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About the Story
They have feelings for each other. They are doomed to part. Train wheels click-clack monotonously. The ring of existence remains intact. Only you can break it giving the protagonists a chance for happiness. Play the fate's part in Railways of Love, a road novel set in a science fiction world of the future.
32nd Place - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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When I started up Railways of Love I was taken aback by the game's old-school graphics. Then, on my first playthrough, it didn't feel very interactive to me. There were only a few times I was provided a choice that would affect the story of protagonists Abel and Juna on their train ride, and most of the actions I could select were actions like "The attendant comes by" or "The light blinks" - actions that Able and Juna couldn't take for themselves. The primary exception was that each time I was given a choice one of the options was for Abel or Juna to confess their love. However, when I tried to select that option, Abel or Juna always found an excuse not to confess their love, and the game forced me to select another option. So it wasn't clear to me who I, the player, was supposed to be. The author of their story, I suppose, but an author with some rather severe restrictions on the story I was writing. I wasn't that impressed at first.
But then at the end of the story the game encourages you to play again and try to change Abel's and Juna's fates. The game was so short I thought I would try it. And here's where Railways of Love really starts getting interesting. You can replay the story multiple times, with each playthrough revealing more of Abel's and Juna's backgrounds and often giving you a different ending.
And these endings are not the kinds of endings you come to expect from a work with the word "love" in the title - if, like me, you're an American. This is not a game with a Hollywood-style "true love conquers all" sensibility. Railways of Love is more mature than that, displaying an understanding of what it means for two people to commit themselves to each other long-term and all of the costs to careers and other relationships that go along with that.
I found it beautiful and poignant.
So, my recommendation is: Don't stop with the first playthrough of Railways of Love. Don't even stop until you've seen all the endings.
One of the questions that kept nagging me as I played through Railways of Love was whether the game really had a Russian vibe, or whether I was just imagining this, based on the fact that you can choose between Russian and English. Of course, the long train journey might conjure up images of the Trans-Siberian railway, and the failing lights fit well with a perhaps clichéd idea of the state of household technology in the USSR… but there are long railway trips in the rest of the world too, and I’ve seen the lights in Dutch trains fail at times. But then there was the Progress Program, which sounded ever more like a science fiction version of Marxism-Leninism, 5-year plans included. And when I got to an ending in which the protagonists fail to hook up because one of them is praying and the other cannot refrain from making a hard-line atheist comment, I was certain: this is light years away from Hollywood, and very much in the cultural space also inhabited by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy.
The structure of Railways of Love is quite original. The two protagonists are sitting in the train, some minor events happen, and all you can do is try to make them confess to each other. But the situation isn’t quite right, and nothing happens. The potential love affair dies in the bud. Then, you get to replay the game; but this time, you are in control of which events happen. Brilliant -– instead of controlling the protagonists, we control the environment, hoping to get them together. We will fail a few times, revealing more about the people and the culture involved as we do so, but with a little perseverance, we can get them together. At which point we get an ending that is at least as negative as the other ones –- finding somebody who loves you turns out not to be, by itself, the recipe for happiness. Light years away from Hollywood, absolutely, and for me this was the point at which I became really impressed by the game. The sad ending rang true. And yet, it was not the end.
In order to reach the real ending, you have to first find all the other endings. I think the developers should put just a little more effort into steering players who get stuck in the right direction. It is very hard to predict which events will lead to which endings, and the possibility space is large enough that one can get lost exploring it. I certainly did, stuck on 6 of 7 endings. In my particular case this was extra unfortunate because there happened to be a bug in the walkthrough, now supposedly fixed; but the game is so nice and atmospheric that having to use the walkthrough at all is a bit of a bummer.
But getting to 7 of 7 endings is certainly worth it, (Spoiler - click to show)for when we accept our fate, rather than try to change it, the game turns into a neat little comment on the human condition. There are all these wild possibilities that we can fall in love with, but pursuing them will ruin the quiet happiness that is ours. Life is choice, and that means it is sadness, for every choice precludes an infinity of other paths we might have taken. But if we learn to accept the sadness, it is also a joy. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina never learns this lesson; but the protagonists of Railways of Love do. For what is, after all, only a little game, I found it surprisingly moving and surprisingly deep.
This game was featured in IFComp 2018. It has a beautiful custom interface featuring pixel-art animations, and includes sound.
Basically, love goes wrong on a train. The sequence of events just interrupts everything.
But, you have a chance to go back and change that sequence!
This is a wonderful premise. By going back and changing the order of things, you can unlock 7 preliminary endings and then a final ending.
However, I found the choices opaque. Instead of being able to strategize, it came down to more or less random guessing. There are some hints in the text (changing options, for one thing), but even with the walkthrough, I never reached the final ending on my own. I saw what it said, though, and I thought it was beautiful.
Because I struggled with the interactivity, I didn't receive the full emotional impact of the game. Other than that, I enjoyed it.
Edit: With help from the forums, I finished this, and I loved the ending.
Where I got stuck was (Spoiler - click to show)Forgetting to confess for the 'love' ending.
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