Tag Archives: narrative

Yesterday is such an easy game to play

“Yesterday” is not my favorite song from The Beatles, nor is it my favorite point-and-click adventure game, but I enjoy both of them greatly. They are easy to listen to, easy to play, and leave me wanting a little bit more from their respective mediums. For those curious, depending on the day, either this or this is my favorite tune from The Fab Four. I don’t know if I’m ready to commit to saying what my favorite adventure game is yet. That’s kind of like naming the best cheese. Besides, there’s a bunch of so-called classics–here, I’ll name a few, like The Dig, Day of the Tentacle, and The Secret of Monkey Island–that I’ve still not touched despite having copies at the ready, which would probably affect my decision immensely. Probably.

Anyways, Yesterday from Pendulo Studios is a dark beast. A quick research of the company shows that many of its previous games were more comedic, but there’s not much to laugh at in this one, which features a lot of murdering, satanic worshipping, and forced suicides. It all starts with the philanthropic Henry White and his bungling friend Cooper. Both of these men work for a charity committed to helping New York’s homeless people. However, after a serial killer starts murdering members of the community, Henry and Cooper venture into the abandoned Cadway Subway station to see who they can help. It is here that they meet the murderous Choke and his assistant Boris and are forced to take drastic action. That’s more or less the prologue of the game, with the real meat of it focusing on satanic cult investigator John Yesterday many years later. He is recovering from an apparent suicide attempt that has left him suffering from amnesia because of course. Henry White now runs White Enterprises and has employed John to unearth the link between the serial killer and the occult known as the Order of the Flesh.

Yesterday, in terms of gameplay, is a pretty straightforward point-and-click adventure romp. You examine an environment, collect items in your inventory, chat with other characters for background details, and solve puzzles to move forward. Something that gave me a bit of anxiety was the high amount of items you often pick up and the fact that many of them do not vanish after being used. Reminded me of my time with Deponia, which was not a blast. Sometimes these items are used again later on, and sometimes they aren’t. You’ll never know until it is too late. Naturally, as it often happens with these types of games, some of the puzzles don’t follow the best logic this side of brain development, which leads to trying everything on everything in hopes of anything changing. If you only knew the number of solutions I came up with for acquiring a truth flower that didn’t come close to working.

Thankfully, Yesterday offers a couple tricks to help when you are stuck: a hint system and the ability to ping the scene and identify every object you can examine. The hint system builds up over time, so you can’t spam it, but it’ll point you in the right direction, though it can be a bit condescending. I ended up using it more than I would have imagined, but at least it let me stay in game and not close out to look up a walkthrough. You can also, at any time, press a button at the bottom of the screen to highlight every interactive object around you. This is great as it helped reduce pixel hunting, as there were occasionally a couple areas or items that I missed after doing an initial scan of everything.

I was pleasantly surprised with the conversations system. These occur with the two speakers framed in their own windows, with dialogue options in a bulleted list. As you move through each option, the boxes are checked off when the topic is concluded. New topics open us as you chat, and I found myself exhausting every topic, even if it didn’t immediately seem relevant to the puzzles at hand. I found the script and voice acting to be well done, save for that Frenchman who endlessly gave out tips on how to identify a Frenchman. At times, the whole thing reminded me of Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. Occasionally, the subtitles did not match the spoken words perfectly, but that’s just me being an editor and too observant. Lastly, I’ll say that the game’s visuals are gorgeous and detailed and kept me interested in seeing what was next. I especially liked the comic book-style cutscenes.

The loopy narrative about investigating satanic cults and unraveling John Yesterday’s mysterious past comes to a close rather quickly, somewhat abruptly, and the post-credits scene added little to the whole picture and was completely unnecessary. It felt like things were just beginning to build to something grander, but once the villain began to explain why he did everything and how, I knew it was over. Still, I enjoyed going through Yesterday at a slow pace, over a few nights, eating up the atmosphere, characters, and designs to make puzzling out progress less frustrating. Maybe I’ll check out Yesterday Origins or one of Pendulo Studios’ other titles down the road. However, for now, I have some other point-and-click adventure games still to launch in my collection, and I just know that many of them won’t make things as easy as Yesterday did in this tiring day and age of too much to play and not enough hours on Earth. Boo to that.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #38 – Somewhere Strange

Strange alien world
Empty homes, forgotten shoes
Find answer, questions

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #28 – The Summit High

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Success and failure
A mountain of bare attempts
Your choice–climb or fall

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Searching high and low for vampire hysteria in Kisilova

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I don’t have an Android phone. Loyal Grinding Down readers will know that I have continued to tread water in an ocean of hungry sharks with my fancy-shmancy Windows phone, though I do expect my next upgrade to be something different. Yes, yes, I’m highly tempted by the potential of a new Animal Crossing game on phones in the future. So, no Android-based mobile device currently, but thankfully I have a laptop with Steam installed on it, which allowed me to partake in the Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi, as they all came with bonus Steam keys. At this point, there’s not much that can stand in my way of a bundle that can help my digital library expand.

