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Dream Team Ebenezabeth Scrooge, March 26, 2023
Our little match girl is nineteen years old and still on a (new) mission.
For those who are hearing about this for the first time, The Little Match Girl 3: The Escalus Manifold is the third game in the “The Little Match Girl,” series, the first game simply titled The Little Match Girl. They follow a kind-hearted girl (she gets older in each game) as she learns to travel to new realms through her connection with fire. Hence the match reference. You do not need to play them to enjoy them, but if you are curious, you might as well start from the beginning. It’s up to you.
Before the game begins, we get a briefing from the protagonist's father, Ebenezer Scrooge. Almost like Mission Impossible but with the appropriate atmosphere suited to this story. The Snow Queen has been manipulating people far and wide. She controls them through Mirror Shards that can alter a person’s behavior to make them act destructively, and an unnamed client has tasked you with ending this abuse.
The Snow Queen is dangerous. But you are not alone. Or at least you won't be.
Because this game? Is all about teamwork.
The gameplay is about recruiting a team of NPCs to travel and fight with you as you prepare for your fight against the Snow Queen. Only the best companions are accepted, which means searching high and low for teammate material. Staying true to Ebenezabeth’s origin story, you travel across space and time through fire. Look at a fire source, and bam. New place, new time. You start at Finland, 1848.
There are six exciting realms in the main gameplay, and each have fire sources for travel and places to take naps (you will need them) to recharge your energy levels. The exception is with (Spoiler - click to show) Nonolulu 2933. It lacks both. That one’s a bit of a wild card.
Once you identify a potential team member, you must solve a puzzle to “free” (literally or figuratively, it depends) them to join your cause. These puzzles* were creative and fun to solve. For me, they were one of the highlights of the gameplay. You fight the Snow Queen if you think you’re ready. She’ll be waiting in her palace where the game begins. (*My favorite puzzle of all was (Spoiler - click to show) communicating with the stones. You can’t recruit them, of course, but it was an excellent puzzle.)
The Little Match Girl 3 does not have death or graphic violence. No assassinations this time. But combat is a central feature in the gameplay. There are many people operating as the Snow Queen’s puppets. To save them, you must "deliver a sound thrashing to the afflicted party," to borrow Ebenenzer's words. Defeating them in combat frees them since it expels the Mirror Shard that was keeping them under the Queen’s control. And, in fact, most characters will thank you for doing so.
The gameplay is not “about” freeing as many characters as possible. Aside from (Spoiler - click to show) the two guards in the palace, fighting characters is technically optional. Thing is, you must increase your skillsets before taking on the Snow Queen. Mirror Shards allow you to upgrade yourself and your teammates, making it in your best interest to win in combat as much as possible to acquire them.
Not a fan of combat in interactive fiction? The Little Match Girl 3 just might surprise you. I won’t hash out the rules since you can go play it for yourself, but I liked the flexibility of the combat’s mechanics. Freedom of movement is not dependent on fighting your way through hordes of NPCs. This allows you to pick and choose your battles at your convenience while enjoying the scenery. It’s well-balanced.
Similarly, the strategy for combat is nicely implemented because it provides technicality while also being easy to master. During combat, you make a move for Ebenezabeth, and then a move for each teammate based on a list of possible actions that are unique to each character. These lists are further developed throughout the gameplay.
What should Ebenezabeth do?
SHOOT - Fire your revolver at an enemy. (Ammo: 6/6)
DEFEND - Brace yourself for an attack.
RELOAD - Load up the barrel of your six-shooter.
BOLSTER - Spend 3 HP to increase an ally's Attack temporarily.
KOYNNOKSET - Spend 8 HP to summon entangling vines that grasp at all enemies.
It was cool how you gain extra skills by collecting wearables which can be worn by you or another teammate. Mix and match. Once you get the hang of everything, you zip through it all quite quickly. (Spoiler - click to show) I was surprised at how quickly I defeated the Snow Queen (but if you think you can take her out at the start of the game, think again).
I want to chew the fat on one technicality: Putting a Mirror Shard in a phylactery automatically upgrades your level and health points but can also upgrade any of the six other stats you possess. However, the number of stats that are upgraded are chosen at random. Sometimes you only get two, other times it is more fruitful.
