Reviews by Rovarsson
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Emily Short is one of my favourite IF-writers, and when I found this big story-game with her name under the title, I pounced on it!
And it is good. Apart from being an immersive adventure and a detailed exploration of a fine city, deeper themes also shine through.
Truth above obscurity, even if truth also means complete transparency?
Creativity above strict order, even if creativity also means chaos?
The writing is top-notch, the NPC interactions feel real, the city and its history hold the interest, but in the end, the game misses something.
Is it because the game is so good that I raised the bar impossibly high?
Finding an outdoor café where there were no interactive NPCs and where nothing story-moving happened disappointed me.
Finding out that a little nook in the gameworld, about which I dreamed up many possibilities, didn't play a role in the story didn't feel like a red herring, it felt like a let-down.
Finding out that certain information I found about my character didn't matter to the game was a pity.
But those are nitpicks, and very personal nitpicks at that.
This game is very very good. Just not as amazing as I really really wanted it to be. And that's on me.
So play it.
This is a great adventure story for 10- to 14-year olds. Heck, it's a great adventure story for all ages. If it were a board game, I'd label it 8-99.
"Jack Toresal and the Secret Letter" is not, however, great IF.
I've seen reviewers that would recommend this game as a good introduction to the medium for newcomers to interactive fiction. I would not. "Jack Toresal" does not give the player that sense of engagement, immersion, agency that is so important in interactive fiction. Even though it is an exciting adventure story, the player does not get to do any adventuring. Examining and searching locations and objects yield well-written descriptions but no discoveries. There are no puzzles to be solved, not even the kind of bigger-picture-understanding that goes with most puzzleless IF.
Starting a new IF-game, I always enjoy that exhilarating feeling of controlling my character in this new world. Here, that feeling quickly wears off to the point that entering commands actually lessens the immersion in the story. It becomes a chore to make Jack do the glaringly obvious when I would have rather just flipped the page of a novel and read on.
That said, the story really is good, and the characters in it are lively, well-written (to the point of caricature, but I don't mind that in this kind of tale) and they have lots to say.
Since the story is the first part of an intended series, it stops with a cliffhanger. If anyone hears the call of the IF-gods to write a sequel, I'd love to read/play it. With a bit more adventuring, that is.
-The first chapter does not suffer from any of the criticism above. It's a good and funny self-contained exploration puzzle.
-I found an extremely annoying bug that would have made me QUIT if this weren't such an easy game:(Spoiler - click to show)The game won't let you out of the library without the secret letter. The letter is in the chandelier. So if you enter the library without having lowered the chandelier from the room above, you're stuck.
Anyways: good story, bad IF.
Die Feuerfaust is the third installment in the Alaric Blackmoon-series by Larry Horsfield. Having played and tested the previous two, I knew pretty much what I was in for, and looking forward to it.
I was not disappointed. Unapologetic (have I used this word in an Alaric-review before? I just might have...) oldschool adventuring, big and varied settings, some use of magic, some killing of foes, and at least one very elaborate, well thought out puzzle (Have you ever tried any horseriding? Wait til you try riding a wild Zampf).
Also: some lack in depth of implementation and interactivity in the large and sprawling settings, as is to be expected in the oldschool tradition.
A classic storyline drives the game forward: Whereas Alaric was a run-down mercenary going on a quest that lead him to glory in Axe of Kolt, in this game Alaric is stranded after a shipwreck and has lost all his belongings. He must work his way through various obstacles and tasks toward his final goal, recovering the famed Fist of Fire.
Nothing new, but tried and trusted adventure fare.
Many NPCs, most still smelling of the cardboard they were cut out of, some more fleshed out. All do what they're supposed to do in a text-adventure such as this: drive the action forward with clues and gifts.
Many, many puzzles, most quite straightforward and not too big. And as mentioned, a great Zampftaming sequence to sink your Hero-teeth into.
All in all, the best of the three I have played so far. The evolution begun in Spectre of Castle Coris continues: tighter gameplay, clearer subgoals so less wandering about, more engaging story.
Not must, but certainly should-play.
A new version of the game will be appearing soon.
The second Alaric Blackmoon game. It's a large oldschool quest to save a village from a spectre that's killing and abducting people.
Right from the start it got my attention because of the mystery aspect. Who or what is this Spectre? Finding this out is essential to vanquishing it in the end.
I like my fantasy oldschool, straightforward and unapologetic. Here the mystery adds to the fun. Good puzzles, a great sense of space once you enter the castle grounds. Linear, but I don't mind that in this sort of game. Some great, vividly written scenes.
The author made a design choice that may be offputting to some: until you enter the castle, you must send the ghost away with a prayer every 20 turns or so. To me, this added to the presence of the Spectre, to others, this will get dull.
This game's good for a week, maybe two of ghosthunting and castlesearching fun. Well worth playing.
This is cliché fantasy galore and it's great!
Step one: set expectations to sorcerers, dwarves, a magic axe and all that.
Step two: don your Hero-attire and rush in!
Step three: be stopped in your tracks by this or that puzzle that is cleverer than you thought, wander through a forest searching for poultry, witness a demonic sacrifice...
It's good fun and the Hero of the day should count his blessings that you're the one guiding him because there's a few hard and complex puzzles. (Heroes aren't all that bright in the noggin, you know).
It's also fantastically long. This is one to sink your teeth into. Clear an hour a day in your schedule for a month to play this. You might get to the end by then.
AoK does show its age: some non-interactive forest-locations all alike, lots of death, some learn by trial-and-death, timed sequences. I didn't mind any of that because: fun!
In the end, it's a great straightforward fantasy romp that had me tied to the screen for some weeks.
"The Lost Labyrinth of Lazaitch" is a type of game I miss in newer IF. It's an oldschool fantasy text adventure. Period.
No deep metaphors for our pressing modern times, no personal symbolism about overcoming your deepest fear, no soul-searching tale about spiritual enlightenment.
You are Alaric, a Hero. Somewhere to the East is a Magic Book of great importance. Obstacles and enemies are between you and said book. Overcome them and get the Book. Period.
Aaah, good times!
Be sure to bring your brain, because we all know Heroes need all the help they can get in that department, especially with puzzles like in LLL. Not too hard, but enough to get you scratching your head.
This way, they are both funny and engaging, not frustrating. Just remember the 3 IF commandments: Read, Explore, Examine.
Also bring your imagination, because on your way you will see beautiful and horrifying sights. May you be the first to live and tell the world about the troll-bowl or the Red Tower.
Full disclosure: I playtested this game.
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