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Forgetfulness in a black flower's honey., February 20, 2023
Exile's Rose is set in the world of Fallen London. I have scarcely scratched the surface of this lore-filled setting, so there are bound to be many references that I couldn't place.
Without more intimate knowledge of the mother-setting, it's also impossible for me to discern which parts of lore and worldbuilding are present in Fallen London and which are the author's own creative additions.
To me though, it can confidently stand on its own.
"This is a simple demonstration Fiction game."
This message raises some alarms. It could indicate a flawed and/or unfinished game. I'm very glad I played on, because there is a beautiful and complete story to be found.
However, it is clear that it is not truly finished. A lot of stuff mentioned in descriptions is not implemented, flashbacks are not as neatly separated from the main text as I would like (a slightly different font to emphasise the dreamy-reminiscence quality of the memories would do wonders for the feel...), the pacing is too loose.
Nevertheless, this is a wonderful and captivating read.
You find yourself on a dark underground quay. Docked before you is the Smuggler's schooner, deserted. Your lover's ship. Your lover, whom you cannot find.
You board the ship, the Kyparissos. Alone, free to explore the decks unaccompanied, searching for your lover. Or at least a trace of where he might have gone...
This is a puzzleless piece. A few hidden passages provide some pacing to the player's progress, but there are no real obstacles to solve.
Rather, in exploring the ship's depths, you unlock flashbacks that gradually reveal the fragmented backstory of the Smuggler and the protagonist.
Although the main character has been on the Kyparissos before, she was always either inebriated at parties or carefully blindfolded when her lover brought her to the lower levels.
Now is the first time she can wander around the lower decks with a sober mind and clear sight. Descending into the dark bowels of the ship and unveiling secret rooms is mirrored in the descent of the protagonist into her own emotions. She finds a clarity in looking at herself, her lover the Smuggler, and their relationship.
The writing is elaborate and very evocative. The newly discovered rooms, as seen for the first time through the eyes of the PC, are lovingly detailed. Coloured walls, little ornaments, nautical maps draw the player down with the protagonist in the game's atmosphere.
Oftentimes the reader will encounter an image perfectly encapsulated in a precisely tailored sentence:
>"A ballroom without revels is an eerie, dancer-haunted place."
That is not to say the penmanship is flawless. The prose teeters on the purple cord, and sometimes falls off into murky plum long-windedness.
Overall though, the writing serves well to submerge the player in the dark mysterious mood of the piece.
It's unfortunate that Exile's Rose was published in this not-quite-finished state. One more pass through the tester's mill, one more round of editing would have lifted this game to great heights.
A few simple pacing-mechanisms (not even true puzzles, just some locked doors where the search for the key forces the player to explore all the rooms before being able to unlock the next staircase down) would make the story flow that much more naturally.
A compelling journey down through the Smuggler's schooner, and through the protagonist's memories and emotions.