To be honest, (Spoiler - click to show) I would undo until I got upgrades for five or six stats. People reading this will probably sigh at me in disappointment, but I'm not ashamed to admit it. I'm trying to make the most out of resources. When you are a time traveling assassin, you have to take what you can get.
You insert the Mirror Shard into Eunoia's Phylactery. Eunoia levels up!
Max HP +1!
Her lip quivers. "That can't be all I get. I insist you UNDO and try that again."
She said it, not me.
In all sincerity, this game is extremely generous with its resources. I would hoard inventory items that can replenish your HP during combat, only to learn that I never really needed them. Frequent use of UNDO is probably why I found it so easy to dominate without any NPC team members. I was so effective on my own, having them would only function as an extra step in the combat scenes.
In that regard, it is probably a good thing that every stat is not upgraded with every Mirror Shard. Plus, I am saying this as someone who has strategized through the gameplay. First-time players will experience it with a blank slate (hence why I put some of this under a spoiler tag), and it will have plenty of challenges.
The only feature that confused me was changing my affinity. The (Spoiler - click to show) man at the bar in Honolulu explains how you can temporarily alter your affinity to try new skills, but no matter which beverages I consumed, I could not find an application for any of them or notice any effect on the gameplay. I am probably overlooking something, but what? It would be nice to know. I’m probably missing out on the fun.
Usually I have the “Story” section before the one on characters, but we’re shaking it up. The Little Match Girl 3 is all about the NPCs.
I've played this game several times already. I snatched it the second it appeared on IFDB. Following The Little Match Girl 2: Annus Evertens, I was looking forward to what came next. However, I wanted to hold off on writing this review until after I recruited all four characters. They are a key component of this game’s experience, and I was not sure if I were missing anything important.
It’s not required that you recruit team members. In fact, fighting the Snow Queen alone- you promised not to- has an unexpected but hilarious impact at the end of the game: (Spoiler - click to show) An invite from The Universal Sisterhood of Naughty Little Girls.
Such ruthlessness, coupled with such wanton disregard for filial responsibility, is more than sufficient qualification for membership in our highly selective organization.
In the end, I could only recruit three characters. And so, I decided to proceed with the review just to get it out there. I'll figure out the rest some other time (see the note at the end of this section).
Moving on. As is often the case with the author’s work, the characters shine. There are four NPCs who can join your team to help defeat the Snow Queen. Here, they aren’t just firepower for combat. Their implementation is discrete and yet enriches the gameplay with a refreshing vividness. They feel like traveling companions rather than invisible accessories.
The NPCs I have managed to recruit so far are (Spoiler - click to show) Hrieman, Eunoia, and Nuci. A highlight of the entire game is the spontaneous dialog that occurs as you travel to new locations or examine scenery.
The sky is blazing with millions of silent stars. The ground is bare rock, the color of charcoal.
A nearby crater has been converted into the dish of a large radio telescope.
You can go north, southeast, southwest, east, and west from here.
(Spoiler - click to show)
"How exciting!" Eunoia says. "What an adventuresome place this is!"
Hrieman flies up for a better view, wheeling around for a while before returning to your shoulder. "It's curved!" he says. "I mean, it's round! I mean, of course it's round. But I'd never seen the curvature of anything before."
Nuci stares up at the stars. She is speechless.
It adds unexpected flair that also reminds you that everything is being done as a group.
I was especially pleased to see (Spoiler - click to show) Eunoia, the mermaid princess from Atlantis. I immediately recognized her since she is introduced in the series’ first game, The Little Match Girl. And I'm liking her more and more. She seems genuinely affectionate for Ebenezabeth.
Eunoia sits on the beach, regarding you expectantly.
Oddly enough, in the first game she seemed colder, as did her father and sister. There was- it’s hard to describe- not a bitter or envious vibe but... something that gave the characters a sharp edge that you could accidentally cut your finger on. The effect was subliminal. Now, she has evolved without losing her core identity. Warmhearted, though still dramatic. I’m glad her character made it into this episode.
I must admit though, my favorite NPC in this game was (Spoiler - click to show) Nuci.
