The Arkhill Darkness

by Jason Barrett


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Janky, old-school fun, December 5, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

There are two kinds of fantasy RPGs: the bad ones, where the wizard is named something dumb like Firganzallum or Thoranor or what have you, and the good ones, where the wizard is named Wizard. Ipso facto, this is one of the good ones.

All right, Iím being (slightly) tongue in cheek, but The Arkhill Darkness is not faffing about. Youíre a fledgling adventurer who needs to free a town from an unearthly curse of darkness, so you hit the tavern to get quests from your mentor and chat with half a dozen people who have job titles where their names should be. Thereís a faint tongue-in-cheekness about this, though proceedings mostly proceed in a po-faced way with a slight flavor of horror, and the writing sports some typos and comma errors, so altogether TAD conveys a distinctive (and to me at least, oddly appealing) authorís-first-game jankiness.

Gameplay-wise, this is a pretty clean adventure/RPG hybrid, with a clearly-delimited area to go to grind encounters for cash and ingredients, but most exploration plays out in a choice-based fashion with the occasional puzzle and less interspersal of combat than I expected ((Spoiler - click to show)maybe itís just the choices I made, but there were only three set-piece encounters involving combat: the werewolf, where fighting is a losing game regardless of oneís stats, the landwurm, which is much more about minigame mechanics as far as I could tell, and then the dragon fight at the end).

The grinding didnít seem to have much impact Ė I seemed to do as much damage, and if anything hit more frequently, when kicking as when using a weapon, and Wizard never followed through on his promise to brew me a potion with which to poison my axe Ė so the adventure side of things I think predominates over the RPG elements. The exploration sequences are fleet enough so as not to wear out their welcome, and use a variety of different approaches: thereís a traditional password-puzzle, a choose-the-right-option action sequence, and a climactic battle that involves some timing-based minigames (these were a fun idea, but very hard on my trackpad, for what itís worth).

Throughout, the prose is functional, though typically a bit wordy and in need of an editing pass. There are some moments when things tip over into being more evocative, usually when the game is leaning into its horror vibe, as here when the player is battling a sort of monstrous congeries of five or six different sorcery-warped horses:

"As the horsething continues to advance upon you, you dart towards the underbelly of the horsething. As you do, you have an idea. You pull out your Axe and begin to hack its legs as you run. It is clear the horsething was not expecting this move. It stumbles as you cut off a couple of its legs. You dive forward, as the beast falls to its underbelly. You turn and start chopping of its heads, one by one. The horsething screams as its head come off. Even with the last head dismembered, its necks flail around. At last the flailing stops, as itís last scream turns into the a weak wheeze."

Grammar issues and typos aside, this is pretty metal.

TADís not exactly a diamond in the rough Ė I donít think itís sufficiently ambitious, and its highs are really just about evoking warm feelings of familiarity Ė but I had a fun old time with it: perhaps the quintessential ďif you like this sort of thing, youíll probably like this thingĒ game.

(Oh, and a quick warning: despite there being a Save Game option, I could never get it to work. Fortunately thereís back/forward functionality throughout the story, so itís not a major concern).

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