Number of Reviews: 4
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Midsummer Magicks, July 24, 2021
(This review is for the competition release of the game. I fully expect many of the bumps to be smoothed out in a postcomp-release.)
I spent a lot of time with The Faeries of Haelstowne, most of it enchanted by the story, the setting and the beautiful prose, some of it frustrated as hells (yes, plural) by missing objects or unresponsive parser issues. I developed a rather passionate love-hate relationship with the game. By the time I solved it though, the balance had wholly shifted to love and I wholeheartedly forgave and nearly forgot the frustration.
The vicar of an old and quaint English town has disappeared. Police detective Arthur Mapple is called upon to solve the mystery.
The setting of The Faeries of Haelstowne is wonderful. A rural English town with its old history mingled together with even more ancient folktales makes a good place for a Faery-tale. Even better: the tale takes place in the early 20th century. Belief in the spiritual realm, contacting the dead through séances and looking for nature-spirits was combined with an urge to research these phenomena from a new scientific/empirical viewpoint. The rising popularity and technical simplification (to a point) of photography made for enthusiastic amateurs seeking to capture the spiritual world on photo-negative.
It is against this background that we see the arrival of our protagonist in Haelstowne. The first chapter is a lighthearted exploration of the magic-realistic rural surroundings of an old Vicarage. Puzzles consist of multiple steps but there is good guidance. The player is mostly being primed for what to expect in later chapters.
In these later chapters, the mood grows darker and the puzzles more complicated and difficult. Partly, this is because, well, the puzzles are more complicated and difficult. However, it is also in part because there are frequent issues of guess-the-verb and of read-the-author's-mind. One puzzle in particular ((Spoiler - click to show)the antimagic object above the window) has many, many reasonable alternative solutions, all of which are ignored in favor of the one the author had in mind. To add insult to injury, that solution does not even use the object that the author has made us use in a previous and similar puzzle: (Spoiler - click to show)using the portable steps to get to high places....
The entire game is written in delightful prose. Eloquent and evocative descriptions, long-drawn-out but never boring conversations and cut-scenes. It's a joy to have such a wonderful game-world described in such beautiful prose.
The characters that Arthur meets during his investigation are interesting and lively. They all have their own personality and if they are helpful to Arthur it is because their own profession or personal choices brought them on his path, not cajoling or manipulation by Arthur.
After solving many puzzles, meeting a few helpful and not so helpful characters and finding out what indeed has happened to Vicar Peldash; in short: after navigating the complexities of the middle game, all the loose string are bound nicely together in a thrilling and expertly paced endgame. I was on the edge of my seat as I typed the last set of commands.
A truly magical experience.