Reviews by autumnc
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Sordwin is one of the deepest and broadest Hosted Games that I've played. It is a mystery game with one central mystery and many smaller mysteries, all connected together in a tangled web of relationships, lies, and secrets that the player will have to unravel. I enjoyed playing this game a great deal, and I've played it many times to see more of the possibilities.
The game is a sequel to the earlier Evertree Inn, and copies and expands on its predecessor's mechanics. There is a time-based mechanic, where within certain blocks of time, the player has a great deal of freedom to investigate various locations and leads, in a hub-and-spoke design (there's a time limit that restricts how much investigation can be done). It's a much more freeform structure than is typical with choicescript games, which encourages replayability and is just fun to play with. There are also "scripted events" at certain times, emergencies that move the plot forward. The mystery itself is very well designed in my opinion. While there is a clue system that keeps track of many of the events, ultimately the deduction has to be done by the player; even getting all of the clues will not directly give up the answer to the central mystery.
Sordwin is set in the same world as Evertree Inn, which is loaded with typical Western fantasy tropes - elves, dwarves, wizards, and all that. But within these confines, the worldbuilding is pretty interesting - the mysteries of the island of Sordwin itself are quite involved. I enjoyed the writing and characters; the inhabitants of the island are all more complex than they seem at first. This isn't a romance game, but if that were pursued in the first game, then the romanced character carries over and plays a major role here. It's incredible to me how well the author has managed the possibility for combinatorial explosion, given all the options present between the two games, which becomes even more of an issue in the third game in this series.
Like the mechanics, the game's stat system is copied over from Evertree Inn, and the character build from Evertree Inn is basically fixed, without opportunities to radically change. I don't think the game is heavily stats-driven, in that basically any character build is valid, but playing with different builds unlocks different possibilities.
This is one of the numerous superhero games originating in the choicescript ecosystem. Similar to the Heroes Rise trilogy and Fallen Hero: Rebirth, which was published a year later, Paradigm City leans towards the darker, more "realistic" side of the genre, towards what TVTropes would call "deconstruction". I enjoyed playing the game, but it isn't as successful for a number of reasons.
Paradigm City takes place in a world where superheros are an accepted part of society, working for governments and organizations as part of their forces. The player character is abandoned as a child to a superhero academy, and later ends up working for a UN (I think) superhero agency called SOLAR. They are sent to the titular Paradigm City, an isolated city run entirely by superpowered individuals, to solve a series of crimes. Of course, things become more complicated. The worldbuilding isn't as extensive as some of the longer choicescript superhero series, but it gets the job done well enough.
The game's writing felt overly vague at times. A lot of events were glossed over or barely explained; to me the most egregious was (Spoiler - click to show)Dawn's death, which jumped straight into the funeral with implications of conspiracy, but wasn't ever explained or resolved. But maybe I just picked the wrong choices? The fight scenes were impressive, but there were only two of those (and one training exercise). The investigation scenes felt like lawnmowering, just picking all the choices until reaching the conclusion. The mysteries weren't all too interesting to me, but mysteries in the usual choicescript stat-based style are hard to do. There is romance and relationship-building, but it feels like an afterthought solely due to the choicescript style. I thought I had started a romance but there was no content afterwards.
As the conclusion to the Lost Heir trilogy, Demon War contains a mix of positive and troublesome developments. On one hand, it has some of the most interesting and unique narrative segments, and further advances characterization and worldbuilding. On the other hand, the ending has a ridiculous sequence of stat checks that could easily lead to a bad ending if you didn't optimized a number of previously underutilized stats.
The previous game ended with either a pyrrhic victory or a defeat that nevertheless left you, the lost heir, as the last one standing. Your task now is to defeat the evil demon summoner who killed your parents and reclaim your kingdom. This is divided into a number of distinct story sections. It is kind of strange to see a putative monarch do jobs like pretending to be a student at a school. But overall, the new scenes are fun; I thought the ocean voyage and mysterious island chapter was rather memorable. There are also some cool moments when selecting a prestige class, and interesting character-focused scenes with your party. I feel like the quality of the writing has improved with this iteration.
The ending is where things start to come apart. You are forced to rely much more heavily on physical stats, when they were rarely used in the prior two games and even in the earlier parts of this game. Thus, unless you knew about this change, you're basically doomed. All the preparations, all the kingdom-building didn't matter if you don't have enough agility and stamina. I only succeeded when I was using a guide, on my third playthrough or something like that. You basically have to plan for the final scene from the beginning of the first game, which was kind of impossible if you played the games when they were released.
