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The Fall of Asemia

by B.J. Best profile


(based on 9 ratings)
7 reviews

About the Story

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Game Details


Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022


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Number of Reviews: 7
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Most Helpful Member Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Perhaps we are all just children of Asemia, March 14, 2023

I am very frustrated right now. I just completed a very long review of this game, hit preview, and then it switched onto the Log In page and all my work vanished. I'd forgotten I had cleared my history (and cookies) in the midst of doing this. Well. Lessons learned. Next time don't type directly in the box when writing reviews (or at least copy everything before you hit the button to leave the page), and maybe don't spontaneously clear your history (and cookies!) when you're in the middle of doing something.

A shortened version of what I wrote before:

I liked this game, mostly. The writing? Inherently poetic. I found it a very accurate (and if not accurate — because I have never been a refugee in my life up until this point, factually speaking — then at the very least, immersive) of the refugee experience, and a moving depiction of war / the effects of war / and what it does to a people, to a country. I had no idea how the glyphs worked, not really (I intend to spend some time trying to unravel that mystery with an investigation, if I have the time, later), but they were very pretty. The fact that I had no idea what I was doing with the glyphs kind of resonates with (Spoiler - click to show)the translator's (the character that the player plays as in this story) frustration over her work in-game, creating parallels in fiction and reality, which I like and thus didn't mind half as much as I usually would've. The soundtrack was distressing, but I suppose distressing is fitting for works with subject matter such as this.

I think I'm going to go back after this, sometime, and try to get all the variations (the ones that make sense, anyways) of the paragraphs in this game.

Fingers crossed.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
The spoils of war, June 15, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2022

An arty, experimental piece, The Fall of Asemia engages with timely themes: I wish its melancholy story of an occupying army destroying a city’s way of life didn’t have quite so many contemporary resonances both literal and metaphorical, but here we are. I felt these connections all the more clearly because the game doesn’t wholly position the player as a participant in these events, but rather as a scholar exhausted by the effort of translating these records and bearing witness to the crimes they memorialize. I don’t know when the game was written, and whether the author intended to draw parallels to how Westerners have been following the distant but visceral war in Ukraine – and certainly there’s no way for it to have anticipated the past couple of days, as we Americans have been grappling with how far a self-righteous minority will go to dismantle our rights (this review was written when the Supreme Court's draft opinion striking down all abortion rights was leaked) – but its downbeat vibe definitely met me where I’ve been at.

The mood conjured by the translated fragments is at once dreamlike and violently, even harshly, immediate, and is the main draw here. That’s especially the case when the game turns to depicting the feelings of the conquered population (note the mimesis-enhancing translator’s aside in the first excerpt):

"The language they use here—it tastes like blood from a bit tongue. I tire so easily now. Our ears are tired, too. [… here, the ligatures don’t look Asemic—cf. the Eth ms.] Tell me, is Asemia really dead? It is merely drowning, yes?

"The strange vowels of this province flood my mouth like chewing on leather. Someone has painted the sky a different color. The other wives gather in circles like quail, and sometimes I can’t remember how to thread a needle. Those conquerors are fools. Soon enough, Asemia will rupture their hearts until they can’t tell the difference between blood and wine."

You only get a paragraph or two in each passage before moving on to another narrator, who provides another view of the static situation, so there’s no strong sense of narrative development within the records. Instead, progression comes within the frame, as the translator tries on different approaches to understanding the texts and sinking into increasing depression at the tides of history.

This is where the game’s interactivity comes in, because before each passage you’re given a choice of four to six abstract glyphs, each of which you can toggle between one of three different versions with a click. The set of glyphs you choose impact how the passage is translated, and since you loop through the same set of records three times over the course of the game, you can see how these selections change the text. It’s an interesting mechanic, but it didn’t wind up working that well for me as a model for how translation works. For one thing, since the glyphs are completely nonrepresentational, the player has to choose blindly, which seems in tension with the way a translator has to weigh the choice of reducing an ambiguous word to just one specific correlate. For another, the shifts in the texts feel like they go beyond differences of interpretation or emphasis and into straight-out different meaning. Here, for example, are the three distinct possible ways the first record can be translated (with the caveat that they can be mixed and matched if you don’t click each glyph the same number of times):

"In the city after the war, there were flowers made of shrapnel. They stank like the smoke from the bombed buildings. I tried to pick up loose stars from the shards of city glass.

