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About the Story
Locked in a tower in a castle by an evil duke — how annoying. And you’re not even a princess! Duke Esteban is demanding an outrageous ransom of your well-born and well-meaning but cash-strapped parents, a sum that they have no hope of paying. He knows that. His real goal is — well, they call it ravishment, but that word is far too refined to describe what’s going to happen to you in a few hours, when the deadline passes and no fat bags of gold have arrived. The only surprising part is that you haven’t been ravished already, only leered at. (Duke Esteban has surely practiced his leer in front of a mirror.)
16th Place (tie) - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 4
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This was an odd game for me to play. Jim Aikin was an early favorite for me, as Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina was one of the first IF games I ever played, and I thoroughly enjoyed. I later tried other games like Lydia's Heart and found them complex and polished.
This game has a lot of excellent coding and and overall clever design, but I feel it didn't quite rise to the level of the earlier games (which makes sense, as they were designed for a grander experience than can fit into the comp).
You play as a young woman who is captured in a tower, and where your kidnapper is planning on raping you. The game heavily emphasizes this in the opening scene and content warnings, giving the player a sense that perhaps the seriousness of this crime will be justified in the story. But in the actual game, nothing at all depends on the duke planning to rape you. The story could just have easily had you kidnapped for any reason whatsoever and it would have made no difference at all. So I'm not sure why the rape is dwelt on so heavily.
Many puzzles require nonstandard actions, usually involving examining scenery items that are in the middle of room descriptions and discovering extra parts to them, using special verbs (in at least two puzzles, EXAMINE doesn't work but closely related verbs work).
The characters are well-differentiated and have interesting conversation, but for me at least they had all conversation topics available at the same time; so, for instance, I was able to ask the cook about things that I had never heard of, and which I later heard of from another character, and which were involved in puzzles I was very far away from, providing a sort of spoiler.
Here's my final score breakdown:
+Polish: The game was very polished. Most of my issues were with interactivity, not with overall polish.
+Descriptiveness: Characters were well-differentiated and there were a lot of little details.
+Would I play it again? Yes, especially since I feel it has more secrets than I discovered.
-Interactivity: I found myself fighting the parser a lot, and I feel that several of the puzzles were designed in a way that didn't click with my brain.
+Emotional impact: I wavered back and forth on this, but in the end, the game made me feel a lot of things. I wouldn't have played through this slowly and analyzed it the way it did if it didn't have an overall effect on me.
A puzzle-y fairytale with a twist, Captivity boasts a plucky protagonist, an engaging supporting cast, some pleasant challenges, and solid writing and implementation. It’s perhaps a bit too much on the linear side, and weakens slightly in the home stretch, but all in all it’s a pleasant way to while away an hour or two.
Right, setup: you’re a young lady of the minor nobility (or perhaps haute bourgeoisie) who’s been abducted by an evil Duke. While the Duke’s assorted family members, servants, and minions aren’t particularly fussed at preventing your escape, there’s still an array of locked doors, spike-topped walls, and magic necklaces that will strangle you if you leave the grounds standing in your way. There’s nothing especially novel in the low-key, slightly comedic fantasy setting – though there’s a bit of a PG-13 edge that sometimes works (there’s a god-bothered maid who’s a little more excited by lurid descriptions of the sins of the flesh than on the ways to save oneself from temptation) and sometimes can be a bit off-putting (the intro focuses a bit too much on the protagonist’s impending ravishment, though of course nothing bad actually happens). While this isn’t always to my taste, it’s fine as far as it goes, though there’s one late-game incident that I think is a bit too tonally jarring to be successful (Spoiler - click to show)(when the Duke comes home and catches you mid-escape, you stab him in the face with some scissors, drop a chandelier on him, and leave him “expired in a pool of his own blood”).
