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Solid, beautifully-illustrated game with a good bit of replay value, December 20, 2018
The title of this game has a poetic ring to my ears, and it does a good job at evoking the game's setting. The credits say the original version of the game was in French, so I looked up the French title: Au Coeur d'un Cercle de Sable et d'Eau. My substandard French would transliterate this as "At the Heart of a Circle of Sand and Water." I like the English title the author selected better than my attempt, but I do think a little is lost in the title's translation: My sense is that "au coeur" captures something stronger than the somewhat weak English word "within" - something that fits the events of the game.
The title screen immediately made me think of a teenage Moana. (I can't help it; my kids are at just the right age for watching animated Disney movies.) But the story is different: The PC, Mananuiva, is not searching for the heart of Tafiti. (Or even for the heart of the circle of sand and water.) She's participating in a coming-of-age ritual that requires her to sail out beyond sight of her island. She's looking for something more meaningful than the typical life of the women of her island, although she's not sure what. She's been gone much longer than is normal for this ritual. The story begins as she finds another inhabited island, where the villagers have something that they want of her.
For me, the first page of the actual game felt rather like a wall of text. It was a bit intimidating. However, once I was a few paragraphs in I didn't care anymore; I was grabbed enough by the story that I wanted to keep reading.
Within a Circle of Water and Sand is choice-based. Playing it felt somewhat like reading one of those old CYOA books I remember as a kid, although the writing is better and the story is more compelling than those books tended to be. There aren't a lot of choices at the beginning, but the game does keep track of certain decisions, and these will affect your options later in the game.
I played through a few times, getting different endings each time and slowly uncovering the truth of what's happening on the island.
Overall, I enjoyed Within a Circle of Water and Sand. I found it to be a solid, beautifully-illustrated game with a good bit of replay value. Also, I have already recommended it to some friends who haven't played interactive fiction; it seems like the kind of game that could serve as a nice introduction to choice-based IF.