HOURS

by aidanvoidout

2022

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Frenetic, with an interesting end, but uncontrolled, November 22, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

HOURS certainly jumps right in: you're a soldier who has had a mortal wound, and an apparition tells you, hey, come with me and kill the evil Shogun who's been controlling your mind. Hey, you're going to die anyway. A compelling start!

You have that choice of staying at home or actually going for revenge. And I think early on, the work established it would be a bit too on the nose: "stay in your room and die" is, well, direct, as is much of the dialogue. That said, I think it provides, relatively speaking, the best writing. It doesn't feel like it's trying too hard to induce excitement. This part is linear, where you have a different thought in each of your final hour. It seems quite focused, maybe because the author didn't have to worry about game states or branches or whatever. And of course the player can just undo things.

Once they do, the on-the-nose dialogue does come into play. We've all done it, where we've forced in where we need to. I like to refer to Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie's very polite spies, Tony and Control, for guidance. They spell things out a bit too much and are a bit too formal and still always getting to know each other. It's sort of sweet but also a reminder that we can often say things that don't need to be said, both in life and in literature, and that can ruin the mood. For instance, "poor soul... you've seen so many horrors in this battle... if only the kings, sitting in their ivory towers, understood what the common folk like you went through..."

As for the story? I'll bring up something else: the movie Streets of Fire. Things seemed to sprawl until they sort of clicked at the end. Like that movie, there appear to be a lot of anachronisms and cliches, and I think they're deliberate. The Shogun is 300 years old and still youthful, so something is going on here. You are Jack, and he is Charlie. You have swords alongside suits and communications devices, along with an old-fashioned slave auction. The chaos seems deliberate, but it quickly feels uncontrolled, even if everything is tied up at the end. And the ending I got with reaching the Shogun certainly brought things together--my guess is (Spoiler - click to show)the character is not the only person the spirit gave this offer to, and perhaps that is part of how the Shogun has retained their energy. Which is pretty heavy stuff! But sometimes with the helter-skelter writing, it felt more like you were in an express grocery line that suddenly shut down once the cashier had to go on a two-hour-overdue break.

Certainly the ending, along with the small detours I could take (talking to people versus immediately getting to the point) made me wonder if there was any way I could save time and avoid falling at the final hurdle. I did not find it. Nevertheless, the dialogues in the tavern helped bring out some of the story I didn't see when speed running so I didn't waste a single minute. There's obviously something supernaturally weird about the Shogun, and the story of how his henchmen pronounced him as blame-free was effective to me.

Perhaps HOURS wished to make the point that there was nothing you could do, or it went for the "it was all a dream"/Incident at Owl Creek angle. Perhaps it meant, deliberately, that pulling an arrow out of your flesh and not having it hurt was a sign things were already on the paranormal end, or you were already half-dead. That seems even likely. The contrast of reflecting on your family in your room and being forced to see the Shogun's past works well. But the less-than-tight dialogue and sometimes over-earnest narration got in the way of that. While you needed to be in a rush, unnecessary description that sprawled jumped back to where the narrative skipped a bit. That cut down both the urgency and any idea of how close I was, and it's a place where having a "you are here" style map, in the status bar or one click away, seems the sort of thing IFComp is built to allow and encourage. Even posting the time outside of the "go to your room and doe" ending or saying "you've lost track of time--you can only judge it by the sun/stars" would add to this. As-is, I felt hurried along, so the tension didn't build as it should have.