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About the Story
Well, isn't this a lark! After solid years of going after old Alky to let you in on that Mysteries wheeze of his, at last tonight's the night. He's dragged you from Athens to Eleusis for the to-do, but no sooner had you clapped eyes on the wine and canapés than he informed you of a spot of work in need of doing. You've heard of work, you're sure you'll be good at it!
Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee, Best Puzzles - 2020 XYZZY Awards
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Number of Reviews: 8
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The "Eleusinian Miseries" follows a vacuous, self-absorbed player-character as he is introduced into an ancient Greek mystery cult. Amusingly, the cult resembles American universities' fraternities, and their mild hazing rituals and toga parties, except its members speak with British idioms and have names like Alky and Puffy.
While "Miseries" characters are well-acquainted with ancient Greek clothing, foods, vases, and architecture, they are also flippantly vague on other Greek folkways. The PC's unrequited adoration of his friend, his ineptitude at practical tasks, and his surprising aptitude at accidentally emasculating statues of Hermes appears to be a joke about the virility of either the ancient Greeks, American fraternity brothers, or British trust-fund kids. Regardless of the way you read it, it's pretty funny.
The game is structured by five distinct scenes. The first scene is a well-designed and implemented set of find and fetch tasks. The second scene is a little under-clued and linear, with a brute-force puzzle (Spoiler - click to show)(you'll need to try a lot of clothing combinations until you find out what amuses your cult-mates) and a guess-the-verb puzzle (Spoiler - click to show)(if you want to splash or spatter something on yourself, try "wash" instead). The third scene is more open and involves some lateral-thinking repair puzzles. The fourth scene has little interaction, but carries some thematic weight for the game. And the final scene is a clever optimization puzzle which points to several alternate game endings.
"Eleusinian Miseries" is a funny, engaging, well-structured game, with only a few implementation problems.
"The Eleusinian Miseries" is a puzzle-filled parser-based game set during the annual Eleusinian Mysteries, the initiation rites into the cult of Demeter and Persephone. Most of that last sentence I had to google to make sure I was getting it right, I know very little about Ancient Greek cultural history, and if you are like me then don't let that deter you. Just think of it all as taking place during your final initiation into a fraternity that is very dedicated to authenticity. You play one of the current pledges with only a few tasks left to complete before you can be fully accepted into the group.
The game is a series of puzzles incorporated into a small map played out over several acts. If you aren't familiar with Greek terminology then keep a dictionary handy to look up some words. The game does a pretty good job of kind of cluing you in on what some objects are in modern English, but I still had to look up several and knowing the function of many of the objects is key to solving some of the puzzles. For the most part the puzzles are fun and fair. With a limited number of locations and objects you can usually brute force your way to a lot of the solutions. Most of them just needed a bit of common sense applied, and the parser seemed pretty forgiving with phrasing. That said, there were a few puzzles that I had to look at the walkthrough to get past. After seeing some of the solutions I'm glad I didn't wait longer as I don't think I would have ever figured it out. On a couple of the puzzles though, the way I solved it is not the way listed in the walkthrough, so I think many of the puzzles have multiple solutions.
While many of the puzzles were very enjoyable, it is really the humor that makes this game great. Don't forgot to stop and read the prose in between completing tasks as there are more than just funny lines, but hilarious whole scenes. It is unusual to me to see humor mixed into a parser game this well and at this level. My compliments to the author.
Uncle Alky has invited you along for an initiation to some religious mystery stuff. There's supposed to be free food and drink at the party after, so why not?
The longer I was playing Eleusinian Miseries, the more I got the impression that a theatrical comedic play was unfolding before me, where I got to guide the unwitting protagonist through the unexpected ordeals and shenanigans of the story. Each act has its own storylet-arc, with its own obstacles and tasks for our hero. Once these are completed, the story is moved to a new stage with new scenery for the continuation. The geography of the game fits this interpretation nicely: each act plays in a very limited number of locations (where there is lots and lots to see and do).
Right from the get-go, the game hits the tickle note. Not laughing outright, I felt that readiness to laugh in my cheek muscles, an amused and expectant smile under the surface.
The room descriptions are delightfully elaborate and detailed. Their poshly cultured and high-brow tone is finely offset by the player character's self-admitted ignorance and casual disinterest.
The tickle note, once strung, reverberates throughout. The mood of giddy curiosity is sustained by the author's obvious joy (and sweat and tears, I presume...) in spit-and-polishing the details of the game. Practically all default responses have been customized to fit with the overall tone and the specifics of the game-state. Depending on the situation the protagonist is in at the time, the same command may have different responses, , regardless of the actual importance of the command.
The room descriptions remain funny in a restrained, understated way, delighting the player with a glimmering detail here or a surprising turn of phrase there.
The frequent intermezzoes turn it up a notch or two. In between the acts, when all present objectives have been met, the results of the hero's actions are shown in topsy turvy action-comedy scenes, not infrequently involving a mob of toga-clad ancient greeks toppling over and under each other or the accidental or voluntary dismembering of holy statues.
Finally, there are the instances where author and player work together to deliver the joke. Because of the involvement of the player, these are the funniest and most satisfying moments of the game. The author sets the stage and makes sure all the props are in their rightful place. The player goes about the preparation of the audience (herself) by exploring the setting and gathering the necessary resources, all the while increasing the tension. Then, at last, comes the release, where through careful experimentation and restoring or through a sudden flash of insight, the player puts it all together and delivers the punch line... to herself.
Many puzzles in Eleusinian Miseries are quite straightforward adventure-fare. Good, engaging, sometimes surprising. And some are of the variety described above. Very, very satisfying.
To cap it off, the finale is a hilarious (and impossibly hard) optimization game. (Be sure to SAVE the moment you arrive in the Bedroom). I spent about thirty restores and I still couldn't get rid of that one last thingy! Fortunately there's a very good gradual hint-system included. (And then I palmed my forehead...)
Wodehouse in Ancient Greece. Lovingly crafted, great atmosphere, immensely funny.
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