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Death Song

by Endmaster profile

Fantasy
2008

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Number of Reviews: 3
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Death Song, March 14, 2022
by Gryphon
Related reviews: EndMaster

General Recommendation: Highly recommended. Just be sure youíve read through Necromancer first, because this story relies on the playerís knowledge of that game.
Preview: Witness the end days of a world as a musician in the army.

=SPOILERS BELOW=

General notes:
This is a difficult game to review. It has so many layers of narrative structure and subtlety that Iím sure Iíll realize I missed something shortly after posting this. But Iíll try to do it justice.
The narratorís most key trait to this story is his humanity. His struggles, goals, and actions, are all based around the idea of being alive in the world, such as his struggles with his bravery, his role in the army, and balancing his practical needs with his artistic vision. The narratorís repeated choice to flee and live or fight and die shows very starkly that sometimes being brave and summoning up the courage to do something really is futile. The narrator is well aware that heís failed to make a difference at these times, and he struggles with being put in the position of a survivor and hero, when he only lived because he ran away. What he really wants is the chance to practice his music and develop his talent into something special, but practical concerns prevent him from doing so. Though part of the army, he has no special attachment to the Zalan Empire, and just wants to keep his family safe, especially as the war becomes more and more dire. These two challenges contribute to his general sense of being lost and adrift; heís very unclear on what he wants and how to get it and this story does a good job of communicating that. Itís a very human struggle that anyone can relate to, at least to some extent.
The story handles these themes well on their own, but they become much more powerful when set against the backdrop of the end of the world. While most stories that tackle these themes ultimately come to a positive conclusion, or at least a proactive one, in this story the narrator never gets an answer to his philosophical questions, he never really comes to terms with his reputation, and he never has the chance to find fulfillment and purpose. This is not due to his own actions, but due to circumstances entirely outside of his control. Even when he handles the situation as well as he possibly can, heís doomed to failure because heís facing an opponent he simply has no chance of overcoming. Oddly, this has the effect of making the focus on narratorís challenges more poignant. In the midst of this epic chaos and confusion, this is a very human story focused on the narratorís human struggles: His fear, his passion for music, his love for his family. These struggles do not disappear or fade when faced with larger-scale issues, instead, they become all the more important. When these painfully human struggles and challenges are ultimately wiped out as life is destroyed forever, itís a tragedy. So much so, that even Catalina can recognize it, if only for a moment, even if it never quite reaches her husband.
Which brings me to the second key point about this story: Itís a companion piece for Necromancer, and a completely brilliant one. Necromancer is a game of power. In Necromancer, the player is a world-conquoring tyrant with nothing standing in their way as they bend anyone opposing them to their will. Itís fun, itís exciting, and itís an emotional rush. Itís fun enough that you allow yourself to push aside the fact that this power is being used to commit horrible atrocities, and simply enjoy the ride. Necromancer is, essentially, a brilliantly-done power fantasy.
But Death Song takes Necromancer as it exists and turns it into something far more personal and powerful. Death Song shows the player Necromancer from an outside perspective, and shows them the consequences of their actions. It never gets preachy or moralistic, instead simply showing the player from an objective angle how the other people of this world are affected by the events of the plot. It slows the player down and makes them think, considering the implications of this story far more than they would with it as a standalone or a linear story. This is done most directly (and effectively) in the final scene with the narratorís frustration and musings about the Necromancer and Catalina. The narrator at no point allows the pair any kind of forgiveness or acceptance, nor do they ever back down or try to justify themselves to him in their pursuit of global genocide. But he and Catalina are able to speak, human to human, and reach the slightest of understandings.
This is a very artistic game, and stands alone among EndMasterís works as a much more subtle look at literary themes such as death and human power, or the lack thereof. Itís a challenging concept to tackle, but itís done masterfully for maximum emotional impact.

Specific notes:
-I like the way the narratorís involvement in the mercenary band is handled; heís uncomfortable with some of their actions, but too dependent on the income to do anything about it.
-The Necromancerís fatherís inclusion on the mercenary arc adds depth to his character, and is helpful to both Necromancer and the framing of this branch. The conversation between the narrator and Captain helps give his perspective on his family and lets the reader understand him in a way they canít while looking through his sonís eyes.
-The difference between the narratorís personal integrity on the mercenary and army path is interesting.
-The story starts with smaller incidents, such as the conflict in the mine, before building up to events that happen in Necromancer. This helps the reader get a feel for the protagonist outside of the plot references.
-The destruction of the narratorís lute on the mercenary path is a good plot details and shows the change in his development.
-The scenes with the mercenaries and army recruiter do a good job immediately establishing the tone of the two groups through dialogue and actions.
-The letters to home work better than most informational links, as they provide insight that would be difficult to potray through the text, and give insight into the narratorís thoughts rather than important strategical information.
-The Quillars are an interesting fantasy race.
-Despite the fact that Zalan/Retland politics are ultimatley unimportant to the plot, I like their inclusion. It makes the world bigger.
-The narratorís talent for music and his companyís appreciation for it is built up gradually as the situation with the necromancers becomes more severe. Fittingly, his musical talent gets much more focus on the arc with the army than with the mercenaries.
-Having the narrator survive only by fleeing is an interesitng decision, one that gives added layers of depth to his character beyond just a lucky survivor.
-The details about different types of music such as elven or dwarven help characterize the narrator and side characters.
-Warnovís appearing twice helps show how the situation has changed.
-The narratorís relationship with the Necromancerís sister is well done. Itís thoughful and touching, but never overstays its welcome, and is played out realistically.
-Itís an interesting touch that the narratorís relationship with Helena is only ever developed through the letters to home. It makes it feel all the more distant and wistful, which adds to the tone.
-The appearance of the faries is a nice break in the story. Itís touching to find a place that hasnít yet been reached by the destruction, and all the more tragic when itís eventually destroyed.
-The final sequence as the narrator grows old and the world dies is quite well written.
-Though like Necromancer the main branch of this story is quite linear, I think this game benefits from being a CYOA rather than a straight story. The multitude of death endings really hammer in how badly the world is being damaged and how easy it would be for the protagonist to simply die.
-Itís refreshing to play an EndMaster game with a mostly moral protagonist.

Grammar
Generally good.
Mastery of Language
Noticably better for this story. The language is much more even and balanced right from the beginning, and becomes almost poetic later in the story. The final sequences of the main path are notbaly well written.

Branching
Very little, but itís not the point.

Player Options/fair choice
Generally good, considering the linearity of this story. Actions are foreshadowed.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE:
I donít cry at books or movies, and I did not cry while reading this story. But it was a close one.

CONCLUSION: An excellent game, both on its own and as a companion piece for Necromancer. Notable for its artistry and subtlety.