"In the city after the war, there were women who danced on blood. They swayed like the sausages left hanging in the butcher’s window. I fought to save our dog until my husband, spitting bile, grabbed my arm.

"In the city after the war, there were men who sang like bones. They forgot about the river with its bloated bodies. I could barely walk away from the library’s books, open and dead in the street, like shot doves."

These are all arresting images, but it’s hard to reverse-engineer a plausible language where the difference between “men”, “women”, and “flowers” is hard to resolve, much less the highly-divergent last sentence. I don’t want to harp on this too much, since the game is clearly focused on communicating its mood and themes, rather than providing a simulation of what it’s like to translate a dead language – but it did feel like a misalignment between the game’s fiction and its ludic elements.

Beyond this fairly abstract niggle, though, I for once don’t have much to complain about here; I didn’t exactly enjoy my time spent wallowing in the bitter, fading memories of the citizens of now-vanished Asemia, but by displacing some of the stressful things going on in real life right now into a fictional context, it was very much cathartic for me. Recommended, but maybe don’t go doomscrolling on Twitter right after you finish.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Signs and symbols, May 12, 2022
by EJ

The Fall of Asemia is a game about language, or a game about history and culture and the fact that these are necessarily mediated through language, which is something that can be lost. I suspect Asemia’s name comes from Greek: the negative prefix a- and the root sema, or “sign,” as in semantikos, “significance,” whence the English word “semantic.”

Asemia is not without signs, and those signs are not without meaning, but those signs are no longer legible to most people in the world in which the game takes place. The PC is charged with translating them, but seems unsatisfied with her ability to do so. Translation is always a challenge, but beyond that, the protagonist seems to be dragged down by the weight of the responsibility of serving as a conduit for the lost voices of the Asemians. Or perhaps not – we only see her in a few brief exchanges in between the translated journal entries that make up the bulk of the game, and though her stress and feelings of inadequacy are clear, the reasons for them are open to interpretation. But I did feel like there was a lot going on in between the lines.

The game is mainly played by clicking on glyphs to change them and reading the journal entries that result. The glyphs are lovely, aesthetically, and I was impressed by the fact that those of the five Asemian journal-writers managed to look like the same language in different handwriting, while those of the soldier of the invading force were immediately recognizable as a different language. I did find it somewhat hard to remember which glyphs I had chosen before and which I hadn’t, and I’m not entirely sure whether the texts I saw were sometimes quite similar because I was accidentally selecting glyphs I’d already seen or because changing glyphs doesn’t necessarily change sentences in the way I initially assumed it did.

I also have to admit that it bothers me a little that, although the conceit is that the player character is translating the glyphs, what the player is doing seems not to be interpreting, but rather changing the source text. Unless we’re supposed to take it that the player character has fragments that she’s trying to arrange in the correct order? Regardless, I would have liked a little more clear connection between what I was doing in the game and what the PC was supposed to be doing in-universe.

Regardless, the translated texts convey the Asemians’ sense of loss and displacement with painful clarity. They are often poetic (“The strange vowels of this province flood my mouth like chewing on leather. Someone has painted the sky a different color”), and even the blunter and more straightforward passages, mostly courtesy of a child diarist, sometimes contain surprising and effective imagery (“I don't even know the name of this town, but the clouds here make me want to punch them in the face”). The banal brutality of the invaders is also starkly apparent; one passage, after talking about mass executions, concludes with a complaint about the music tastes of the original residents of the writer’s stolen apartment (“The records are mostly jazz. Who likes jazz?”).

Ultimately, despite my complaints about the relationship of the interactivity to the narrative, I did find The Fall of Asemia to be an intriguing and memorable experience, and though the short length of the game meant that its exploration of the intertwining of language, culture, and history did not have room to be very in-depth, it was well-executed.

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The Fall of Asemia on IFDB

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