Note: I have a hunch about the fourth one: (Spoiler - click to show) Cole, who lives on Deimos, one of Mars’ moons. Issue is that his cow is orbiting overhead. He’s trying to figure out the calculations to retrieve the cow. I don’t know how to help him. Does the large net have a use in this puzzle? I tried (pathetically) throwing it at the cow but that did not work.
I have little to add here. Your contract is to take out the Snow Queen (you already know this) who is fooling around with Mirror Shards to (Spoiler - click to show) channel energy into the Mirror of Reason on the first floor of her palace. It’s an ongoing project. She wants to reach/use a realm called Escalus Manifold via the Mirror. Hence the game’s title. I did not make that connection right away.
Word of advice: If you’re curious about the Snow Queen’s scheme, I highly encourage you to (Spoiler - click to show) examine the Mirror of Reason when you have NPCs (more the merrier) in your party because it produces dialog that provides additional background context for the story.
Sitting at my computer in the 21st century, Finland in the year 1848 sounds so long ago, but that’s at the same time period for Ebenezabeth’s “present day” life in London. The (Spoiler - click to show) date on the official letter at the end of the game reads 1847. So being dropped into Finland a year later would not be much of a difference for her. Just some random tidbit that put things into perspective.
This is a parser game that uses colours in the gameplay. Every location gets its own screen colour. In fact, colour-coding settings was also shown in the second game in the series. It’s excellent at making the player feel like they are being transported to another place.
Also: Is that (Spoiler - click to show) Nuci in the cover art? I pictured her as having less of a humanoid body shape, but that’s cool either way.
Let’s reflect on how far we have come (so far): I have now played three games starring Ebenezabeth. Each one is unique in plot and gameplay while still sharing the same essence. As for a favorite, you can’t really pick one. It’s like having a selection of beloved film DVDs that are neatly organized on the living room shelf.
The Little Match Girl (first game) is where the magic begins. It is a high-quality game and a strong introduction to the series but did not quite have the same blow-your-mind effect that the next two games had. It’s still well worth your time. Especially if you want to know the full story behind the protagonist. As for the next two…
There was a stronger sense of satisfaction at the end of The Little Match Girl 2, but the gameplay mechanics were more consistent and impressive in third game. For me, the key difference is being able to revisit realms by eyeballing an open flame. It weaves the puzzles through time and space while also giving the player a little more control over the chaos. Both are unique adventures. I can’t pick a favorite.
The Little Match Girl 3 is a treasure to play. It is a mix of action and heartwarming moments blended into a truly unique game. The narrative, character dynamics, and combat mechanics are all integrated together to create a piece that beckons you to play it and return for more. It is perfectly playable if you have not played the first two episodes, although I have a feeling that if you end up liking this one, you will be tempted to play them all.
I am looking forward to the next game, The Little Match Girl 4: Crown of Peals (currently listed on IFDB), but I am also dreading it since it will be the last in the series. Ebenezabeth is getting older. Bittersweet, although I have loved viewing her transformation throughout each game.
UPDATE: I FINALLY FIGURED OUT HOW TO RECRUIT THE FOURTH CHARACTER. In case anyone wants to laugh at me, read on. MAJOR STORY & GAMEPLAY SPOILERS. (Spoiler - click to show)
I would wait until the cow was directly above me: The flying cow passes right over your head. If you need more context, look at the character section of this review.
I tried the following commands:
>throw net at cow
>catch cow with net
You can't do much more than look from way down here.
I now had the impression that I needed to be higher or have some additional mechanism that would allow the net to reach the cow. Or maybe the net was for a different puzzle. Perfect case where I overthink things. The correct solution was "take cow" or "catch cow." Simple as that.
But hold on a minute. Cole and Nuci... get married? WHAT? I did not see any chemistry/individual character dynamics between them at all during the gameplay. Good for them, though.
I want to make sure we are on the same page. At the end of the game, you can get letters from three out of the four possible teammates, assuming they were recruited. Cole sends a yellowed letter and Nuci sends a crisp letter. However, if they are both in your team, you don't get either letter. Instead, you get a picture postcard that says:
I never heard of no honeymooners cutting into their honeymoon time to send any Wish You Were Here cards but Nuci says it's de rigueur so here we are.
It's signed by them as Nuci + Cole. Married? Am I reading that correctly? Wow. Great game.