adults during Bible study.
There is one loose string that caught my attention. If the player (Spoiler - click to show) interacts with Karen's family enough, they reach an encounter where Karen's father learns that she is gay by noticing the books that she checked out from the library. He tries to talk to her about it, but the situation is so overwhelming that she runs into her room, locking her door. The scene is short and intense enough that you would expect to see a follow up later in the game, but it never happens. Not even at the end of the game where it summarizes her relationship with her family. Given that these topics are a prominent theme in the story I was surprised that the game did not build on the encounter.
Karen is gay but hides it from her parents and most people. The game conveys the frustration of having her parents talk casually about marriage and grandchildren when a core aspect of herself completely goes against it. She also interacts with Emily, who is (Spoiler - click to show) transgender and struggles with not being able to be her true self around her parents and their expectations. Emily’s parents know bits and pieces but ultimately, she has not yet come out to them. Emily was one of my favorite characters because she introduces Karen to big questions. Throughout the game Karen and Emily may choose to counsel each other or simply chat. Emily is also one out of three characters that the player can pursue a romantic relationship with.
A defining plot point is if the player makes it to the (Spoiler - click to show) research event called “Emily and the Professor.” Karen participates with research in a lab managed by Professor Chan who is also Emily’s father. In this scene, he brings Emily to watch Karen give a presentation, referring to Emily as his son and asking Karen to teach “him” about science. The player can choose to proceed with the presentation or step down and say that they are not ready. With the latter choice the player chooses not to be a part of Professor Chen’s attempt to force an identity on Emily. Choosing this option is clearly a risk for Karen but it feels empowering. We see the culmination of their friendship in the face of uncomfortable situation. It is an eye-opening moment not just for Karen but for the player as well.
The game has a crisp look, almost like the text is written on a piece of stationary or index card. The textbox area is set in a white box sent against a cream background and accented with grey lines and red links. Together it creates a simple but polished appearance. I liked how the game incorporates more than one language. It uses Mandarin characters with italicized translations. This game is made with Dendry which adds some variety to the development systems that I have encountered.
This was the first game I played by Autumn Chen who is an incredible author. Everything is well-written, concise yet meaningful. Karen is a memorable character who is relatable and unique. Because of this, (Spoiler - click to show) winning the pageant feels more like a victory. I highly recommend the game, especially if you are interested in the slice-of-life genre.
Also: There is also a sequel game called New Year’s Eve, 2019. It features Karen in her senior year. (CORRECTION: Senior year of collage)