by Tristan Jacobs


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Compelling Prose, Less-Compelling Game Design, December 6, 2020
by Joey Acrimonious
Related reviews: IFComp 2020

(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.