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The Moonlit Tower

by Yoon Ha Lee


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Number of Reviews: 10
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Exploration in a lush, beautiful East Asian-influenced setting, July 16, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: phlegmatic
The Moonlit Tower is a small, self-contained game, set in a lush, unusual setting. Who you are is not immediately clear; finding out is its own experience.

Again, the player's goal is not clear at first. While this would usually be considered less than desirable, in this case this encourages exploration, and what a world there is to explore! The setting here draws on East Asian influences, and various features give the impression of gilt and intricate detail, such as you might find in a palace in ancient China or during the Joseon dynasty, and it is this detail in the crevices of the text which encourages replay.

This is a small game whose sparse puzzles are enriched by the enjoyable writing. The game boasts gentle, evocative, lush descriptions galore, rich with odd turns of phrase. Story is revealed in vignettes, flashes of memory; nothing is concrete.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A short Asian-themed "atmosphere" game like Dreamhold, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours
In the Moonlit Tower, you explore a small 3-story tower to help remember who you are and your past. Like Dreamhold, the key to your memory seems to be masks, but much of the game, you don't know what to do with the mask.

The setting is dreamlike and very poetic. It is the game most likely to find its way into a book of poems or an art gallery. The author borrowed its imagery and story from several cultures, including Mongolia and China.

The puzzles are mostly the examine/pick-up-object type until you progress very far, and then they get a bit more difficult. There are multiple endings, some of which are hard to find.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Featured on Radio K #2, April 28, 2015
by Adam Cadre (Albany, California)
Alex Hoffer and I discuss The Moonlit Tower at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o98QKRf1iM#t=21s

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A touch of moonlit magic, July 4, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: yoon ha lee, fantasy, atmospheric, mid-length
Play it if: you want a game rich in atmosphere and abstraction.

Don't play it if: you prefer something more like a literal story or intellectual challenge.

This is a very striking first publication. I think most of us would give an arm and a leg to put out something this good on the first try, and Yoon Ha Lee is to be commended on the thought and imagination she's put into this work.

In the basic technical respects, it's not all that remarkable. A short-to-mid-length game which isn't very puzzle-dense. Not much is going on here that's particularly revolutionary to the medium.

What makes it special is the setting and atmosphere. Here, the work comes alive in the imagination, and not just in the vivid, spellbinding language of description.

The Moonlit Tower reminds me the most of Emily Short's Metamorphoses; although the latter is a more puzzle-heavy exercise, the general feel of the two works is rather similar. Yes, there's a distinctive Eastern aesthetic influence (Korean and Mongolian, apparently), but the more overt impression to me is a pervading sense of toying with abstractions.

In Metamorphoses, it's the essence of things: their shapes, their sizes, their substances. In The Moonlit Tower, it's more about symbols: masks, lanterns, seasons. A sense of symmetry pervades the piece, with asymmetry being a puzzle to solve. A porcelain half-mask. A feast of bones just barely out of place. A compass dividing the four seasons. A symphony with a missing player. These otherwise disparate elements congregate to give an inescapable feeling of some greater whole.

The "story" itself is limited mainly to flashback and suggestion. In a way, it's almost a nudge - a small device intended to clarify one or two things, to quietly lay the framework for the final sequence. It's a testament to this story's belief in letting the player's imagination blossom that you can experience a profound sense of completion upon finishing The Moonlit Tower, even if you feel you never really knew the protagonist.

It's difficult to really say much more about this work. It's a bona fide tone poem - almost a more intimate, intricate IF successor to Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra - and as such is something more to be experienced and reveled in than dissected. I strongly recommend it.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Would recommend, June 11, 2013
Personally, this is the type of narrative that I prefer from an IF. A narrative that reveals itself gradually with each item and room you explore. For me, it promotes the interactivity aspect to have the story only told if you take the time to look around and interact with your surroundings, rather than having large chunks of exposition thrown at you. It also helps that the writing of Moonlit Tower has a poetic simplicity about it. The details of the narrative aren't necessarily explained to you outright. Rather hints are scattered here and there and tidbits are provided for the player to piece together.

As for the gameplay, it requires you to make sure you pore over each little detail in the rooms you occupy. Certain interactions will give you a response that hints at what move to make next. I'll mention that in order to move certain items, you would have to say "take items" or "take item with ___" rather than the usual "move" items. Also, in the HELP menu it will tell you some of the game-specific verbs you will want to know. If necessary, there is a hint system that will give you a lead as to where to go but won't tell you precisely what to do. However, if you are patient and meticulous enough, you should not need the hints too often (in my first playthrough I think I only needed them to figure out (Spoiler - click to show)how to find the thing that got dislodged by the kite). A cute feature after the game ends is the option to see a list of amusing things to try in the game for your next playthrough. Also I should mention it's fairly short. A little over one hour for my first playthrough, and I think I got most of the puzzles.