Okay. Let’s do this. Are you ready for the list of games from this bundle that I never heard of beforehand and chances are neither did you? Good, good. Because here they are, in no particular order, but in all their generic name glory nonetheless:

  • Dark Heritage: Guardians of Hope
  • Vampire Legends: True Story of Kisilova
  • The Secret Order 2: Masked Intent
  • The Secret Order 3: Ancient Times
  • Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily
  • Eventide: Slavic Fable
  • Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride
  • Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan
  • Grim Legends 3: The Dark City
  • Mythic Wonders: The Philosopher’s Stone

Mmm-hmm. Also: yowza. It’s like the creators picked a bunch of videogame title mainstay words, threw them in a hat, mixed it up wildly, and created games based around whatever was pulled at random. Personally, I’m pretty tickled by Crime Secrets though. Crime…secrets. However, because I’m broken inside, I started with Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova. Not because I love vampires–though I did end up re-watching Twilight recently to see if I’d recognized any locations after visiting Seattle, La Push, and Forks in Washington with my father last summer. No, I picked it first for two simple reasons:

  1. It appeared to be a standalone game.
  2. It appeared to be, somewhat, rooted in history.

What do I mean by that second point? Well, Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova is based on the first documented case of vampirism. Allow me to set the stage: it’s 18th century Europe. Fifty years after a great plague swept the land of the Habsburg dynasty, the subjects of the Emperor are in danger once more. A series of horrifying, mysterious deaths occur in the remote Serbian town of Kisilova. Residents, fearing that the plague is back, begin fleeing their homes. Summoned by the Prince of Württemberg himself, Imperial emissaries journey to Kisilova to investigate these events and prevent further deaths from happening. You play as one of these investigators, and I’m sure you have a name, but I can no longer remember it.

Have I yet said what kind of game Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova is? No? It’s got puzzles and hidden objects to unearth and exploration, moving from one location to another to find clues and items to progress the narrative. Steam uses the tag “casual” on its store page, and I am in full agreement of that. It’s casual, and I played it casually. Like, I played a few hours of it when I got the bundle back in September 2016, and then I came back recently to finish the thing off in a few more sittings.

Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova is a strange mix, both in terms of what you do, but also what you hear and see. There’s voice acting, and it’s a little rough to endure, especially the voice of the investigator you control. I understand this isn’t modern times, but everyone speaks so stiffly and uncomfortably that dialogue is a struggle to listen to. As it turns out, the puzzles are the meat and most enjoyable aspect of the game, and the narrative exists only to serve you more puzzles in the frame of roadblocks, and so the voices and dialogue can be completely ignored. I ended up playing the latter half of the game with Netflix on in the background. Many of the puzzles are of the “use the right item here” mindset, and sometimes you have to travel through several locations to find the key gizmo. Not hard, but satisfying. I personally found the hidden objects sections more enjoyable, remembering how much my mother liked this type of gameplay on her Nintendo DS. The hand-painted scenery, which is really jarring against the animated avatars whenever they take center-stage, is nice to look at and highly detailed, though that does mean some pixel hunting has to happen.

I have to imagine that I’ll be trying Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily next. Again…crime secrets. Makes me laugh. My best guess is that it’ll be pretty similar to this experience, but that’s okay. Like I said above, the puzzles are fun to figure out, and a good hidden objects checklist scene is something I simply can’t ignore. It also doesn’t punish you for clicking like a madman when you only have one item left to find and cannot see where it is. More is fine. There will be plenty more for the rest of 2017 too thanks to this Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #23 – Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova

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Inscrutable deaths
Explore that Kisilova
Find all vamp objects

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

In Even the Ocean, an unassuming power plant technician rises up

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Even the Ocean has a lot to say. Sometimes the game says it out loud, other times it’s in the silence, the awkwardness, the looming dread. To be honest, it wasn’t everything I thought it would be, but in 2016, in this age of Internet spoilbreathers and big budget over-promoting with trailers every odd week, that’s a welcomed surprised. For starters, I entered Even the Ocean‘s beautiful if troubled world without having touched Anodyne, the previous independent videogame from Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka, also known as Analgesic Productions. Seems like I’ll need to work backwards for now.

The easy, one-two punch is that Even the Ocean is a heavy on the narrative, puzzle platformer about balance, about balancing. Not just the light and dark energies that hold the world together and keep Aliph, our unassuming power plant technician of a protagonist, alive, but also the balance of work and free time, of not overdoing it, of dreams and demands. Basically, Whiteforge City goes from good to bad after a routine maintenance trip to a local power plant takes a wrong turn, leaving Aliph in a position to show what she can do. Mainly, maneuvering safely through dangerous puzzles and solving those light-bouncing conundrums we’re all familiar with after things like Beyond Good and Evil and every Professor Layton title. With Mayor Biggs backing her, she’ll travel the continent, moving from power plant to plant and elsewhere, to save the city she now calls home from total destruction.

