Sense of Harmony

by Scenario World profile

Science Fiction
2020

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A lovely prelude, December 11, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

Oh, more of this, please. Sense of Harmony is clearly stated to be a ďprelude to further mysteriesĒ, and its one-hour gameplay time is also marked on the tin, so I have no one to blame but myself for the disappointed groan I emitted when I hit the ďdemoís done, stay tuned for more!Ē message just when things were getting exciting. I hope the authors donít spend too long basking in deserved praise and get back to the salt mines right quick, because I want to play the rest, damn it!

Backing up slightly: Sense of Harmony is a cyberpunk adventure that takes advantage of playersí likely familiarity with the genre while layering a smart twist on top: while the player character has a full suite of cybernetic enhancements, enabling her to jack into electronics, have full recall of her memories, and, most notably, be the mistress of any social situation through a complement of enhanced senses that allow her to read subtle cues in intonation, body language, and even sweat-sheen differentials, these are not common technologies, and as far as she knows sheís the only one of her kind.

Because these abilities are presented as unique, and not just a quotidian part of the setting, the game really foregrounds them, through a clever melding of writing and interface. In most every passage, you have several color-coded links allowing you to access your enhanced sight, or hearing, or touch, many of which open up additional actions or choices. This is really effectively done, making you feel like an omniscient Sherlock Holmes while ensuring that the player still needs to synthesize the tidal wave of information and make decisions based on it, rather than it being a matter of picking one right option after using the correct magic power. As an early example, thereís a sequence where the player character can tell that one of her clients is upset about something, and after asking some probing questions, can get a clear sense of their emotional disposition, whether they might be hiding something, and the presence of some underlying tensions related to some of the topics they bring up. But the player still needs to make a (hard!) choice about what to do with all of that knowledge.

It really is an amazing power fantasy, and the writing helps sell it, too. This description of remote-hacking a lock is one of the best of its ilk Iíve ever read:

"Whatever it is that makes you not a paperclip. Not a stone just eroding away in the waters of life.

Whatever that is, itís left you. Distantly, you feel it coiling itself around the fingerprint scanner and squeezing itself into its circuit boards. The deeper it goes, the further it feels, and the emptier your chest, the dimmer your light.

Youíre hollow."

This tells me what it feels like to have these abilities, in a way that really drew me into the world.

The cavalcade of information also helps put the player in the same mindset as the character. Every interaction becomes slowed-down, hyperreal Ė even noticing a coworker with an interesting tattoo can spiral into multiple avenues of investigation, but itís not clear whether thatís because thereís anything significant going on, or because the player characterís abilities make everything feel significant (I mean, itís a game, Iím guessing the former, but still, the slightly-paranoid, slightly-overwhelming vibe really works).

I havenít said much about the plot yet Ė largely because there isnít that much to it at present beyond a slice-of-life vignette and a mysterious encounter that doesnít yet resolve. This is all well done, especially the first bit Ė the player character moonlights doing sex work, which, as far as I can tell, is portrayed in a sensitive, non-prurient way that underscores the emotional labor required. The few characters are well-drawn, with the player characterís extraordinary senses providing a great channel for adding shading and depth to people like the brothelís new boss, who initially comes across as an awkward meathead but also has an appealing kindness to him.

Again, everything here just works, and Iím eager to see where things go from here. Iím unsure exactly what that will look like Ė and Iím a bit worried about the amount of work required, since to do the senses justice requires so much detail that Iím guessing this could easily be a ten or twenty hour game! So please, donít kill yourselves but definitely get cracking.