Overall a sort of melancholic atmosphere, and an emphasis on exploring and interacting with every detail in order to both piece together the narrative, and to continue further through the game.

(On a personal note: I was only able to find two endings to the game. If anyone knows of more endings maybe you could message me? I read through the ClubFloyd transcript but they only found the same two endings I'd already discovered.)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Sad, but hopeful. Wow., April 11, 2013
by Andromache (Hawaii)
This game is difficult to review because there's so much to think about in terms of story. The setting, atmosphere, and writing is superb. I truly felt like I was in the story - while I played, I could easily envision the feel of tower walls and the sounds evoked by the text. The thing I loved best about this game was that you could touch everything and get short descriptions of what you felt. Same with listening and smelling things when appropriate. As many senses as possible were engaged, and that is rare to see in the IF I've played.

The story itself, from what I could piece together of the hints, is a tragic one. The tower is symbolic of your character's inability to accept, to let go, to forgive himself. As you play through, there is a fun revelation going on, where each new discovery fleshes out the character's backstory more and more, but you never get anything really concrete. It's all implicit. Still, I found the character to be both sympathetic and likable. The tower is pretty small, but choices you make in terms of how you solve puzzles impacts the various endings.

The puzzles were intuitive. There was one that I got stuck on how to word my command. I knew what I wanted to do but had a devil of a time getting the game to understand me. I managed it in the end without hints, but it did cause some frustration. But don't let that put you off. I know which combination of choices produces my personal optimal ending, and having seen several of them, a little more of the backstory gets revealed the more endings you see. It's possible to finish the game without solving all the puzzles, but this produces a less satisfying ending. Puzzles are well-clued based on the writing, however, so it's not really possible to not know what to do. The puzzles feel natural and not intrusive, made to serve the story, just the way I like it.

I think this is a good beginning game; something that showcases what IF can be when it's done well; why there are people who choose to play a story in such a medium instead of one where things are explicitly drawn for them. IF should provide the immersion and escape of a good book, along with the emotional engagement and food for thought of great literature. This game does that, and it's short enough to replay for the endings. Everyone should give this a try.

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Beautiful writing, July 26, 2010
The Moonlit Tower gets an enthusiastic 5/5 from me on writing, setting, and character, but only a 3/5 on puzzle implementation.

The writing, as other reviews have said, is stunning. Even the error messages ("you can't go that way", etc.) are beautifully in-world and you have to examine every element of the setting to piece together the back story. I really wish this had been the final chapter of a longer game -- it felt like getting a glimpse into a wonderful elaborate world that I desperately wanted to see more of.

The puzzles are where this game breaks down a little. It's possible to win without solving one of the central challenges, yet the end-text assumes the puzzle was completed, making me wonder if I did something in an order that the game hadn't expected. The puzzles themselves vary from interesting but not at all challenging to combining elements in ways that I never would have figured out without the hint system. This would have been a more effective game in my opinion if the writer had played more to her strength in writing and left the more complicated puzzles for a second run.

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Spellbinding, July 16, 2009
by AmberShards (The Gothic South)
If I had to condense my feelings to a sentence, this game is what IF is all about. The writing is lush, evocative, and tinged with the stoic sadness of the Japanese (I presume) medieval period. The puzzles are just difficult enough to draw you further into the dread revelation that builds and builds into a cathartic end, but no harder than they need to be. Yes, this is a deliriously wonderful and refreshingly non-frustrating work. The Moonlit Tower is far more memorable than many of the games penned by IF legends.

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Absolutely beautiful, without the use of pictures, December 27, 2008
by Molly (USA)
An absolutely gorgeously described game, based around the mythology of East Asia. It may be the most evocative IF ever.

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
Haunting and Unique, August 12, 2008
by C.E.J. Pacian (England)
A beautifully written, evocative, almost poetic game, The Moonlit Tower is a short tale of strange myth and melancholy longing that, in its final moments, gave me goosebumps in the best possible way. Best of all, though, contrary to what you may expect from a game praised for its writing, The Moonlit Tower is far from florid or long-winded, its tightly written imagery packing a lot of content into a few sentences per action.

My one complaint is that such a stunning story, more than capable of carrying itself entirely on the strength of its surreal and deeply implemented setting, is at heart a puzzle game. The mid-part, where you must figure out how to use the sundry gorgeously described items you find, was for me the weakest, the flow of the prose being constantly interrupted by the need to wonder what on Earth (or elsewhere) I actually had to do to make the story continue, or by trips to the terse and occasionally frustrating hint menu.

But even if you are, like me, puzzle-averse, this is some of the most affecting writing I can call to mind, and the chance to explore this exquisite world should not be turned down.

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