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About the Story
Built upon the intention of combining a choose-your-own-adventure game with a beat-em up, (s)wordsmyth is an unconventional, samurai-inspired, revenge story that includes sentient swords and yokai warriors. [Cover art by Elisa Moriconi & Anand Ramcheron]
77th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 6
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
Conversations are the central part of (s)wordsmyth Ė hang up, weíre not doing this.
Conversations are the central part of wordsmyth (the s is in parentheses so itís silent, and besides ďwordĒ is a better fit for the themes of the game than ďswordĒ). Where other games might have set-piece battles or a fiendish puzzle, this one is paced around a series of one-on-one or two-on-one (and even a single one-and-a-half-on-one) dialogues between the main character Ė a swordsperson-in-training seeking vengeance, or at least closure, after the death of their mentor Ė and those who lie in the path of the journey. Each one requires a different approach, and to pick out the course to a successful resolution from the thicket of options requires empathy and attention to detail. It also requires a large dollop of luck, so youíll be replaying some of these sequences a lot.
The world is only thinly sketched-in, but itís clearly a mystical take on an Asian milieu (Iím not familiar enough with the tropes to be able to resolve it with more specificity than that). These tropes, as well as the nature of the characterís quest, set you up to expect the main character to be a warrior-monk, or dedicated swordsman. Refreshingly, though, the focus is on confrontations that must be resolved with social skills, rather than resorting to violence. The backstory here, and the big bad at the end of the path too, donít stick to the typical notes, and seeing my presuppositions shift as the game went kept me engaged in the fairly standard heroís-journey narrative. The writing doesnít try for anything fancy, but is largely solid and typo-free, while succeeding at differentiating the voices of the various characters.
There are two aspects of the way the story is told that undercut my enjoyment of wordsmyth, though. The first is the presentation: the game is set up in visual-novel style, with dialogue delivered sentence by sentence, necessitating a click to advance after each. This is not my favorite format for a game, but in a visual novel the tradeoff is that you get a lot of screen real estate given to the art, which hopefully helps evoke the scene or communicate the mood of a character or what have you. Here, though, thereís no art, so most of the time three quarters of the screen is completely black, and you're staring at a small text box at the bottom (when choices come up, they fill the screen). Thereís also no skip-text option that I could find, which made replaying sequences to make different choices a slog.
This is no minor issue because of the second thing: the author says they tried to make a choose-your-own-adventure game, and they certainly succeeded to the extent that there are a LOT of ways to die. You can die by picking the wrong one of two dialogue choices that seem indistinguishable (when confronting a hungry monster, you can ask what it wants to eat, or tell it you can get it anything it desires. One of these allows progress, the other puts you on the menu). You can die by saying you want to go back, when you should say you want to go home. You can die by asking to take your turn hiding after a round of hide and seek. You can even die by going the wrong way a crossroads.
Thereís no manual saving, so each death means rewinding to the beginning of the encounter and trying again. Many of these conversations go at least ten options deep, so this can be a long, slow process of trial and error that becomes an exercise in exhausting all the choices rather than trying to engage with whatís happening and weigh the right move. It could be that I just wasnít paying enough attention, but too often I felt like my ability to progress was arbitrary, and by the time I got to the second half of the game, at least 80% of the choices felt like they had one right option and one or more that led to an instant game over.
This is a shame because there was some fun to be had along the way Ė I liked meeting the (Spoiler - click to show)ghost child, and some of the fencing with the (Spoiler - click to show)cat spirit, and there are a few neat twists around the final encounter that are clever and sit nicely with the quiet theme of nonviolence that runs throughout. Iím glad I suffered through the punishing gauntlet of choices to get there, but really wish I hadnít had to.
This game uses Unity (and possibly Ink?) to give you a series of choices as you progress on a journey to avenge your master who has died. His spirit now inhabits a sword.
You pass through many interesting situations such as a pirate ship, a minotaur battle, etc.
I found the writing interesting and the concept charming. The text is typed out but fairly quickly, although that still hampered play somewhat The occasional use of graphics worked well.
In structure, this game reminds me of nothing more than Chandler Grooverís game Left/Right. In that game, you can either choose left or right over and over. One direction will kill you or end the game, and you never know which. Itís partially (I think?) a lesson in the inscrutability of that choice structure.
