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An old-school supernatural comedy of grandiose entitlement, January 17, 2023
There's no shortage of text adventures where you play as a self-absorbed person who just wants stuff. Some are truly crude. Others are a bit too subtle. Some feature a kid who hasn't matured yet. And Darkiss, well, it features someone who's been around a good while. Martin Voigt, a vampire who has been imprisoned in his coffin by mere villagers. He doesn't want much. He just wants to even the score with, well, everyone who ever got in the way of him chasing his dark pleasures!
There's also been no shortage of "see the other side" works in IFComp. Under the Bridge, from this year (2022,) is one example. It helps humanize someone or smomething that is, on the surface, unlikable. i wish you were dead shows someone with apparent proof a lover cheated, but then it is not so clear what happened or who is at fault. And The Best Man from 2021 presents the mental machinations of a covert narcissist in shocking, disturbing "oh yuck I've been like that in what I hope are my very worst moments" ways.
Darkiss sees the other side, all right, but it neglects such nuance. The character is unapologetically awful and entitled and ruins the lives of mere mortals as he pleases. There are the ones who give him direct pleasure as he drinks their blood, and there are ones who get in the way, like the villagers who shut him in his coffin. Why, it drained him of his powers! Getting them back seems like the least he deserves. Well, to him.
Standard vampire tropes are at play here. You gain power by rediscovering your vampire get-up, complete with accessories. You need to summon demons even more powerful than yourself. All this can and should be disturbing, but the author laid a lot of clues to show he's winking at you and he knows the main character does not, in fact, deserve actual sympathy. Some dialogue with NPCs (Dracula was a good book, but what a sad ending) reinforces this as well. Plus, he, like, plays the violin and stuff! If that's not classy, what is?
Other humor is direct, yet not blunt. I almost feel the pain of the vampire who can't cross garlic fields or get the best of a mirror. There's a bit where his mind's a bit rusty, so he mis-counts the number of bats in the Bats room. And there's the appalling unfairness of how Doctor Anderson outfoxed Martin, and how Sabrina, your love from before you were captured, didn't make it!
Darkiss's puzzles are a bit old-school, which is fine with me. But they're mixed up well. It starts with almost a quiz, which gets you one point, and you work your way up to a 9-point puzzle at the end, indicating that, yes, it does get a bit trickier. Most every point scoring command has a different verb.
Darkiss, given its original Italian publication date of 2010, seems like a very clever and snappy response to the awful Twilight series of books. It wasn't a necessary reply, and it takes a decidedly different tack than the more focused parodies I read and enjoyed. It contains no darkly evil laughter and vows to rule the world one day with one's minions. It simply contains a protagonist who sees a lot and plans a lot and accounts for nearly everything except, well, the people he draws his energy from have a far shorter lifespan than he does, but still, he's entitled, because reasons. Playing along with the supernatural eternally spoiled brat is disturbing fun. And yet you feel the pain of Professor Anderson and the villagers in the face of such a menace.
The term "energy vampire" may not have been in widespread use in 2010, but it's certainly more prominent today. And I couldn't help but think of how Martin Voigt's exploits magnified the acts of some people I disliked. Darkiss went beyond just poking fun at vampire tropes to remind me of some people who, well, darned near drained everyone around them but felt aggrieved people didn't understand them enough and took extraordinary measures to keep their aura strong. Oh, the knowledge they sought! (Okay, we've all been drains on other people. Yes, that includes me. But I'm talking about the people who've honed their craft.) The text borders on actual text dumps, but the author seems to know just when to stop--it's like that coworker who you're about to tell "enough, don't bother me with chat for a week," but then he stops at the right time, which is kind of disappointing after five minutes, because you realize you kind of wanted an excuse to cut him off.
Only when Darkiss stops at the right time, it's more benevolent. It generally understands when a joke might fray and pushes you on to the next bit. And while my eyes glazed over at some bits, I could see myself gladly replaying in a few years' time to revisit just the sort of thing that shouldn't have worked for me on paper, but it did.