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About the Story
A short game about grief, with occasional snakes.
Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Story - 2012 XYZZY Awards
Rock Paper Shotgun
Interacting With Fictions: Eurydice
It’s poignant, beautiful misery, and yet there are dry aches of wit everywhere: We are, we divine, in the home we shared with Celine and our housemates, where a collection of well-meaning mourners has gathered in the living room (“you could always just retreat,” the game promises). We do not want to have to talk to them, but should the player engage their conversation, the result is a brilliant illustration: Social obligation wars with private grief, discomfort and awkwardness hangs like a pall. We can’t intrude on what they’re feeling, but privately we feel they have no right to invade on our mourning.
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Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling
Happily, Eurydice manages better than many other pieces in the same general genre of “slice of life when life totally sucks”, and this is largely down to the writing... the writing mostly bears up under the considerable weight put on it. It’s not easy to capture the cold formal feeling of having just lost someone, or to expose the yowling misery underneath without becoming unendurably cheesy.
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Number of Reviews: 6
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You, the PC, are mired in grief for the loss of Celine. Everything in the house, the initial setting, reminds the PC of Celine, down to the most trivial detail.
The setting, here, is both used to elicit the PC's memories and to create a sense of claustrophobia. Despite the social nature of funerals, the PC's grief is so intensely private, that to share it with others would be an invasion, almost. The tone is bleak - actions are sometimes rebuffed with terse messages: "You've been better"; "You can't remember anything important now".
Unusual turns of phrase - the curve like that of a human spine; the baboonish chatter - make everyday settings seem strange, something highlighted with the reality-bending lyre, one of the most obvious elements borrowed from the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
The game allows for exploration and is generally forgiving, except for the endgame, in which the player's sequence of actions is crucial.
(I originally published this review on 6 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 9th of 26 games I reviewed.)
When I was in high school, the music students (not me) put on a production of Orpheus in the Underworld. I found this embarrassing because the cool school where my dad taught would put on normal shows like Grease and Dracula Spectacular. Anyway, I didn't go to see Orpheus then and I didn't read his story at any time in the intervening period, leaving me in a theoretically weaker than ideal position for playing Eurydice, an adventure about bereavement named for Orpheus's wife. The game is initially character focused and entirely realistic, showing some very strong writing in this area. It then takes an unexpected turn into more fable-like territory. My preference that the game had stayed entirely in the first mode is irrelevant; it has many fine qualities.
Before the game opens, the male PC's dear friend, maybe love, Celine, has died. The circumstances of her death are sketched in over the length of the game. The PC and his flatmates are having a wake-like gathering of some friends and acquaintances when play begins. This first part of the game is essentially puzzle free, and sees you wandering around the house reminiscing, feeling strange and self-conscious and finding it agonising to interact socially. The quick elucidation of the PC's relationship with each of the friends is superb. Talking to each person for the first time produces at least one paragraph of sentiment free appraisal of their role in your life and in Celine's life. The sharp observations make the cast and situation feel real.
I've been keen and am keen to play a game that works well in this fashion for its duration, and which is also not just a short story on rails. I thought this game might be it, so I had to admit my disappointment to myself when, after strolling out of the game house, I came across a character who was clearly a Charon the Ferryman type ready to paddle me to some fantasyland. Perhaps the prevalence of afterlife games in IF in general weighed into my reaction here.
Transported to the underworld, the player's goal is now to (Spoiler - click to show)find and retrieve Celine from a mental hospital staffed by incarnations of the characters from Virgil's Eurydice tale. This is nowhere near as Ingmar Bergmanesque as it sounds. It's not like you walk in and meet a chap who says, "I am Hades." That chap is a doctor in this game, and some of the parser's responses to your actions describe him as Hades, but he never mentions that name himself that I noticed, nor do any of the characters mention any of the Greek names. I didn't study the tale of Eurydice until after I had played, and the technically subtle approach of the game to the twinning of the hospital residents and the Greek characters is clever.
Eurydice the game may become more traditionally puzzley in style in this section, but it was a bit disingenuous of me to draw a blunt line through the midpoint of the game, as the PC's recollections of events and time spent in Celine's room maintain the realistic and sometimes poignant outlook established in the early scenes. It's just that now additional ways to move forward may include (Spoiler - click to show)playing the lyre.
There are minor proofreading issues and implementation gaps scattered consistently across the game. The only ones which actually disrupted my play were the fact that the hospital doorbell was not described as a button, making me wonder why I couldn't pull or ring it, and that the hospital ground descriptions gave the impression that there were many more enterable buildings than there were. These are typical minor mistakes for what appears to be a first game, and all of the game's important elements are solid: its clear setup and (unexpected) trajectory, some well considered endings and brief but very good character writing. The overall combination of elements is novel and there are human truths in here.
