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About the Story
Matters of life from the viewpoint of a deer
Audience Choice--Best Animals, Best Nonhuman Protagonist, Most Realistic, Main Festival - Spring Thing 2021
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Number of Reviews: 3
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There’s a lot of IF out there with nonhuman protagonists – monster, aliens, what have you – but Secret of Nara is fairly unique in featuring a totally normal, non-talking, non-anthropomorphized animal. The game walks a fine line, portraying the deer who serves as the viewpoint character as resolutely nonhuman, while still providing enough of a window into their experience to allow for decisions to be legible. The writing can occasionally veer into over-abstraction, and the story, such as it is, is very much low-conflict, but I found the game a meditative pleasure to experience.
The prose is the main thing to talk about with this one. It does a good job of conveying really concrete, specific information about how the protagonist and other deer are behaving, and what they encounter in the environment. There’s no cheating – the deer’s thoughts are primarily emotions, not words, and while they probably have a clearer idea of what other deer are trying to communicate with their actions than a human would upon observing the same behavior, it still takes some work to decipher. Combined with the serene natural setting – a mountain and forest – there’s some lovely imagery here. This is an early passage I liked, where the deer reflects on their solitary existence:
"Cold winds brushing against your fur, peaceful stillness, and empty presence have been your every day for as far as you remember."
Occasionally the challenge of conveying a nonhuman mind can leave the prose feeling a bit airy, and there are moments of awkward phrasing, but the writing is generally strong, and a major draw.
Structurally, there’s a fair bit of branching – in each of my four playthroughs, a different incident served as the climax of the story, though they’re all decidedly low-key, like having a funny moment with a tourist or helping another deer. I liked this approach, since trying to make decisions lead to dramatically different outcomes, rather than leading to different scenes, probably would have made them heavier and more dramatic than the story would support. And that’s a good illustration of why Secret of Nara works so well: it’s a disciplined game, knowing exactly what to do to realize its novel premise.
You're a deer. You do deer things. It's pretty cute. The whole game is over in 10 to 15 minutes, maybe 30 if you decide to use the back button to explore all endings.
The language is strange, perhaps intentionally strange, but at some places it seems just accidentally ungrammatical.
(Spoiler - click to show)At one point, you meet a deer who's hurt, and you have the option to try to save the deer. You do, but the other deer then apparently walks away from the accident, apparently uninjured…? This seems like a bug.
This nice-looking Twine game is by Ralfe Rich, an author I've seen a few games by in recent years.
It's a peaceful tale where you play a kind of wild creature (I imagined a moose or deer) wandering about, choosing whether to be solitary or part of a group, etc.
The branching structure has some early endings and some later endings, allows for some customization of personality but little strategy, as endings generally come as a surprise.
The writing is pretty but vague, so vague that it loses some of its charm. I think it could have been grounded more somehow, with more specificity or data from the senses. For instance:
"You are not sure what to make of such things. You have been fixed in what you know and believe for so long. Such thoughts dance in your mind as you question if your being is taking on a metamorphosis. Changing what you value, what you hold dear.
I think this is poetic, but these words could apply to almost every character in every story in every genre. I could use a little more about this story, now. There's some of that later on.
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