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About the Story
You are an antique store proprietor trying to make ends meet. Use your wits, manage your resources, play the hand you are dealt. This game features a story with multiple endings, achievements as well as an unique style of gameplay that is inspired by roguelite and card-based games.
Nominee, Best Setting - 2020 XYZZY Awards
22nd Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
h s gerard
Ascension is very, very good. I expect it to place pretty high this year.
Thereís not a lot I want to say about it before the fold, because I think this is a game best played blind. What I will say is that it has a great mechanism that is a neat little mash-up of hypertext and parser. Itís worth playing for that alone, and how well it introduces you to its toolset.
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Number of Reviews: 4
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Ascension of Limb applies effective horror theming to whatís mechanically a sort of card game (I think if you squint at it, it might be doing something like Cultist Simulator in parser-IF, though Iím not really sure since I only played Cultist Simulator for like 20 minutes before bouncing off of it, thinking Iíd get back to it, and then all the Alexis Kennedy #MeToo stuff came out and, nope). The real fun is in replaying and optimizing, since there are a lot of different outcomes, both positive and negative.
For all that it is a very mechanical game, there is a fair bit of writing, and most of it is quite good. Honestly Iím a bit burned out on straight Lovecraft at this point, but the author really hits the tone, including not just the expected tropes about sinister cults and dark inheritances, but also paying attention to the internal stresses on the player character in a way that doesnít just hit lazy stereotypes about mental illness. And on subsequent plays, you can enter an ďArcadeĒ mode that skims over some of the more lugubrious bits of writing. There are several characters with whom to interact, though I thought more could have been done to give them a personality Ė the various customers come and go quickly, and most conversations wind up being alternate ways to engage with the mechanics.
Good news then that the systems are solidly built, and just as importantly, the game is well-paced so that a playthrough doesnít stretch beyond the amount of content. There are clear early, middle, and late-games, with distinct challenges and risk/reward calculations to play out, and with clear signposting of the different paths to try to follow. Most of what you do is match a limited (but expanding) set of verbs to a limited (but expanding) set of nouns, while running a cursed antique shop.
The basic loop is of finding goods, some mundane but some rather unique and eldritch, in the labyrinthine recesses of the shop, promoting your store to bring in customers and their cash, then using the cash to improve the store and pay upkeep, while dealing with the odd raving loon or incident of vandalism. Going after anything beyond mere material remuneration, like ancient artifacts and forbidden lore, requires juggling additional mechanics including sanity and infamy, and considering making a variety of deals with a variety of devils.
This is a solid structure, and there are a good number of different things to be pursuing, or worry about going wrong, at any moment Ė beyond the three core victory paths, there are four or five different ways to lose if things start going badly along the different tracks. But the player usually has a good number of options to forestall disaster, plus UNDO is permitted which helps obviate some of the randomness of a few of the events, so itís usually possible to settle back and play things safe. Itís relatively simple to get into a stable position, and then getting to the more interesting endgames is primarily about when you want to start taking bigger risks for bigger rewards, which seems appropriately in-theme. Towards the latter end of a play-through, interest can start to wane, since thereís only a finite store of characters, unique items, and special events, but I found this was only an issue when I was going for the special mega-ending that combines all three of the primary ones Ė otherwise it goes down sharp and easy.
I also wanted to call out that the included walkthrough is quite good, and makes for interesting reading as basically a set of design notes. I had to consult it to get the even more special bonus ending (Spoiler - click to show)(I could not figure out how to avoid being on good terms with the seer, since even trying to kill her wasnít doing the trick! I donít think I would have hit on either of the options for doing so on my own) but would definitely recommend doing so, though only after youíve decided youíre finished playing because it lays everything quite bare.
Oh, and I canít help sharing the way I customized the super secret ending:
(Spoiler - click to show)Let us begin a new spiritual task that will allow us to keep growing going forward. Let us ensure that even when our work is done, our work will continue. Let us show our initiative and make κλάδος proud. Let us believe in Puppies from now on. Let us cultivate puppies. Let us trust in puppies! After consulting the treatises of ανάβαση, I believe the best way to do this is by tail-wagging.
Ascension of Limbs is a deliciously creepy parser game thatís heavy on resource-management mechanics. Every turn, the player is presented with a listing of valid commands and objects, so while there are definitely horrors to encounter, the dreaded game of guess-the-verb is not one of them.
Technically, the game is very well-polished, especially considering that it relies heavily on NPC behavior and ever-changing numerical variables. In my experience, everything seemed to work as intended. It might take a little while to get familiar with the mechanics and figure out the strategies for victory, since the whole thing is very unlike the typical text adventure, but itís worth the time to get used to it. I found it quite satisfying once Iíd worked out an effective business scheme through trial and error.
The palpable strength of Ascension of Limbs is in its unique brand of casual, creeping horror. Itís a game that might slowly draw you into a situation that isnít quite right, and gently draw you to become complicit in it. The truth of the situation, and the consequences of your complicity, are not revealed at first. Maybe theyíre never fully revealed at all. For the most part, it seems, the reader is afforded only disquieting glimpses into the horrors of this world, and left to try to piece things together for themself.
A very solid piece, well worth multiple playthroughs to experience the variety of different endings (and journeys) this game has to offer.
Despite it never mentioning Lovecraft, the feeling I got from playing Ascension of Limbs is very much Lovecraftian, more so than from many works that are outright fan fiction. Some of the paths the game allows you to choose are pretty gruesome, though always in the service of a higherÖ something. Other paths still imply this something, although more peripheral.
To accommodate the approach of an antique store proprietor simulation, the list of verbs have been strictly limited as have the possible nouns you can refer to. Considering the mechanics of the simulation this is certainly reasonable, although it feels visually a bit messy to constantly have the full lists repeated after each command. A two-column format would have been an improvement. Other than that, the parser system has been very well adapted to this type of game. You easily get the hang of it, while doing it well is a certain challenge.
Playing Ascension of Limbs provides a curious feeling actually. The very visible game mechanics and the objective voice of the narrator explaining how your store is doing are coupled with horror elements that get more and more central to the game as you progress. You can serve the dark forces, but the level of abstraction lets you get away with it, emotionally; itís an emotionally peculiar game.
I did two playthroughs with two different endings in about one hour, though I only managed a fraction of the achievements either time.
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