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About the Story
Two Elizabethan-era friends embark on a simple treasure-seeking adventure and find something else.
Entrant, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2022
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Number of Reviews: 2
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Appropriately enough for a game structured like a five-act play, my reaction to Thief of the Thousand Suns had a whole narrative arc to it. Based on the blurb and opening material, like the Dramatis Personae page complete with period font and interspersed footnotes, I went into it with high expectations since a Shakespearean IF very much appeals to me. These hopes suffered a u-turn as I was disappointed to realize the game wasn’t in verse, and had a plot drawn more from the swords-and-sorcery pulps than Elizabethan drama. After getting over those dashed expectations, though, I found there’s a lots that’s enjoyable here, as the game offers a fleet, fun adventure with a winning pair of protagonists – and if they’re more Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, so what?
(Yes, this would be a three-act structure, not five – perhaps proving my point that fitting a piece of writing to Shakespearean conventions is hard!)
So the setup here is that a two adventurers, roguish Billy Bard and big-hearted muscle Grimm, are on the lookout for a particular ruined temple, hoping to find the treasure it contains. After bargaining for directions from old man in a bar (see what I mean about the fantasy tropes?) they make their way through various forest hazards before finding more than they bargained for at the temple.
For the most part the story is on rails, though there are three more interactive bits – there’s a minigame where you dicker with the old man over how much to pay for his guidance to the temple, an involved series of choices to work through when dealing with a group of banditti, and then some light puzzling to make sense of the temple’s curious, magical properties. It’s a fun romp, with new obstacles and situations thrown at you at a rapid clip, and the banter between the two protagonists is well-written and enlivens proceedings, helping the more dramatic moments land.
This all works well on its terms, but again, it does feel a little more generic-fantasy than I would have liked – the story’s presented solely through dialogue and stage directions, but the directions often go into detail far beyond what a 16th-century stage could plausibly depict, and while there’s one song (which I enjoyed!) the dialogue is in prose rather than any sort of meter, much less strict iambic pentameter. Going in with appropriate expectations, though, it’s hard to see these as real minuses, especially given the dramatically increased authorial effort that would have been required (one of my games has a short poem in more-or-less dactylic hexameter, and it took probably three or four hours of writing to firm up – iambic pentameter is easier, but still!)
I think a more legitimate critique is that the moments of reactivity sometimes don’t feel fully baked. The bargaining minigame is done pretty much blind, and since you can redo it at any time the optimal course of action is to just inch up your offer until you hit something the other party will accept. And I found the encounter with the bandits hard to navigate until I realized that clicking the earlier set of links on the page would change them and shift my strategy for dealing with them, while the last one would commit to that approach and move the story ahead. Again, there are free redos available, but that lowered the stakes, all the more so when I realized that a key event that may or may not happen here – (Spoiler - click to show)Grimm’s killing of the bandit Aileen – doesn’t actually impact where the story ultimately goes, though it’s presented as though it would. Lastly, the exploration in the temple is entertaining but feels underdeveloped, with multiple different scenarios for the most part resolved as quickly as they’re spun off. None of this reduced my enjoyment that much, but it did leave me wishing that either these mechanics had been fleshed out more thoroughly, or just streamlined in favor of a cleaner story.
On the flip side, I found that implementation was quite clean. There are only a few typos, and those that are there are the high-class, artisanal sort – wain for wane, that sort of thing. At first blush I thought I’d come across a bug where some of Act IV was accessible before Act III, but now that I’ve reflected on the plot that might actually be a clever meta touch (Spoiler - click to show)(the temple does allow for time travel, after all).
All told this is a fleet, confident game with winning characters and a romping, fast-paced plot, and if it’s not one that William Shakespeare would have written, well, there are other authors out there just as good.
This fantasy twine game is modeled on Shakespeare's language and style of writing, and deals with bandits in search of a temple with a hidden treasure.
The story has some fascinating elements of time travel and Pictish culture, of which I learned many new things (one I didn't fully learn was the other name for Picts, and so I haven't used it here as I've forgot it).
There are some interesting mechanics, such as a variable amount of gold that you can bribe someone with, with varying results. The styling looks quite nice.
I didn't feel completely drawn into the game, for whatever reason. Partially it might be because some of the language was off, like using 'thy' as a subject or the '-st' suffix for the third person tense. I enjoy Shakespeare quite a bit too, and I feel it could have been a little closer.
Overall, though, the game feels quite polished and I expect that I would enjoy further works by this author.
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