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About the Story
Ezekiel Throgmeister, commonly referred to by the villagers as The Alchemist, has left you in charge of his currently-running experiment while he attends to other pressing business. Can you succeed in completing his task?
The Alchemist is a large text-only interactive fiction fantasy game, very much in the 'old-school' style. It was written from the ground up for the PC using qBasic64, and has a comprehensive and powerful parser. Included in the game are detailed HELP instructions.
Also included are in-game hints, accessed by the command HINT.
19th Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 2
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A mysterious light
Burns all through the night
In that house where some people say
An alchemist dwells
With books of his spells
And a cat who scares children away
The game's mood is firmly set with this poem by Gareth Owen. The author picks up hereafter with a well-written introduction reminiscent of late 1800s Gothic Mystery stories.
You received a letter from your alchemist friend. (I want to rename our black cat after him. Ezekiel Throgmeister is a very cool name!) He had to interrupt work on an ongoing experiment for an urgent meeting with his colleagues in the arcane arts. The fact that apparently he did have the time to organize a scavenger hunt around his mansion, scattering clues all over the place instead of leaving everything in the lobby where you would immediately find them necessitates some fastening of the suspenders of disbelief. But this is just a flimsy frame for the true point of the game of course.
The Alchemist takes place in one of the most visited and beloved of adventure settings: the abandoned mansion. Despite the gloomy atmosphere, I felt right at home. Cozy almost...
Befitting the setting, the game is basically an old-school loot-and-drop quest. You need to find all components of an alchemical experiment and gather them in the laboratory.
Once the game proper starts, the writing leaves behind the elaborate Gothic stylings of the introduction. It becomes stark and sparse, efficiently describing your surroundings and the objects of note in them. The author mostly drops any unnecessary clutter, while still retaining the gloom of the shady mansion.
He accomplishes this by incorporating poignant details in the rooms, and by augmenting the descriptions with some random filler text and some rare and surprising timed sound effects ((Spoiler - click to show)I loved the purring cat!).
There is a large number of varied clues and puzzles. Common sense will get you started. There are devices to transform stuff, magical barriers and potions. A book found early on has a few rhyming riddles to figure out. None of this is too hard, and there is a good in-game hint system should you get stuck.
There is a clever trick the author pulls which creates a puzzle-barrier in the player's own mind. He gets you so used to a certain routine to follow and progress in the game, that the hardest puzzle for me was recognizing when to break that routine and try something else than I'd been doing. Very satisfying to break out of that box.
The map is large but not overwhelmingly so. It's subdivided into clearly alineated areas with their own collection of puzzles. I liked the click in the endgame when a part of the geography fell into place in my mind.
The Alchemist is a large and fun old-school adventure. Trustworthy and solid.
There are a ton of ways to author IF. One way I've seen is to experiment with different styles in an attempt to find what players like, and respond to feedback by making big changes in future games. Another style is to keep making exactly what you like, making games that are all alike, consistent with each other. There are other ways, too, of course.
The games by this author seem to fall in the latter category. Each of these games is written in qBasic by the same system and features a large building that contains different areas containing diverse historical or other themes, often accessed through portals, minimal descriptions of areas, potions or elixirs, riddles and codes, and multicolored devices. The idiosyncrasies remain the same as well, such as objects in containers not being 'in scope', so you can't examine or take things in an open container directly, instead requiring the command TAKE ALL FROM ____. The author has a type of game he enjoys making, and I appreciate the consistency.
I played around for 10 minutes or so then went to the walkthrough, as I knew from experience that this game would be hard to finish in two hours without doing so.
I ran into some trouble with the parser. For instance, 'STAND ON LADDER' or 'STEP ON LADDER' didn't work, but 'CLIMB LADDER' did. In a room described as having many books, X BOOKS said it didn't understand, while X BOOK said 'you don't see the small book', an object I had yet to encounter.
This game is best enjoyed by enthusiasts of text adventures that prefer the pixel art/command line look, like puzzles over story, and want something long and tricky but fair to digest. An author with a similar feel is Garry Francis, for those looking for even more.
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