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The grinning one-eyed man invites you to sit at his table..., February 13, 2023
A traveller arrives in “Les Idylles”, the most splendid city in the realm, intending to spend the night in an inn and find passage on a ship out of port the next morning. Instead, he gets caught up in a mysterious affair, at the centre of which is a magical harp…
I imagined the protagonist of La Harpe de Dieu-Rouge as a young man,although this is not specified in the text. He reminded me of so many young men in romantic adventure novels leaving behind their dreary lives and running away to sea.
Following an unfortunate encounter on the night of his arrival, our main character finds himself imprisoned. Even after escaping, he remains trapped in an expanding web of riddles and secrets. The more he explores, the more new avenues of exploration open up, seemingly without bringing him closer to any answers.
A gift from a character he meets early on grants him the power to return to the same place and time whenever he finds himself in enough trouble to put a stop to his investigations (our PC has a habit of walking into the arms of some prejudiced guards…)
In effect, the player guides the protagonist through a time-loop where memories are preserved, but the daily routines of the city around him start anew from the same point.
Although the game takes place in a rather small number of spatial locations, these can be visited at different moments during the day, making the number of combinations of location and time-of-day that can/must be explored quite large indeed.
Since progressing through the plot requires being in the right place at the right time, I would have liked the option to simply wait around for a while, perhaps taking a nap on the rim of the fountain in the Place Luna. As it is now, you are sometimes (especially nearing the end of the story) obliged to revisit a location you already know simply to pass the time.
There are a number of loose ends. Some of these work well as part of the mystery, giving a sense of circumstances outside the protagonist's reach, or simply the city's inhabitants having their own preoccupations that don't concern our main character.
Others feel like unfinished features that may play a role in an expanded version of the game. In particular, you can pick up a number of items near the start of the game that are never mentioned or used again.
There is also the looming presence of the castle of the founding nobleman of the city. It is very tempting to try and find a path to its gates, but unfortunately the game never acknowledges the possibility of going there. The Chateau with its Mage's Tower remains looming in the background, forever inaccesible.
Apart from the central mystery to be solved before the protagonist is free to continue on his way, there are many glimpses into the history of the city and into the backstories of various intruiging characters. These, combined with the vivid descriptions of the city streets, the buildings and squares, and the surrounding landscape, give the impression of a wide-open living world much larger than any character could explore in a single game (or lifetime, for that matter…)
A captivating mystery-adventure, well-written and ingeniously structured. A joy to explore.
1 people found the following review helpful:
Complex and evocative game about a town and its secrets, February 3, 2023
This game grew on me quite a bit over time.
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It's a French Comp 23 game and written in a beautiful and evocative style. For instance, you start in a part of the city called the Luna Plaza that has a kind of mirror-like thing that reflects the stars so that you have two night skies.
You are in a medieval kind of town, and lore and secrets abound. I thought I had seen a lot of the game when I found a strange little house where a man talked about things like 'software' and 'photographs' that made no sense to me, a medieval person, but that was just very early on in the game. Later on, I found a lot of worldbuilding, some mythology, etc.
At first the game felt constrained, and then it had paths that branched so much I worried I was missing much of the game. But then it really opened up, and I truly began to understand the scale of the game. It was still manageable (a couple of hours), but quite large.
There are many people in this city, and as the time of day changes, what you can do with them changes.
In addition, the game has hover-over text, which lets you get additional info on things and occasionally provides extra interactions.
Overall, I found the writing very descriptive and had fun finding little secrets. I found one ending early on but stuck around for a final ending, which required a difficult choice. Great game.