Radicofani

by Rob profile

Horror
2020

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A near-diamond in the rough, December 10, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

Radicofani is a bit of an odd duck that’s frustrating to play, but part of the frustration for me was that I found its world intriguing and was annoyed I couldn’t see as much of it as I wanted. Starting with what’s off-putting: this is a custom-parser game that runs as a standalone Windows executable, with some awkward programming choices – the game is constantly popping up separate, standalone windows, and there’s a noticeable lag after every action – and even more annoying visual-design choices – there are a lot of documents depicted with blurry, pixelated fonts that make reading headache-inducing, and some of the darker colors were hard to read against the black background. It’s apparently a translation of an earlier Italian version, and there are a host of typos and English-language infelicities that indicate that this wasn’t the smoothest process.

The design of the game itself also makes for a bumpy ride. Most locations list their interactive objects after the room description – a nice convenience - but there are also sometimes objects that aren’t listed despite being obvious and quite prominent (on the flip side, there are also some objects that don’t appear to be mentioned anywhere except the hints). And descriptions can be quite sparse – early on as the player is exploring their ex’s apartment, they see the listing “I see a voice mail“, with no cue about it being on an answering machine. There’s also a bench the player can open, I suppose like a piano bench, but the only cue that that’s possible is a note in the description that it has “a usable bottom.”

Predictably, there are guess-the-verb issues, and wandering into a church appears to be an automatic game-over, with no warning so far as I could tell (there’s no UNDO, either). And the results of one’s actions are often very unclear. Here’s the response to MOVE CARPET:

"What should I do now? move carpet
I am watching…
UGH! I must have stopped a gathering of dust mites
You have been missing for a long time…"

Huh?

Yet, despite all these irritations there are parts of Radicofani I really enjoyed. The setting is the primary draw – the player is investigating the disappearance of his ex, who’s an art restorer who went missing in an old medieval hill-town in Tuscany. I’ve been to a similar place, and perhaps the memory of that experience made me find this one so evocative. But there are times when the descriptions, awkward as they sometimes are, do paint a compelling picture of this ancient, mysterious city – and there are a few well-chosen graphics that also fit the mood. The business of the game has to do with libraries, antiquarians, secret passages, and churches, which all appeal to me in a Name-of-the-Rose sort of way.

So I was willing to put up with trying to bash my way through by regular consultation of the hints and squinting at the Italian-language walkthrough Mathbrush found, but sadly even this wasn’t enough to get me past one puzzle (Spoiler - click to show)(what to do once you’ve found the secret shelf in the library). If anyone writes up a walkthrough I’ll gladly come back to this one and go along for the ride just to enjoy some virtual tourism, but absent that sort of guide, Radifocani is hard to recommend.

MUCH LATER UPDATE: with the kind assistance of the author, I was able to finish my playthrough of Radicofani. I’m glad I saw the ending, since there’s a fun and creepy confrontation with the entity behind your ex’s disappearance, and the setting continues to be a highlight. The puzzles did continue to feel pretty arbitrary at times, however, with certain necessary actions seeming pretty unmotivated and underclued to me (I’m thinking especially of (Spoiler - click to show)hypnotizing the antiquarian, since I didn’t notice any indication the player character knew how to do that and it’s kind of a big deal to do that to someone without their consent!). Some of the late-game challenges do make good use of the graphics the game occasionally pops up, embedding hints that felt satisfying to figure out, but they didn’t always feel well integrated with the story – the final puzzle especially. With that said, the ending sequence is nicely put together and ties a satisfying bow around the game, albeit with a couple lines that read to me as some iffy gender politics (Spoiler - click to show)(the girlfriend is said to be changed by her ordeal and now focuses more on stability and things like cooking for you, without her same “thirst for work”, and this is presented as a positive thing). As I said, I was happy to get through to the end, but I’m left wondering what a more experientially-focused game that created more space for the pleasure of exploring the nicely-realized setting would have looked like – with easier or fewer puzzles, I think more folks would be able to enjoy Radicofani.