I felt like I enjoyed this game more when playing with a guide (and with a save that used a guide in the previous two games).
Keeper of the Sun and Moon (or KotSaM) is a comforting game for me. This is in spite of the fact that it contains quite a deal of violence and dangerous situations; I think it's just because of a sense of familiarity, both from playing it a lot and from its use of familiar tropes. It is a very tropey game, taking place in a modern fantasy-kitchen-sink setting, with a hidden society of magical/supernatural beings. You play as a newcomer from a seemingly normal human background, who is discovered to have latent magical ability and is enrolled in a magical college. There, adventures start that involve life-threatening school exams, conspiracies involving the magical government, and potentially romance. The game follows the typical choicescript formula by offering a lot of character customization and numerical growth, a branch-and-bottleneck structure, and a lot of romance/relationship options.
From the description above, the premise resembles a number of quite popular YA literary franchises. But I feel like KotSaM implements the tropes well, and does enough to distinguish itself within its genre. As this is a college setting, the characters are all adults, and the courses and residential system are based on American universities. One of the fun parts of the game is deciding which species of supernatural creature you are; there are tons of possibilities from the gamut of mythological fantasy. Also, this is a setting that mixes modern technology with magic; mathematics and biology come into play a few times.
In general, KotSaM is one of the easier choicescript games, as it's hard to die and I don't think there are "bad endings" (or are there?). The stat checks are usually well telegraphed, but sometimes it's hard to tell how difficult a check would be. Failing stat checks might lead to lower grades or getting injured, but it's not that hard to stumble into a path to moderate success without really designing a specific route (kind of like college I guess). For min-maxers and guide-makers, there are secrets and achievements and hidden romance routes.
The writing is functional for the most part; some of the characters came off as a bit hard to distinguish from each other, and some of the scenes felt a bit vague. Still, the story was easy enough to read, and I generally enjoyed the character interactions. The resolution of the mystery and the reveal of the villain felt a bit anticlimactic. But it sets up for the sequel, which I'm rather looking forward to.
Fallen Hero is one of the most popular Hosted Games, and it deserves its popularity entirely.
Fallen Hero came during a glut of superhero stories for Choice of Games/Hosted Games: there was the Heroes Rise trilogy, its spinoffs The Hero Project: Redemption Season/Open Season, and The Hero Unmasked, as well as the Community College Hero series and Paradigm City from Hosted Games (there are probably others I forgot, plus tons of WIPs). Something about superhero stories makes them well-suited for the CoG style: the power fantasy, the customization choices, the ability to easily slot your OC into an existing world. Fallen Hero doesn't entirely defy these conventions, but it does twist them in a way different from all the other superhero choicescript games.
As the title implies, Fallen Hero is about, well, a fallen superhero turned potential supervillain. You play as a former freelance superhero named Sidestep, who went through a traumatic experience leading them to turn against their former allies. The main path of the story is about the steps taken in the quest for revenge, and there is no way around it; you can decide whether Sidestep is reluctantly or eagerly embraces their goals, but their major actions will usually be the same. Most of the choices are reflective: how does your character feel about what they just did. In many games, this wouldn't work, but here, it absolutely does. The character of Sidestep shines through, and is always just so fascinating to read.
The writing in the game is superb, in my opinion. The prose is just really good and really memorable and enjoyable to read. As is the characterization, pacing, and so on. There's an excellent balance between fast-paced action, quiet reflection, pure horror, and even occasional moments of comedy. Speaking of which, your power is mind control, and you also control a puppet, another human body that you use for your own purposes. One of which could be to pursue another character romantically at the same time as your actual body. Yeah. There's an achievement for that.
It has somewhat of an unreliable narrator; there is plenty that the protagonist knows, but the player doesn't. What exactly happened to Sidestep to make them turn is never described (there will be a sequel). There are a lot of mysteries left. I enjoyed the process of trying to put together the backstory in my head; it took the second playthrough to really get it.
The Lost Heir 2 is probably the "easiest" game in the series in that it is difficult to get an unambiguously bad ending or die for real. (Spoiler - click to show)In fact, "losing" the final battle is the only way to save a certain character. Most character builds that did well in the first game will work well here.
