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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A new life for an old myth, June 29, 2013
by EJ

(This review was originally posted as part of the 2012 Semi-Official Xyzzy Reviews series, and focuses on the game's nomination in the Best Story category.)

Writing a retelling of an ancient myth, especially one as widely known as that of Orpheus and Eurydice, may seem on the surface like an easy route for a storyteller to take. After all, it gives you a certain framework to follow for the plot and the characters. Furthermore, you can rely on the audience to have a knowledge of the shape of the story you’re trying to tell to a much greater extent than is usually the case. You don’t, for example, have to directly tell the player “this is Hades, King of the Underworld, and this is his queen Persephone, and this is the way their relationship works due to this aspect of their backstory.” You can just put in a character who evokes Hades and a character who evokes Persephone, without ever naming them, and the player’s existing knowledge of the story will do the rest. This applies to thematic elements as well–the title Eurydice alone should give the reader some idea of the ground that will be covered here.

This knowledge on the part of the player is, however, a double-edged sword: they already know how the story goes, so the writer must work that much harder to keep their attention, to convince them that there is something here that they haven’t seen before. Fortunately, Eurydice puts in that necessary effort. Yes, the plot hits most of the expected notes–the loss of a loved one and the journey to the underworld to get her back, dealing with a ferryman and a three-headed dog and an authority figure whom the protagonist must convince to give up the spirit of the dead loved one–but underneath the mythological trappings is a real, raw, meticulously-observed portrait of grief that keeps the game feeling grounded even when the narrative is at its most fantastical. The underworld in this case takes the form of the mental hospital in which the deceased loved one, Celine, seems to have spent the end of her life, and as the protagonist journeys through it in search of her, memories of her arise. The underworld-hospital is full of small details which build up a very human portrait of both the protagonist and Celine–but which also create a general sense of helplessness. The protagonist plays Celine’s favorite card game with her, buys her a radio and a houseplant for her room, promises to rewatch a forgotten television show with her; Celine gamely goes along with all this, but it’s clear to the protagonist and the player alike that her heart’s not in it, that none of this is really helping at all. These scenes do an excellent job of getting the player on board with the protagonist’s drive to save Celine. The sympathy for the protagonist and Celine and the desire to do something to make things better for Celine draw the player on even though we all know what’s coming.

Or do we? The game has four endings, each of which provides a different conclusion to the emotional arc of the story, and here is where the game begins to subvert the player’s expectations. If you follow the myth to the letter, playing the lyre at every opportunity and turning around as soon as the game suggests that Celine might not in fact be following you, you’re likely to get the accurately-named Failure ending, the least satisfying of the four. In this ending, the protagonist simply gives up and goes home, having failed to confront their feelings or come to terms with anything–the whole journey has been utterly pointless. The stated reason for these actions leading to this ending is that playing the lyre signifies seeking an easy, “magical” solution to real problems that can’t be fixed that way, but in a way it may also reflect the player’s refusal to engage with this specific iteration of the story, going through the mythological motions without really thinking about what it all means for these particular characters.

What if you play the lyre and then don’t turn around? Well, then you’ve really lost touch with reality: this earns you the slightly puzzling Fable ending, in which the protagonist seems to lose the ability to distinguish between their own life and the Orpheus myth altogether and descend into delusion out of unwillingness to deal with the fact of Celine’s death. This ending is at least somewhat more interesting than Failure, but it’s not terribly hopeful. The player is still relying on their knowledge of the myth here, although they are at least trying to change its outcome.

More satisfying are the Flowers and Friendship endings, which show the protagonist remembering the good times with Celine but accepting that she really is gone and beginning to think about moving on, possibly through renewing connections with their still-living friends. These endings require the player to find alternate solutions to dealing with the underworld’s various obstacles, using everyday objects from the protagonist’s house rather than a magical lyre that appears out of nowhere and may not be real. The idea, according to the writer, was to reward the player for finding more practical, real-world solutions to problems, though unfortunately this does not work out quite as well as might be hoped: the alternate solutions are still very adventure-gamey. It’s a different kind of unrealistic, but it’s unrealistic nonetheless. That said, this still rewards the player for engaging with the specifics of this story rather than following a pattern they think they already know. Even if the execution isn’t perfect, the decision to have breaking from the established story lead to more interesting and satisfying results than following it is an interesting one which makes the story aspect of the game more compelling.

All in all, despite a few missteps, Eurydice is a very solid take on the Orpheus & Eurydice myth, with a deft personal touch and some interesting ideas behind its multiple endings. It is well worth playing, and certainly deserves the recognition it has gotten as one of the stand-out games of the past year.

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Kinetic Mouse Car, August 4, 2022 - Reply
My favorite ending was (Spoiler - click to show) Flowers.
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