Gameplay is structurally straightforward, possibly on purpose, a mix of puzzles, platforming, and chatting. Mayor Biggs will assign a number of downed power plants to Aliph to investigate, and then you can pick which one she’ll tackle first. Each plant (or location) is more or less a puzzle maze, with learning how to navigate rooms blocking your progress. These places have their own theme and teach you, the player, something new about Aliph’s abilities, something vital. One area focuses hard on her maintaining the right balance of energy as she moves between energy-sapping blocks of color, another is all about timing jumps on moving platforms, and one will have you carrying items while avoiding heat-seeking enemies. I personally liked the puzzles involving using her shield the most. There are also non-platforming sections, like in Whiteforge City, which has you exploring different areas via menu selections and speaking with locals to learn more about the world and your place in it.

Let me explain more about the energy system since it is Even the Ocean‘s big draw. Aliph has a shield and bar of energy, represented at the bottom of the screen as chunks of blue and purple. The energy bar greatly affects her maximum running speed and jump height. When the energy slants one way too much, she’ll either jump higher and run slower or vice versa. Sometimes this is inevitable, and other times you’ll need to drop or increase to a certain amount for puzzle reasons. Discovering the when and where for this is a lot of fun and extremely rewarding, though a part of me had a hard time trying to constantly keep the bar sitting pretty at 50/50. If you go too far in one direction, the energy will consume Aliph, reloading you at the last checkpoint, of which, thankfully, there are many.

Even the Ocean is stylish as heck, both in its looks and sounds. The music is oftentimes soft, but moody, lingering behind every jump Aliph makes. It can get real pretty too, soothing, safe-sounding notes to provide comfort in dark times. I really liked a lot of the sound design too, from the noise the statue makes when saving your progress to Aliph pulling up her shield to even the simple pit-pit-pit of the dialogue boxes. The pixel art is…look, I love pixel art. I am never afraid to say pixel art is beautiful, is great, and Even the Ocean‘s art design is stellar. Commonplace locations, like a forest or beach, are enhanced with weird, unfamiliar flora. Many might see this whole thing as yet another 2D indie platformer with retro graphics, but it is more than that. The locations are unique and interesting, like Clearbreeze Island, home to a giant telepathic starfish. Also, every character portrait feels plucked from real life…though I have no way to prove that. Hmm, I wonder who Humus actually is.

Truth be told, not everything worked for me. I didn’t understand why there couldn’t be a single map or mini-map when traversing the overworld. Now, after exploring it fully, the world is not that big and it is impossible to get lost, but having to equip specific maps was a tad tedious to the point that I only relied on it for one puzzle-pertinent part. I also found the inclusion of an inventory misleading and unnecessary, as the number of items added to it over the adventure is slim, and it is as functional and as fun as reviewing your “key items” in any ol’ RPG. Y’know, the ones you can’t do anything with, but carry to the credits. Lastly, I was hoping to find more in the world, in the “dungeons”…some secrets or hidden doodads, but Even the Ocean isn’t about wasting time on inconsequential pick-ups to satisfy us collectible fanatics. At least you unlock some dev commentary buttons after completing the game to explore at your leisure.

At times, over my six hours with Even the Ocean, I was reminded strongly of other adventures, which shouldn’t be shocking. Everything is linked, in one way or another. As Aliph entered each new environment brimming with locked doors, unreachable floors, dangers, and offbeat characters, I thought of Knytt Underground. As Aliph jumped from wall to wall, shifting her energy balance to allow for extra speed, I thought of Super Meat Boy and Mega Man X. The game, at least on the normal playthrough setting, never becomes brutal or punishing, though a few puzzles did take a few tries until I learned the trick to making it through them alive, if leaning hard towards one color of energy. As Aliph took breaks after each plant to check in with Whiteforge City and her friend Yara, I thought of Persona 4 and schedules and the use of repetition. Of its story and conclusion, I couldn’t help but think of Shadow of the Colossus and The Last of Us, of our current political landscape and the hardships many face every day, of persevering against unlikely odds.

Here’s my suggestion: dip your toes into Even the Ocean. Wade in slowly, letting your skin become used to the temperature, to the ripples. When you are ready, comfortable enough, dive down. Submerge yourself. The flood is coming. Now it’s time to find out how well you can swim. Don’t worry–if the waves are too rough, too relentless, you can always play through it on Story Mode. In fact, I plan to do just that for my second go-around.

A review copy of the game was provided to me by Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka from Analgesic Productions LLC.

2016 Game Review Haiku, #76 – Even the Ocean

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Here comes the flood, world
Check your balances–light, dark
Heed Aliph’s story

Here we go again. Another year of me attempting to produce quality Japanese poetry about the videogames I complete in three syllable-based phases of 5, 7, and 5. I hope you never tire of this because, as far as I can see into the murky darkness–and leap year–that is 2016, I’ll never tire of it either. Perhaps this’ll be the year I finally cross the one hundred mark. Buckle up–it’s sure to be a bumpy ride. Yoi ryokō o.