Lost Coastlines

by William Dooling profile

Fantasy RPG

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Number of Reviews: 6
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
So many things unexplored, like a dream half-remembered in a good way, December 26, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

LC is way too big for two-hour IFComp's judging frame, but it still belonged there. It's a work of pure imagination and love, and its dreamworld is as interesting as people hope they are when they tell you about the dream they had last night. The map is big, at 17x17, not including the north pole. There's a Prime Meridian which sort of lets you get your bearing. I cursed it occasionally for being so big. The main takeaway is that I knew mapping would be a chore, and I knew ADRIFT allowed UNDO to make things easier, but I was involved enough not to want to. My last act for the two-hour judging period was naming an isle that had no name yet. I cursed myself for not properly curating my own list of weird names from my notes. It was the perfect chance to pick off something I always wanted to use but that couldn't fit into a creative work.

And that's a side effect of LC's dream-world! There are a lot of interesting parts, but so many reminded me of my own weird dreams, waking or sleeping, that I got distracted. Also, it is an investment to get started! You do have to read the instructions to have an idea what to do without extensive trial and error. They're quite good. You may be a bit lost without them, because there's so much you have to decide at once. And the character selection is amusing, well beyond basic dice-rolling stuff. Before entering the dreamworld, you're asked how you fell asleep, what odd item you're carrying, and what class/special talent you have. I restarted after 20 minutes once I had some data on what stats seemed to matter. And the procedural text changed. Bill Clinton, my old bartender, was replaced with Halle Berry. The old map is, well, like a forgotten dream now. I tried to wrap my head around the different currencies. There are several. But at some point it's just best to dive in.

Which is very rewarding. It took me a while to realize that death simply bumps you back to the center, and boy did I spend a lot of time avoiding death. The game has accomodations, though. The documentation, I mentioned. There's an automap, too, and while it's useful for getting started, once the map gets big, it starts to interfere with the text window on the left, so you have to close it. I wound up using Trizbort. I was able to annotate places with interesting or odd stuff. There's a certain sense of frustration combined with wonder as you know the odd place you stumbled on must be useful linked up with somewhere else, but you have no clue, yet.

It's a bit intimidating to guess what to do at first, but the game does put your actions for a particular location in all caps, so guess-the-verb is not a thing. A twist here is that you can perform one such action, but if you try to come back and perform it again, it may destabilize the dream world. Actions include fishing, finding diamonds, visiting shrines, or visiting markets. I had a bit of trouble at first making profit in the markets, because I needed to feed my crew while I was sailing, and I didn't realize that death was relatively harmless, because this was a dream world, after all.

So I sailed in search of, well, I wasn't sure. But that's part of the fun. There was definitely enough to keep me going, through weirdly named locations. I found Las Vegas. There is no shortage of silly humor in Lost Coastlines, and I think it's sort of needed, and it doesn't go overboard, and I'm pretty sure some is specific to the path you chose. Something like finding a friend in your dream, and if you talk to him, he will explain stuff you missed because you fell asleep in class (that's what I chose at the start, for when and where I fell asleep.) This helps break up some of the worries about chance encounters and pretty clearly indicates, yes, there's more fun stuff to look for.

It's not all arbitrary, and LC does a good job of balancing how you come in blank with general guidelines on how successful choices will be. You can't know what's good and what's not, although you're pretty sure, because when you have a choice of actions to perform, the game rates them impossible, difficult, or easy, also helpfully color-coded. I enjoyed looking ahead to when certain choices would no longer be impossible.

For instance, if you walk into a swungle on the first isle (a neat portmanteau, that, much better than jomp,) you can CUT the vegetation or TURN back, and you're told the odds of each succeeding. This isn't a high-risk choice, but as you sail farther, you hit impossible quests, ones you need to build yourself up for. The result of a bad encounter is that you can increase your worry, fury, madness or sadness. These are negative currencies, but you can also accumulate, for instance, knowledge. There are other currencies, and some, you can swap. This is a neat twist on trade routes. Others seem to offer--well, something else. For instance, you can't solve a certain mystery until you have fifty shards of knowledge, and that gets you an important (and cool) sounding special item. On the other hand, too much of any bad-mood stuff is pretty much a virtual death, and you're kicked back to the central port city where you started, which gives you sadness. I'm not fully sure how the moods interact, but I enjoyed having the negative stuff I had to balance, as well as the postiive. Too often in games you wind up getting too much gold and don't have much else to do, or you're worried about super-low hit points. Being stuck with negative stats adds a lot of color.

My fear of game death prevented me from exploring at first, even though I had a save game, and I eventually discovered a small base of merchant isles I could poke around. However, I got a bit frustrated in the Prime Meridian, where it seemed that the map got non-reciprocal. Which, given how big the map was, caused me to put Lost Coastlines aside for a bit. Granted, the Meridian should be weird, as it's marked as significant. I even found a hidden location there based on the nonreciprocal directions! But it took a lot out of me. The scrolling did help with mapping, though, as I wasn't pinned into a corner. But if you're forewarned, this probably won't be so bad.

I still don't really have a handle on Lost Coastlines after two hours. I understand the basic choices and where to stop off and what works, but I still haven't quite tried all options, and I didn't improve my character that much. I'm sad about this, yet hopeful. I suspect once I really nail down a trade route, or some way to keep moving between two locations that boost my stats, things
will get easier. In the meantime, thinking back to it feels like a dream state. One day I'll get the pieces of knowledge to unlock a quest! Or I'll figure a way to make a certain fight beatable. There's so much to do and no clear way to win, which is frustrating if you only have two hours to judge something. So I'll sit back and just remember the oddly-named places I visited, both those useful to my quest and not. I'll remember the thrill of finally mapping that weird central bit, of underpasses on my map (think: a square of islands, with only the kitty-corner ones connected diagonally) and the realizations I had when, oh, these two islands far apart link up!)

LC feels like one of those games you miss a lot but you worry it won't live up to the hype when you get back to it. And I'm frustrated by that, because I did want to play it more. I've seen entries that forced me in to care about a social issue or something. Perhaps it was an issue I already cared about or didn't care about enough, and I felt obliged to go back to it. Whether or not I did, I felt like a bum. But here I'd like to explore the author's dreams and remember my own. I think it's the best ADRIFT game I've played, and it uses ADRIFT's features (the auto map) well enough to reel you in. It's a definite positive advertisement for the author's other work, and given its size, I can see why it took four years to make, and the author was right to follow their vision. I enjoy seeing theirs--but unfortunately, when I'm in the best mood for that, I generally take time and energy to push my own forward. So LC may lose out for my attention, but it was a great reminder to, literally, follow my dreams. The author followed his, and I enjoyed doing so, too. The breaks were mainly to remind me of stuff I'd thought or dreamt. It's definitely exhausting in a whole stretch, but part of me wishes I would, say, make thirty minutes for it per day to see out one big whole dream--and it feels sacrilegious and intrusive to try to disassemble it too soon, but on the other hand, I want to see all the neat stuff the author dropped in there! I think, at the very least, the next time I reconsider playing an old favorite RPG, I will give serious thought as to whether LC might be a more valuable use of my gaming time, because there is so much to explore.

The other option is to stumble on a community of people putting stuff together for a finished general guide, or to notice things you couldn't on your own. The author has expressed a desire to find this or cultivate this. I'd definitely stop by. One can and should dream.

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