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Pomegranate jam, for heaven's sake..., June 20, 2022
After much consulting of the prophecies and calculating the trajectory of the new, bright star in the heavens, it is confirmed. The foretold King of Jews is born! You must travel west to the land of Judea to lay precious gifts at his feet.
The first part of Following A Star is a puzzleless preparation of the journey ahead and an introduction of the main characters.
Melchior is the wise and knowledgeable one, the natural leader.
Gaspar is a boisterous and forward military man.
That leaves you, Balthasar, as... Well, especially in the first part you're mainly there for comic relief while you try to get on your camel only to fall off again three commands later. No worries, you get to show your true potential in later parts where you are given the responsability of obtaining suitable gifts for the prophecied child.
Melchior, Gaspar and a large number of other NPCs are deeply characterized. Even in the short descriptions and the limited conversation topics, each and every one of them has a few idiosyncratic properties and independent actions to set them apart.
The game hardly ever breaks character in its reponses. Many, many nonessential actions still get a customized reaction, often very funny. (Try walking into a wall in the presence of the camels...)
After the introduction, you arrive in a small town in Judea. This is where the game proper begins. You, Balthasar are tasked with finding three gifts to present to the child who we all know is Baby Jesus. The only necessary puzzles in this part all have to do with obtaining the gifts. These are relatively easy.
However, while looking around the town you will recognize a bunch of sidequests. Part of the motivation for completing these is that you gain points. The real motivation for any adventurer is of course that they're there. They're also more challenging and more fun than the necessary puzzles. (See if you can help the instrument vendor clean out his trumpet...)
I finished a handful of these sidequests and I still only got an endscore of 25 out of 42. Room for improvement and enticement to replay.
Having acquired the gifts, you must find your way through the desert to Jerusalem. To do so, a tricky mathematics puzzle stands in your way. Here, Following A Star is brilliant in wrapping up the puzzle in the context of the journey. You are given an astrolabe and an abacus and must deduce your position by observing the bright star. An otherwise dry calculation becomes an interesting and pressing navigational question that is justified in-game.
Less successful, I found, was a language puzzle where you have to decline the English nouns in your commands to a guard into garbled Latin. I studied Latin and Greek in high school, and the utterly unfunny pseudo-Latin phrases the game wanted me to construct drove me to just copying them from the walkthrough. (Compare constructing "Spanish" words by sticking "-os" at the endos. For realos...)
Fortunately, the finale redeemed the game brilliantly in my opinion. An ever sillier chase through the desert that reminded me of some of Monty Python's finest sketches.
Genuinely funny, some challenging puzzles, very good implementation and characterization. Recommended!