A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood

by Michael Thomét profile

Surreal
2015

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Number of Reviews: 4
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Focused on making a point, but doesn't say much about it, November 20, 2015

This game looks good - nice typography and choice of colors, and a few appropriate images. The first playthrough is very short (5 minutes for me), but the game is meant to be played several times.

The setting is that of a vagabond in what appears to be similar to the Middle Ages; the theme obviously involves a fortune teller, and you are presented with a few choices that seem inconsequential - but, as a good player of interactive fiction, you recognize those choices as preferences that might reveal your personality. The setup kind of reminded me of the beginning of Morrowind, or any of the other RPGs (Ultima IV, maybe?) that use the "what would you do in this situation" questions to gauge your personality - very familiar, then, and this is a good choice on the author's part to use this setting.

The first playthrough is nothing special, it ends abruptly after getting your fortune told: of course, you want to start again and try different choices. That's when the game reveals its conceit; but it reveals it in a way that i found quite brutal and unsubtle. Namely, the figure completely breaks the fourth wall (since the vagabond doesnt appear in the text), has quite an antagonistic tone ("What? What did you expect?"), spouts off text that shows that, surprise, it had tracked your choices (one paragraph = one choice, which is not very subtle or fun), and tells you at the last sentence that you could try again. Except, no, I didn't want to try again: I found it too on-the-nose and unsubtle for me to not get it, and to think that there could be a way to change the final outcome. I felt that the twist was revealed too soon (at the 2nd playthrough instead of, say, the 4th), and was too blunt and closed too many things: given what's before (a rhetorical question), the "you could try again" comes off as a "you could waste your time some more", which just made me quit. (Ok, I checked a third time just in case, but I wasn't willing to spend more time on this to see if the 10th iteration was any different.)

I guess the game was trying to make a point about restarting games to achieve better outcomes; that it doesn't work like that sometimes i guess, and that you don't have the agency in the game to change anything except quitting. But i didn't feel like the game tried to have anything more to say, which was disappointing. I played "Save the Date!" a while ago, and found it quite deep and interesting, with nice variations and characters and a few interesting things to say on the same topic; maybe it's hard to come after that, and maybe it's unfair for me to compare both, but, they are about the same thing... I might have liked it more if there was some variability, even maybe having fun with the concept (the hooded figure could become impatient, roll their eyes, joke that the cards will change if they get 10 pheasants, plead for the player to stop, etc..), but it might not have been what the author intended; as it is, though, its message is not very deep nor subtle, which made the experience somewhat unsatisfying in my opinion.