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About the Story
Number of Reviews: 2
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The game starts out with you and your brother Erasmus descending into a dungeon.
While you descend you can steer the game by focusing on different aspects of your environment.
The whole experience thereby gets a bit like dream, you don't feel fully in control and it is hard to predict the outcome of your actions.
The game consists of two small puzzles, which are pretty easy to solve.
To find out what the game really is about is more difficult and in my opinion the main puzzle of the game.
Therefore the "die-and-read-again-from-the-beginning" mechanic, which is applied, makes sense to me, since you can reflect several times about what the game tries to tell you.
And some things only start to make sense after several iterations.
Unfortunately I for myself could not find a really satisfying and coherent answer and I would appreciate if the game could be a bit more explicit about it.
Perhaps another reviewer would be so kind to comment on this and give me a few hints. This is what I found out and how I interpret the game (only open the spoiler if you have really finished the game):
(Spoiler - click to show)
First there is the skull.
Monks use skulls to remember things.
So the first challenge, the fight against the shadows, lies in remembering the past together with your brother.
The tapestry symbolizes this memory and shows the past.
We learn that the mother of Erasmus and Karl got depressed.
The two boys got support through their father, their "spiritual mentor".
Their actions are described as "dubious".
It seems to me that the second challenge is to burn the memories and leave the past behind.
In the diary "Orlechs" are described in the same way as our "spiritual mentor".
This gets reinforced by the hint that the diary is like bedtime story.
I thereby deduced that our father is the "Orlech", the evil creature of this dungeon.
I interpret the rest of the text in the following way:
Orlechs are creatures, which have given up on self-improvement and self-actualization.
They are the broad mass and want others to become like they are.
Karl now has to face again a shadow.
I guess that since his mother was "cast into a bottomless pit" the shadow symbolizes depression.
He can only overcome it with his gained experience, which enables him to get the weapons to fight it.
After that he faces the Sphinx, which seems to be his mother, as one latter learns (?).
I have no idea why he has to fight her.
Then the player can decide.
Either he forgives his brother and father and leaves the dungeon or he can kill them and stay at the bottom of the pit.
I am not sure what forgiving in this case means.
The game hints several times that Karl is hungry, which even leads to him devouring his own brother.
I guess from cold the reaction of Erasmus when Karl confesses that he "loved him" that he forgives them their lack of affection towards him.
So the message seems to be:
If Karl cannot forgive, he has lives an unfulfilling depressed life.
If he forgives them, he can neither rescue his brother nor his father, but he gets at least the chance to reach self-actualization in his live.
Karl is now able to answer the riddle of the sphinx.
The father is the Orlech and its at the bottom of the dungeon.
After this things start getting really weird.
It seems like that realizing this enables him to break free and leave the past behind.
During the game I did not get the impression that Erasmus was better off than Karl.
Most of the time he was sick and in a worse condition than Karl.
And he always thought that they were in dungeon to collect a treasure.
Now suddenly he writes: "Sorry for all the confusion. When you're ready to leave, just press the big red button. —Erasmus", as though he mastered all the challenges before Karl and tried to help him and knew more than him.
For me this does not fit together.
I also don't understand the role of Karl's mother in all this.
She fell into depression and left Karl and Erasmus alone.
Why don't I have to face her?
Why does she play no role in all this.
Have I missunderstood something completely?
Interpreted too much?
Got it all wrong from the beginning?
All in all the game is well written, it was an enjoyable experience to play and above all it makes you think.
And that is all I ask from a work of IF or fiction in general.
Some things unfortunately don't make 100% sense to me, but here probably the mistake is mine.
So I can recommend it to others to give it a try.
Progression is a dungeon delve into the underworld that seems to borrow a bit from Andrew Plotkin's Bigger Than You Think in that it seems that the player is meant to fail multiple times in order unlock new options to move further in the game. There's even an XP display that does not reset during multiple play throughs.
The "die to proceed" mechanic can be interminably frustrating in most games. Many Twine games are filled with these unhinted arbitrary choice clicks leading to an unpredictable game-over as a way to add the illusion of choice without the work of actually writing extensive choices that are meaningful. I remember a particularly egregious Ecto-Comp entry where the character has a choice of "Proceed down the sidewalk" or "Cross the street". Since no specific goal or direction had been given, it was infuriating to choose "Cross the street" only to summarily be told "You have been hit by a car, try being more careful next time," when there was absolutely no clues that the player could have made use of to know that was a death-end. Bigger Than You Think used dying abruptly as a gimmick - you died but were able to drop a rope into a chasm where it remained for the next incarnation of your player to use it and proceed further so "bad" choices could lead to new interactions.
That *seems* what's supposed to happen here with the XP count. Progression's text is evocative but sparse, and there are passages with several links that the player cannot choose since the preceding paragraph dims out when one is chosen. A few repetitions, therefore are not unwelcome. The problem here is some choices provide only a few words in response or a slight text variation, and then new links not seen before appear later on with very little to clue the player why. (Spoiler - click to show)Three scenes in I had to choose an answer to the Sphinx's riddle from about four provided. Each time I was wrong and had to replay the previous scenes. I steamrollered through them, restarting each time. At one point I was given a *fifth* choice, ostensibly based on what I had done before. Since I didn't try that one immediately, and didn't remember what slightly different sequence of clicks led to that choice appearing, I wasn't able to proceed.
I was hoping that the XP meter was the games way of keeping track of this and would offer greater and greater explanation of what's going on and more choices in each scene, but this didn't come into play in the sequence of the game I worked through - even though I got the XP count pretty high. Is it just a matter of grinding XP to make the game winnable?
The succinct writing style is good since the text must be read multiple times, but even then I was eventually just clicking hard and fast to get back where I was. Early on, the player is plunged into darkness with just two words "torch" and something that's not the torch. You're not told what the torch will do, but having the screen fade then from black up to deep blood red was a nice bit of styling. Despite being short, Progression quickly becomes tedious. There's no save/reload mechanism that might make this less frustrating because that would defeat the game of setting all the right flags so progress can be made.
This is unfortunate, as I genuinely liked the scenario. It seems like a step toward creating a larger puzzle in a choice-based adventure besides "Choose A, B, or C", but I grew quickly tired of it after about nine times through. Better feedback when the correct choices are made would go much toward improving this. Also some more extensive variations of the opening sequences so the player feels like they actually are "progressing". A way to review the choices that were made previously with a hint or nudge in the right direction after the death screen might help. Maybe this all happens later in the game past where I gave up after trying every response to the Sphinx.
There is no "about" or "hints" option, and no setup other than "You descend..." which could come off as pretentious, but works into the mysterious impenetrable-ness I think the author wants to evoke. If this game wasn't tested, it should have been. Perhaps if the player made enough correct choices, they could be returned just to before the incorrect one to save some tedium. I liked the game, I just didn't like repeating the opening ten times and not knowing how I could improve by taking different links. Appropriate and clear feedback is a must in a game like this. If you like experimenting and trying to find every nook and cranny that a Twine game provides, this will keep you busy a while.
(Spoiler - click to show)
Your descent is over.
This place is changing you.
You have died 6 time(s).
You have killed your brother 1 time(s).
You have eaten 2 sandwich(es).
You have incorrectly answered the Sphinx's riddle 4 time(s).
You have earned 175 experience points in total.
This is not true. These results are from one extra play I did to check things while writing the review. I may have restarted without a death several times, but I earned a lot more XP than that in my initial playthroughs. Apparently there's a cookie to remember some bits of your play but not others.