The puzzles are nothing too out-there, but are generally logical, well-clued, and satisfying to solve, with almost every one opening up a new area to explore or character to interact with. Captivity also does a good job of detecting if you’re flailing on some puzzles, and will add a gentle hint to get you on the right track if you try the same wrong action too many times, which is quite a nice feature. The puzzle chains are quite linear for the first two thirds or so of the game, with only one barrier at a time to work on surmounting, which helps keep the difficulty low but also can make proceedings sometimes feel a bit dull. The structure opens up once you reach a classic collect-em-all puzzle – you need to find three (Spoiler - click to show)ingredients for a spell – but by that point I’d already found one and a half of them so the increased openness was mostly theoretical in my case.
Implementation is generally very solid, with most objects and scenery nicely described and few synonym or guess-the-syntax issues. This starts to break down a bit in the last part of the game, though – I had to look up the walkthrough to solve the last major puzzle because I had the right idea but couldn’t figure out how to input the correct commands (Spoiler - click to show)(I’m talking about burning the objects in the brazier – LIGHT BRAZIER doesn’t work, and in fact returns “The brass brazier isn’t something you can light,” with LIGHT BRAZIER WITH MATCH similarly failing. Per the walkthrough, STRIKE MATCH -> PUT MATCH IN BRAZIER is the intended solution, which feels too fiddly to me), and I noticed a few examples of undescribed objects in some of the final few rooms.
It is possible to put the game in an unwinnable state, though it’s kind enough to tell you so and a single UNDO was enough to fix things. I did run into one related issue – when I reached the endgame, I got a message saying I’d missed something at an early stage of the game and now my “maidenly virtue is but a treasured memory”, but the author “in his nearly infinite benevolence” will take pity and fix things. I’m not sure what this was referring to, since I had on hand everything I wound up needing to finish the game, and when I checked the walkthrough I didn’t see that I had missed anything. Regardless, the tone of this message was pretty off-putting and felt unnecessarily adversarial. None of these issues are that major, but I think would be worth cleaning up in a post-Comp release.
Anyway I don’t want to dwell too much on that sour note, because for the most part the writing is lots of fun. The supporting cast were the major standouts – although they’re notionally on the side of the Duke, they mostly view him with eye-rolling tolerance at best, and are quite content to shoot the breeze with you, force you to look at their embroidery collection, or flirt with each other as though you’re not standing there. Even the Duke’s dagger-happy henchman and lecherous wizard servant come off as entertainingly harmless – it’s fun to banter with, and then get one over on, them.
Captivity isn’t trying to do anything revolutionary, but its few missteps aren’t enough to douse the fun of wandering through its castle, outwitting a jerk of a Duke, and engaging in some light sorcery, all related in breezy, clever prose.
In Captivity, you start off as the fair maiden locked in the tower, but in contrast to most fairy tales, the boys trying to rescue you are completely useless. You need to make your own escape. To do so takes you (or at least me) around two hours, most of which are spent searching up and down the castle for various hidden objects. Some of these objects are only there after performing another action first, which means you may need to search everywhere twice or thrice. The problem with such puzzles is that they are not gratifying; what you get from them is merely the relief that you finally can proceed. To be fair, these are not the only puzzles in the game, though the rest are fairly obvious.
As far as fairy tales go, Captivity carefully balances traditional storytelling with a modern perspective, and does this pretty well. There are only sporadic touches of humour here, which makes it all the more effective, though there are not really any astoundingly funny moments either. Its strongest aspect is probably the various colourful characters you can talk to, who are all decently implemented.
The castle is relatively big, so it is no surprise that a lot of rooms are lacking relevant scenery, such as windows, or that things described are not implemented as objects. This, along with a few bugs here and there, do unfortunately hinder the immersion that I find is necessary to enjoy a fairy tale.
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My new walkthroughs for May 2021 by David Welbourn
On Friday May 28, 2021, I published new walkthroughs for the games and stories listed below! Some of these were paid for by my wonderful patrons at Patreon. Please consider supporting me to make even more new walkthroughs for works of...