(This review was originally posted as part of the 2012 Semi-Official Xyzzy Reviews series, and focuses on the game's nomination in the Best Story category.)
Writing a retelling of an ancient myth, especially one as widely known as that of Orpheus and Eurydice, may seem on the surface like an easy route for a storyteller to take. After all, it gives you a certain framework to follow for the plot and the characters. Furthermore, you can rely on the audience to have a knowledge of the shape of the story you’re trying to tell to a much greater extent than is usually the case. You don’t, for example, have to directly tell the player “this is Hades, King of the Underworld, and this is his queen Persephone, and this is the way their relationship works due to this aspect of their backstory.” You can just put in a character who evokes Hades and a character who evokes Persephone, without ever naming them, and the player’s existing knowledge of the story will do the rest. This applies to thematic elements as well–the title Eurydice alone should give the reader some idea of the ground that will be covered here.
This knowledge on the part of the player is, however, a double-edged sword: they already know how the story goes, so the writer must work that much harder to keep their attention, to convince them that there is something here that they haven’t seen before. Fortunately, Eurydice puts in that necessary effort. Yes, the plot hits most of the expected notes–the loss of a loved one and the journey to the underworld to get her back, dealing with a ferryman and a three-headed dog and an authority figure whom the protagonist must convince to give up the spirit of the dead loved one–but underneath the mythological trappings is a real, raw, meticulously-observed portrait of grief that keeps the game feeling grounded even when the narrative is at its most fantastical. The underworld in this case takes the form of the mental hospital in which the deceased loved one, Celine, seems to have spent the end of her life, and as the protagonist journeys through it in search of her, memories of her arise. The underworld-hospital is full of small details which build up a very human portrait of both the protagonist and Celine–but which also create a general sense of helplessness. The protagonist plays Celine’s favorite card game with her, buys her a radio and a houseplant for her room, promises to rewatch a forgotten television show with her; Celine gamely goes along with all this, but it’s clear to the protagonist and the player alike that her heart’s not in it, that none of this is really helping at all. These scenes do an excellent job of getting the player on board with the protagonist’s drive to save Celine. The sympathy for the protagonist and Celine and the desire to do something to make things better for Celine draw the player on even though we all know what’s coming.
Or do we? The game has four endings, each of which provides a different conclusion to the emotional arc of the story, and here is where the game begins to subvert the player’s expectations. If you follow the myth to the letter, playing the lyre at every opportunity and turning around as soon as the game suggests that Celine might not in fact be following you, you’re likely to get the accurately-named Failure ending, the least satisfying of the four. In this ending, the protagonist simply gives up and goes home, having failed to confront their feelings or come to terms with anything–the whole journey has been utterly pointless. The stated reason for these actions leading to this ending is that playing the lyre signifies seeking an easy, “magical” solution to real problems that can’t be fixed that way, but in a way it may also reflect the player’s refusal to engage with this specific iteration of the story, going through the mythological motions without really thinking about what it all means for these particular characters.
What if you play the lyre and then don’t turn around? Well, then you’ve really lost touch with reality: this earns you the slightly puzzling Fable ending, in which the protagonist seems to lose the ability to distinguish between their own life and the Orpheus myth altogether and descend into delusion out of unwillingness to deal with the fact of Celine’s death. This ending is at least somewhat more interesting than Failure, but it’s not terribly hopeful. The player is still relying on their knowledge of the myth here, although they are at least trying to change its outcome.
More satisfying are the Flowers and Friendship endings, which show the protagonist remembering the good times with Celine but accepting that she really is gone and beginning to think about moving on, possibly through renewing connections with their still-living friends. These endings require the player to find alternate solutions to dealing with the underworld’s various obstacles, using everyday objects from the protagonist’s house rather than a magical lyre that appears out of nowhere and may not be real. The idea, according to the writer, was to reward the player for finding more practical, real-world solutions to problems, though unfortunately this does not work out quite as well as might be hoped: the alternate solutions are still very adventure-gamey. It’s a different kind of unrealistic, but it’s unrealistic nonetheless. That said, this still rewards the player for engaging with the specifics of this story rather than following a pattern they think they already know. Even if the execution isn’t perfect, the decision to have breaking from the established story lead to more interesting and satisfying results than following it is an interesting one which makes the story aspect of the game more compelling.
All in all, despite a few missteps, Eurydice is a very solid take on the Orpheus & Eurydice myth, with a deft personal touch and some interesting ideas behind its multiple endings. It is well worth playing, and certainly deserves the recognition it has gotten as one of the stand-out games of the past year.
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