I like the sense of progression in the game: you go from being an exiled heir, to taking over a city through politicking, and then leading an army on a quest to retake your kingdom. There are management mechanics in the city and army portions of the game; you can either increase the citizens' respect or their fear, and in the army portion you have to balance the army's size, strength, food supplies, and delays. In addition, there are still the choices of which party member to support in their conflicts. There are interesting trade-offs to be made here. However, there is somewhat of a conflict between min-maxing and role-playing; since there are no benefits to increasing relationships above 100, it is always advantageous to support the character with the lower relationship, even if the other character is your love interest or is actually correct in the conflict.
As before, the plot here is a somewhat typical high fantasy story: you are still the titular "lost heir" and your goal is to re-conquer your kingdom. The world is a bit more fleshed out; there is the requisite high fantasy "gathering the races" segment which introduces the friendly non-human species, and there are some indications of why the people who usurped the protagonist are bad (besides the fact that they usurped the protagonist). There is a new romance option introduced, and some opportunities to develop previously constructed relationships. Personally I really enjoyed the story despite it not being extremely unique; I managed to become invested in the characters and relationships.
(Spoiler - click to show)In the end, however, it basically doesn't matter how your army performed in the final battle or all the battles leading up to it; all that matters is your skill in the final climactic fight. The final fight is against a former party member who was captured brainwashed in the first game. If you lose that fight, your army is defeated but the party member survives. If you win, the party member dies but your army is victorious. This choice kind of left a bad taste, even though everything leading up to it was good.
The Wayhaven Chronicles games are two of the most popular games in the Hosted Games catalog, based on review and download counts. I was kind of surprised to see that this game didn't have an entry here. Overall, I think the game deserves its popularity: it is a very well-written and constructed game with an engaging plot and character development, but I personally had some issues with the choice structure.
The author of this game comes from a visual novel/otome game background, and it shows. The structure of this game mixes Choice of Games and otome game conventions. Like the latter, the primary source of branching in the game is which love interest to pursue (or to pursue a love triangle option), which is an explicit choice in the middle of the story. Like the former, the protagonist has numerous options to change their personality stats or use their skills. A large number of choices are personality-setting choices, which provide a choice of what you do, and why you're doing it. I wasn't a fan of these choices because I could never figure out which choice was supposed to correspond to which personality stat, and often none of the personality choices were appealing. Perhaps fortunately, these choices and their associated stats appear to have little impact on the broader story progression (but I haven't re-played the game enough to really find out).
One of the main reasons behind the popularity is the characters. The four main romance interests (who are a team of gender-flippable immortal mostly-benevolent vampires assigned by a secretive Agency to help the protagonist) are very well realized, with their own distinct personalities and detailed descriptions of their appearances. The protagonist's relationship with their mother is also portrayed well, but I could never get past the fact that the protagonist always calls their mother by her first name.
Beyond the romance, the main plot of the game is a supernatural mystery: there is a supernatural serial killer in town and you have to bring him to justice with the help of your companions. However, the killer is revealed through perspective shifts early on; the only question is how they catch him.
The Lost Heir series eschews the Choice of Games design philosophy in which all paths should be valid and failures should be interesting. This is a difficult game. There are many paths through this story, and it is difficult to die in the first game of the series, but some paths are objectively better than others.
Like many visual novels and gamebooks, the difficulty is in designing a path through the game in which the player character survives and achieves their goals. This involves raising certain stats to the necessary level by key points in the story, and not letting health decrease too low. Unlike in many other stat-heavy choicescript games, the player cannot simply focus on one or two stats; a pure magic user can't expect to get by on magic alone, for example. There are a large number of stats, divided into abilities, skills, knowledge, and relationships. Usually, the stat being checked is well cued, but not always. Only passing stat checks will raise the stat while failing checks will lose health, leading to potential death spirals where the player fails one check after another. I think it is expected that a player will play through multiple times to learn the checks and stat gains and to find a route that leads to a desired ending. Overall, it felt somewhat like Long Live the Queen in terms of the stat-check gameplay, but with fewer deaths.
The story itself takes place in a seemingly generic fantasy setting, where the player character is the titular "lost heir" seeking to reclaim the throne from evil usurpers. Despite the typical setting and plot, it was easy for me to become engrossed in this game. The writing is decent, and I really felt like I needed to find a way to save my favorite characters. There are a number of romance options as is usual in choicescript, who are described in broad strokes in this volume. The romance options themselves are also pretty heavily stat-gated.
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