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CYOA as optimization problem, September 12, 2020
The Lost Heir series eschews the Choice of Games design philosophy in which all paths should be valid and failures should be interesting. This is a difficult game. There are many paths through this story, and it is difficult to die in the first game of the series, but some paths are objectively better than others.
Like many visual novels and gamebooks, the difficulty is in designing a path through the game in which the player character survives and achieves their goals. This involves raising certain stats to the necessary level by key points in the story, and not letting health decrease too low. Unlike in many other stat-heavy choicescript games, the player cannot simply focus on one or two stats; a pure magic user can't expect to get by on magic alone, for example. There are a large number of stats, divided into abilities, skills, knowledge, and relationships. Usually, the stat being checked is well cued, but not always. Only passing stat checks will raise the stat while failing checks will lose health, leading to potential death spirals where the player fails one check after another. I think it is expected that a player will play through multiple times to learn the checks and stat gains and to find a route that leads to a desired ending. Overall, it felt somewhat like Long Live the Queen in terms of the stat-check gameplay, but with fewer deaths.
The story itself takes place in a seemingly generic fantasy setting, where the player character is the titular "lost heir" seeking to reclaim the throne from evil usurpers. Despite the typical setting and plot, it was easy for me to become engrossed in this game. The writing is decent, and I really felt like I needed to find a way to save my favorite characters. There are a number of romance options as is usual in choicescript, who are described in broad strokes in this volume. The romance options themselves are also pretty heavily stat-gated.