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About the Story
It has been five days, now. Five days since I made the choice. Five days since I closed the gate.
1st Place overall; 1st Place, Miss Congeniality Awards - 11th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2005)
Winner, Best Game; Winner, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story; Winner, Best Setting; Nominee, Best Puzzles; Winner, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Individual PC - 2005 XYZZY Awards
Emily Short's Interactive Fction
What I found most interesting about Vespers was its construction, its success at arranging events and making characters take action; it has a lot of plot, but avoids the excessively linear feel of many high-plot-content games.
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Set in a 15th century monastery beset by the plague, Vespers follows an abbot driven increasingly insane as he watches his feverish monks perish one by one. It's a nauseating, deeply frightening game, like survival/horror without the survival part, and it clings to me like a bad nightmare I can't shake. I'm thoroughly grossed out by it, physically, emotionally and morally.
Vespers is one of the best games I've ever played, text-based or no.
-- Lara Crigger
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Vespers is strong on atmosphere, very strong on atmosphere. It is told over three days, with the monastery becoming slowly creepier and more oppressive as time goes on. Descriptions change in subtle – and not so subtle – ways as the plot progresses (and, I think, in response to player action – if you play as a raving nutbag things get rather more messed up rather more quickly).
-- Dan Hemmens
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A truly horrifying, but thought-provoking experience that is sure to leave a lasting impression on the player. If you’re not afraid of the darkness in human hearts, be sure to check Vespers out.
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It has numerous strengths, but I think the most important is how well paced it is. The introduction slopes in gradually, and while I generally like to have some idea of what I should be accomplishing from the very beginning, here the more leisurely approach worked well - knowing that plague was loose and the monastery was locked in made things more interesting than the standard wander-corridors-until-something-happens opening, and front-loading much of the exploration allowed later sequences to play out tauter, since the player knows exactly where everything is. The number of NPCs is initially a little overwhelming, but the author does a very good job of giving each of them a distinctive feature, so that the player soon remembers which is the crazy one, which is the terse, practical one, and so on.
-- Michael A Russo
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Number of Reviews: 9
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
I still think about Vespers nearly a year and a half after first playing through it. In the game you are a monk in charge of a monastery during the plague years of Europe. The nearby town has succumbed to disease, and the abbey is the last available refuge. The game takes place over a few days as the plague begins to infiltrate this remaining sanctuary. Dark secrets are uncovered, and the abbey itself is one of the strongest and most dynamic characters in the game. Though not for the faint of heart, or those who are easily offended by violence or religious questioning, the sense of place, immersive character, and interesting NPCs make this one of my favorite IF works.
As a hypochondriac, I stopped playing Vespers as soon as I read the word 'plague'. And then, a few days later, I started playing it again. Something about its atmospheric depiction of an abbey barricaded against the Black Death drew me back, not because it was pleasant, but because it was quite thoroughly sinister.
Another thing that quickly had me hooked me was the way Vespers starts out as a medieval detective story. Alongside the plague, murder has come to the abbey, not to mention a mysterious waif and stray, and the monks are all acting strangely - among them the player character. As things progress, Vespers only becomes darker and more sinister, something that I would normally expect to repel me - but this carefully constructed rendition of apocalyptic Dark Age sentiments kept me hooked until, naturally enough, the detective portion gives way to a set of uncomfortable decisions - some of which you will have already made before you realise their portent.
This kind of IF game, where you must explore a world and form a moral reaction, has obviously been done before, most notably in Slouching Towards Bedlam. But whereas in that game I found myself having to refer to the hints to get the least thing done, my experience with Vespers flowed quite nicely towards its dramatic and nihilistic conclusion.
I was really looking forward to playing Vespers after reading reviews that it had similarities to Anchorhead, though I was left underwhelmed. I'm bummed, too, since Vespers has so many good things going for it.
The setting is damn near perfect. Playing a monk during the plague, watching everyone decompensate and die around him, is ripe for vivid imagery and tension. At times the game reaches that pinnacle. There are many subtle changes to the environment that occur as everything collapses, and in general, reexamining things on a regular basis is horrifying and rewarding. I also appreciate that while time moves forward with plot triggers, they are not always obvious at the time, which helped keep me in the moment. In this way Vespers succeeds as a successor to Anchorhead.
For me, though, just about everything else here is a misstep. The most egregious is that the game frequently does not remember things you have already done. I counted at least four instances on my first playthrough where the descriptions given do not match what is actually happening. For example, (Spoiler - click to show)if you ask Lucca about the flagstone while he's locked in the calefactory, he responds as if he's still in Matteo's room. Also, if you examine the bell after Matteo dies, the game responds as if he's still alive. While it's not expected that an author catch every single random thing a player can try, this happens more often in Vespers than just about any well-received game I've played, and it took me out of the moment every time.
The horror also didn't hit the right beats for me. Part of that is everything goes sour perhaps a little too quickly, so while I'm still digesting one horror, the next one is thrown at me before I have time to relax. By the end I was a bit numb to it all. I think part of that is also I didn't have time to really get to know any of the other monks, and with the exception of Drogo, they all kind of seemed the same to me. I wasn't invested in any of their fates, so when terrible things happened, I just shrugged it off.
I'm lukewarm on the multiple endings based on the moral choices you make. Vespers avoids the pitfalls of Tapestry, in that you aren't force fed choices and nothings feels overly moralistic. On the other hand, it's hard to tell (unless you do something truly horrific) that you're even making moral choices most of the time. Adventurers tend to just take the easiest path, and to not find out until the end that there was a harder but more rewarding path feels like the game played me a bit. Wishbringer and Counterfeit Monkey offer a more satisfying alternative by telling you at the outset that most every puzzle has both an easy and a hard solution, and neither of them are right or wrong. Just different.
I'm a broken record at this point, but in a serious dramatic piece, I much prefer there be one story with one ending. Replaying Vespers by making more despicable choices feels very icky, as it's no longer a character I'm playing at this point but rather me deciding to do despicable things.
I did enjoy my first run-through and it was the right amount of difficult. But with all the problems I have no desire to see it through again.
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