They Perished

by Bret Sepulveda profile

Surreal
2019

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A surreal inventory management game about a dead city, August 3, 2022
by Kinetic Mouse Car
Related reviews: Twine

The game begins at the edge of a dead city called Chloe. Not much is described about the protagonist, only that you are determined to enter the city from one end and escape from the other side. Sadly, it is much harder to leave, and you are being hunted by a strange icy figure that moves closer with each passing day. Meanwhile, a tall spire attached to a mysterious egg loom in the distance.

Gameplay
The game uses several types of currency that are represented as colourful symbols on the screen which adds a neat visual flair. Along with coins the player collects manifestations of will, movement, and language. These currencies allow you to access different locations, acquire special objects, and engage with characters. The few characters you can meet are all ghosts of past inhabitants. They are summoned based on location and can assist the player.

The management part is balancing the amount of currency that you need for your objectives. For example, if you need coins, visiting (Spoiler - click to show) the rooftop in the labyrinth is a plentiful place to look. But it always costs you manifestation-of-will currency. Therefore, if the objective I am saving up for requires both coins and manifestation-of-will I end up having to make up the slack somewhere else. This tight inventory management is key attribute to the game. Management of time is also a major variable, and this is where my criticism starts.

Gameplay is marked by the passage of the moon cycles, starting on a new moon, and ending at the tail end of a full moon. This gives the player several days. However, this does not give the player enough time to gather resources needed to make progress, especially (Spoiler - click to show) with Ending 3. On one aspect this is where strategy comes into play. But it feels too tightly constrained to permit exploration of the game’s world. I found myself so focused on micro-managing currency that I felt like I was missing out on some of the world-building.

For instance, you can learn (Spoiler - click to show) more about the ghosts’ former lives by visiting the screeching room in the spire, but the effort and resources required to look up just one character entry would mean running out of time to make up those resources that I would otherwise need to win the game. My hope is that more people will try this game. Who knows? Maybe some player will prove me wrong and glide through the puzzles effortlessly. I would love to know if anyone had a different experience than I did.

Story
We do not know exactly why the protagonist is running or why Chloe is a dead husk. The events behind the city’s destruction or the purpose of the spire and the egg are never fully explained. Based on what (Spoiler - click to show) Ran, Lady of Stone says the spire was possibly as a punishment on the city by some unnamed entity. Ending 3 (SPOILERS), where you take the elevator to the top of the spire and climb into the egg, delves a little more into this but still leaves questions unanswered. (Spoiler - click to show) (Comment if you want my notes on the endings).

The game's surrealness and use of descriptive imagery carries itself through. A lot of it seems to be left up to interpretation. What exactly is the egg? Is it biological? A dormant organism? A weapon? The implications for any of those and the city's fate are interesting to think about. Regardless I would have liked to know more about this compelling story that the author portrays.

Final thoughts
This is a strong game with a few tradeoffs. It is tightly timed, a sometimes a bit too unfairly. But it also forces the player to use strategic thinking to keep them on their toes, so they do not waste resources. If you are interested in that type of gameplay, then definitely play this one.