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About the Story
Prince Blacktree is dead.
Nominee, Best Setting; Nominee - The open sorcerer, Best Individual PC; Nominee, Best Implementation; Nominee, Best Use of Innovation; Nominee, Best Use of Multimedia - 2020 XYZZY Awards
8th Place (tie) - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 6
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I've played and enjoyed the author's previous games, so I was really looking forward to this one. "A Murder in Fairyland" shares their quality writing and design, but it doesn't feel like a complete experience.
Compared to 16 Ways and Open Sorcery, the world of this game feels much more surreal and less grounded. While it takes place in the same broader universe as Open Sorcery, there's very little in this game connecting it to our reality, unlike with Open Sorcery's characters. It takes place in a world with fairies and other magical creatures, with bizarre and inhuman rules and behaviors.
The one "human" aspect of the game is the main character's disability. It took me far too long to realize that they were using a wheelchair (I didn't recognize what "Roll North" was supposed to refer to). The protagonist is not able to climb stairs or open some doors without waiting for help, and there are some references to the fairy-world equivalent of the ADA (also called the ADA), and a subplot involves going through a mind-boggling bureaucratic process to file an ADA complaint.
This is a heavily puzzle-oriented game. The puzzles range from word finds to riddles to filling out forms correctly, to more broad interaction and item finding. I loved the form-finding and filling puzzles, even if they weren't technically necessary to finishing the game. Finding forms involves figuring out a code based on a convoluted but ultimately logical set of rules. Filling out the forms required gathering more information from different areas, and was a good way of characterizing the world. The magic was also interesting, but did not have much use when it came to the actual murder mystery.
There is also a minigame, very vaguely like poker but with the cards being tarot major arcana, where the rules are unknown. It was interesting to try to figure it out. Although maybe the game is something that already exists.
The resolution of the murder mystery was rather frustrating: (Spoiler - click to show)I was a bit frustrated because I thought I knew who the murderer was, but they were not an available option, even after seemingly exhausting all possibilities throughout the game world. Thus, I started looking through the code. It appears that there is a lot of content that is written but might not be accessible, including several characters and a way to reveal the true murderer. I'm not very familiar with twine code so I might be wrong? Maybe I just didn't explore thoroughly enough?
Edit: Here is a brief guide to getting the correct ending, after reaching the mystery: (Spoiler - click to show)I needed to get form 536W for the weather report to get snowflakes diagrams, and give it to Lirana, so she's distracted and then I can take the autocsi scroll. Then I gathered the poison sample and did autocsi on the corpse, and then used form 533P to get the poison analysis (this required getting the moon phase with form 104M; I guessed the ley lines but there's probably a form for that). To rule out Rinecoat, I talked to him, examined the weapons, and got dust from Veinseeker. To rule out Lirana, I got the neutrality contract by filling out form 227H and talking to the crystal ball in the library. To rule out Nyx, I used the Flier: Noon-Sun Ceremony (was this the random conversation hint?). To confirm that it is Xylia, I looked at the corpse after using autocsi, and took the thread.
Wonder and whimsy. Political intrigue and murder. Detective work, bureaucracy, and the simple human pleasure of wearing a scarf. A Murder in Fairyland has it all!
This game is a joy to play. The writing is on-point. The graphic design is bright and gaudy in the best possible way. Thereís a diverse variety of puzzles to solve: word searches; filling out forms; a card game; as well as more classic IF staples involving clue-hunting, using the right action on the right thing, etc. Itís all implemented very well. The variety of different things to do made gameplay feel fresh throughout.
The world is mysterious and compelling: a realm of thought and emotion, powered by memories and videogames, ruled over (at least locally) by Machiavellian nobility at the helm of a byzantine machinery of state that you navigate via a literal labyrinth of contracts and forms. It seems that the setting is pre-established in the authorís other works. I havenít read them yet, so some details were no doubt lost on me, but thatís fine. I feel like, if anything, my unfamiliarity with the setting only added to the sense of wonder and intrigue.
The high point of the experience for me was reading the beautifully-written memories of the protagonistís scarf.
Solving the murder is a well-designed puzzle with many facets and several possible outcomes. Itís easy to come up with an acceptable solution, but it takes serious exploration and a keen eye for detail to reach the best solution.
Overall, A Murder in Fairyland is among my favorite IFComp 2020 games. Would recommend.
Abigail Corfman has a very impressive Twine record with Open Sorcery (a popular quadratic-complexity puzzle-based commercial Twine game with upcoming sequel) and 16 Ways to Murder a Vampire at McDonalds (which is known for its complex puzzles).
So I was definitely looking forward to this one.
It wasn't quite what I expected. I thought at first it was child-oriented, but I'd rather say it's similar to fairy stories of the darker type (such as SCP-4000 or the poem The Goblin Market).
Gameplay is based on word puzzles. Initial gameplay has word-search puzzles. A long chunk of the game revolves around figuring out complex bureaucracy.
Most, if not all, of the puzzles are optional, as explained in the very brief walkthrough (which doesn't really spoil anything puzzle-wise, only offering ways around it).
I thought I was uninterested in the game at first, but then I found myself going out of my way to find more puzzles to try. In a way, it's almost like a Twine counterpart to Dibianca's Sage Sanctum Scramble, both a fantasy/sci-fi pastiche of wordplay.
I was progressing pretty nicely on the murder when I lost about 45 minutes of gameplay due to a random death with no undo possible (but restoring possible). I hadn't realized I needed to save that often, so it was a devastating blow to my will to go on. I used the walkthrough's cheats to progress to the ending, and found some satisfaction there.
Really not a fan of the random insta-death without undo (I'll admit there were some hints I was acting dangerously), but I liked the rest, so I don't know.
The protagonist is in a wheelchair, and it affects gameplay pretty much exactly how wheelchairs affect real life. I was married for 10 years to a woman who used a wheelchair full-time, and the game's emphasis on spotting out traversable paths, being stymied by a single stair step, and dealing with tedious bureaucracy to get accommodations is true to form.
There are also some personal details revealed through memories (whether of the author or of a created character), which were meaningful.
Overall, very nice experience, but make sure you save often!
++Polish and descriptiveness: Beautiful and lovely, smooth sailing.
+Interaction: My delight with the puzzles overwhelms my sadness about not saving.
+Emotional Impact: I felt intrigue.
+Would I play again? Yes, after the comp when I can dig in deeper.
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