And itís that way in this game, too. You have to guess the authorís mind on each choice. Itís possible to see the logic in each choice, but usually only after youíve attempted to go through and die. I think it stems from a desire to make interesting decisions with only binary (or occasionally trinary) choices. But I donít think having frequent deaths is the best option; itís much more interesting to have old decisions affect future decisions several turns later and then to add some hinting to the game so that people have a general idea of whatís expected of them. Even better is adding multiple conflicting goals.
Overall, I had to stop at the cat-womanís den because I was dying too often. But I found this fun.
+Polish: The game runs well and seems generally bug-free.
+Descriptiveness: The use of dialog made the game more interesting to me.
-Interactivity: Not a fan of 'guess which path is life and which one is death'
-Emotional impact: The characters didn't sink into my soul, so to speak.
-Would I play again? Not unless there were a faster way to replay.
The player progresses through a series of scenes, seeking revenge for his master's death.
The interface and game was bug-free. The major criticism about the interface for most players will likely be the inability to change how the text displays. Constantly hitting return is necessary to advance just a couple lines of text.
There were attempts to add a little mystery and magic to the plot, particularly near the ending. Unfortunately, the UI avoids text dumps and similar actions, which are often how emotional depth and meaning take place in IF. I think this game is somewhat limited by the brevity of dialogue.
There may be multiple ways to overcome certain plot-related obstacles, but unfortunately I did not find it to be worth replaying.
I grew up on choose-your-own-adventure stories, and one thing that often frustrated me was that the random decisions came with no deduction, resulting in little reward for the good endings or anguish at the bad endings. In rare cases, there was a story where only one good ending existed. I much prefer this style, as it helps me feel invested in each decision. Tristan Jacobs follows that style here with (s)wordsmyth.
The setup here is intriguing, what with the sidekick that is a very chatty sword (don't worry, it makes sense!). On your way to revenge your master you encounter various adversaries from Japanese mythology (and at least one from Roman mythology). Each encounter presents with a decision-tree that often takes three to six correct choices in order to pass (with occasionally some minor room for midstream correction). For the most part, I found the correct choices to make sense and they fit the moral of the story well.
Generously, if you fail at any point in the game, you are brought back to the beginning of the section to try again. Unfortunately, this still requires quite a bit of clicking to advance the story and my wrist was literally sore by the end. Now, part of that is on me as for one scenario I think I managed to pick all ten bad endings before finally choosing the correct branch.
The graphics are easy on the eyes, and I quite enjoyed the noise the text scroll made, reminiscent of Japanese RPGs from the 80's (Dragon Quest comes to mind).
I was not as invested in the characters as I would have hoped. The player character is explored very little, and I was hoping to find the sword more charming. Still, very solid game design and cool idea.
(s)wordsmyth gives the impression of a quest for revenge, but itís actually a quest for redemption. You must fight without fighting, using only your words to win over your opponents. Itís a simply-structured but fun adventure featuring a series of verbal duels.
I appreciated the uniqueness of each encounter, as they all demand a different approach. Negotiation? Flattery? Intimidation? The best course of action depends on the situation, and youíll have to read your opponent to figure out how to deal with them successfully. The prose is well-written, especially when in dialogue with certain powerful opponents: many of their lines are written in a beautifully dramatic, almost poetic style that really sells the supernatural feel of such encounters.
The presentation of the game, in the style of a visual novel except without any visuals apart from a game-over graphic, seems an odd choice. Another minus: defeat can happen quickly and sometimes feels arbitrary. Unless you're far more observant than I - or just plain lucky - expect to be doing a fair bit of dying and replaying from checkpoints.
Throughout much of the game, the main characters (the student and the master) seemed a bit inscrutable. I didnít feel a whole lot of personality from either of them. Theyíre laser-focused on their mission and most of their dialogue serves to establish this, and this alone. In the case of the master especially, I felt that she suffered from her dual role as character and narrator - her distinctive voice as a character seems to evaporate and turn generic whenever she begins narrating events and surroundings.
The ending, however, is a satisfying and strong one - strong enough to elevate the whole experience of the game. Once I reached it, I finally felt like I understood the personalities and motivations of the main characters. I just wish there had been a bit more build-up to that point, a bit more meaningful and varied dialogue between the student and master throughout the game.
Overall, (s)wordsmyth packs a good amount of punch despite some less-than-perfect design choices, and itís well worth a playthrough.
See All 6 Member Reviews
This is version 4 of this page, edited by Zape on 8 October 2020 at 6:21pm. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item