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About the Story
An operatic performance. A tale of atonement. A dating sim with a crocodile pit.
Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Winner - Tie, Best Story; Winner - Turandot, Best Individual NPC - 2019 XYZZY Awards
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Number of Reviews: 6
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Reviews serve many purposes. Helping authors feel noticed; providing feedback for future games; monologuing; and helping players decide what to play and not.
In the interest of the latter, this game is overtly sexual in a crass way. I abandoned it once, and only persevered when told that the large middle portion contains very little of that nature.
Aside from that, Gijsbers has used all of his excellent storytelling powers in crafting this game.
It takes Puccini's Turandot, a story that is very problematic in and of itself. I'm in the camp that believes that Puccini had built up something he couldn't finish: there was no reasonable way to finish the story or the music that could mesh well with what went before. There's no realistic resolution whatsoever.
This game takes that on head-first. The player traverses death and destruction in pursuit of the princess, but there's a sort of in-game fourth-wall-breaking (third-wall breaking?) where everyone comments on the ridiculousness of it. It's all just a joke.
But is it? (Spoiler - click to show)The player's obsession is never really explained. And the neat wrapping up of 'none of the people' actually died ignores the friend. The murder of the guard is glossed over. These huge plot holes are explained away by the overall self-critical nature of the game.
I've noticed that every writing community has it's own views on what is 'great'. I made a chart once displaying where each community lies on the scale of 'earnestness' vs and 'originality' vs 'canon' in their judging. Creepypasta and Battle for Wesnoth both have extreme earnestness in their writing, while IFComp tends to value self-awareness. This game is far in the self-awareness area, almost a parody of self-awareness.
The choice structure is essentially all fake choices. There may be some actual state tracked, but I don't think it necessarily improves the game if that's true. For instance, I chose to (Spoiler - click to show)let the crocodile kill me and the game explained it away, again, in a very self-aware manner.
This game achieves everything it set out to do. I would say it was one of my favorites except that the feelings of shame I get reading erotic works doesn't go well with the pure enjoyment I have from text games. I believe it will do very well in the competition, possibly the top three, unless other voters have concerns about the content as well.
All in all, Victor Gijsbers started out as a good author, and its clear he's only improving with time. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next!
This is probably the toughest review I've written so far as I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Turandot. I should note this is the first ChoiceScript game I've finished and it's not my preferred style of play.
I was immediately turned off by the game's first section, where we intimately are introduced to Calaf's misogyny. Gijsbers tries to play it for laughs, as the entire game is kind of a parody of the opera, which was terribly sexist. While I smirked at times, I just don't find sexism ripe for comedy.
Things definitely improve once we meet Turandot, as she is a revulsed by Calaf as anyone should be and has an appealing flare for the dramatic. Her running commentary as she sends Calaf through the trials to win her over is witty and endearing. I was less taken by her change of heart, as Calaf's self-actualization feels out of nowhere, though I have to admit I was rooting for him by the end. And the ending turns the game on its head one more time, making us once again reevaluate everything we thought of our characters and I was left feeling a bit dizzy (not to mention confused for Calaf's friend).
Ultimately, I gave this three stars because Gijsbers is an excellent writer and I was compelled for most of the ride. But I was left quite unsatisfied. Perhaps if this had been written as satire, with more focus on the historic racism of Orientalist operas, I would have appreciated it more. Instead it felt to me like a few different sketch comedies thrown together, full of some laughs but with an inconsistent theme.
I should also acknowledge the quite overt references (so overt that it would be hard to call them Easter Eggs) to several famous IF works sprinkled throughout, though I'm not sure why they are here. It reminds me of how out of place it felt to get an XYZZY response while playing Babel. Though I imagine I will never again find quite as satisfying a result to clicking "Show Stats."
There’s more than one game inside Turandot. Two at the very minimum. Putting two very different things together is risky: the contrast may illuminate both parts and create a satisfactory emotional evolution; or both elements can fight each other and turn out too frustrating.
Turandot starts like a wild comedy, oscillating between wacky videogame humour (with reflective choices of different insults) and some black, brutal jokes. It ends like a philosophical conversation about moral choices. It transitions from lightness to seriousness on a very tight rope: the first serious long conversation happens (Spoiler - click to show)with the player hanging over a crocodile pit, in a joke that reminded me of Monkey Island. Then it gets more serious. At some times it feels more like a statement than a story to me. It certainly feels like a different game, one that provokes contradictory thoughts and impressions.
But it's one of he best-written and best-designed games I remember from any recent comp! It does interesting things with the choices, like the false choices with only different wording but identical result. It manages to make the game feel less linear. The jokes land effortlessly, dialogues flow, the characters are vivid.
The first part was my favourite game in IFcomp 19. The second part will require more effort to wrap my head around it, and I will certainly play again.
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