Haimrik (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Haimrik is a game with an interesting concept. What if you had the ability to take words, and use them to change the world? Not in a “Saying powerful things”, but literally picking the word Sword up, and bam… Sword. It’s a cool idea, and not having those words be entirely under your control (some words, after all, bite back, or are just hostile to you, personally) is also a neat touch.

It’s a shame then, that Haimrik feels so very constrained. Understandable… But also a shame.

I mean, to be fair, being attacked by an ice wizard on a day I was planning to write things for you wasn’t exactly expected for me either…

Protagonist Haimrik is a writer. Well, a scrivener. He writes books, in the hopes that they sell, and the only person who even reads them is his landlady (whom he has a thing for), while he’s behind on his rent, and a corrupt king supported by his Word Warriors rules tyrannically over the land. Enter The Book. Drop some blood onto it, and the narrative of the world can be changed. An artefact, and a power, that immediately gets him into trouble.

Nice concept, yeah? Unfortunately, less than an hour in, its prescriptive approach gets my goat. There are a couple of puzzles where there are multiple solutions, but a lot of the time, no, it’s just the one. And not always a terribly interesting one. Okay, yes, we plant the SEED (run to seed, hold down) in the FERTILE SOIL (Hold F, plant seed), and then we call for some RAIN (run to RAIN, hold down), and… Oh, crap, do we use FERTILISER or POISONOUS FUNGUS to grow the plant, considering the obstacle we can’t control, the SWARM OF LOCUSTS? Which, as a bonus to losing us the seed we need, will gruesomely kill us, just as we’ve gruesomely killed (and been killed by) several soldiers, some goblins, a rat, a snake, a crocodile, and an ice wizard by this point.

Ohcrapohcrapohcrap CODE VERMILLION TALON, I REPEAT, CODE VERMILLION TALON!

As you might have guessed by the description of this puzzle, and the accompanying screenshot, it’s pretty much an inventory puzzle of sorts, with nouns being the inventory in question. Occasionally, it becomes more interesting, such as the fight with Murdock the Ice Wizard, or the Dragon, which are… Well, they’re boss fights, with the twist being in the sentences they display. It’s a fairly good twist, to be honest, counterbalanced by Haimrik being… Kind of crap at fighting. Aiming is a somewhat slow affair, jumps in a couple of boss fights are tight, and, even with the fact that death leads to a scene restart, it can get frustrating quickly.

Narratively, it’s a story seen quite a bit before. Cruel king, young man raised in a rural town in obscurity, family and town gets brutalised very soon after he gains a magical ability… It’s not helped by the fact that, even toward the very end, Haimrik, as a character, is basically a punching bag, and so their Hero’s Journey seems… Flat.

But then, the game is trying to do several different things. It’s trying to be an old-school adventure game (Complete with “Ha-ha, what fool uses LEECHES without a BUCKET? Eat a death!”), a difficult platformer (Complete with deathpits), a gore comedy, and a traditional fantasy romp. But it doesn’t quite have the speed of many difficult platformers (Haimrik can best be described as “trundling”, even when his life depends on it), it doesn’t have a lot of charm behind its comedy, and part of that is because it’s also trying to go through the Serious Hero’s Journey In Fantasy checklist. Also, it doesn’t help that a lot of the comedy comes from “Ha ha, you died.”

See if you can spot which word would have saved me from YAHGD (Yet Another Horrific Gotcha Death)…

One of the few upsides is that it has a solid, consistent aesthetic, but that hasn’t stopped me from putting this game down again… And again… And again, out of frustration with the gotchas and sometimes nonsensical solutions.

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The Miskatonic (Review)

Source: Supporter Gift
Price: £4.79
Where To Get It: Steam

The Miskatonic, to get the things that turn some folks off right now, is a no-choice visual novel (click the right things to proceed, click everything else for more world/dialogue) with some body horror NSFW, and a lewd adjacent tone for most of its Post-Lovecraftian shenanigans (That’s a nice term, thanks RPS.) It takes about 2 hours to play through.

I don’t know *where* I got the idea it might be lewd-adjacent for a lot of it. Not. A. Clue.

Okay, has everyone who’s turned off by that gone?

Good.

The Miskatonic is an interesting visual novel, built in TyranoBuilder, because of all the subtle messaging we’ve got going on here. “Oh hey, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was nice, let’s be nice and try to make the world nicer.” is the core philosophy of the main character. People who have been mutated in this strange, Miskatonic world aren’t irreperably disabled by it, but are folks who… Well, just get on with their lives, and are still people. There’s even some not-very subtle lewd adjacency and QUILTBAG+ imagery. And, at a certain point, it points out that when people reach extremes of an ideology, they become gatekeepy assholes. It tries to create a world, in the relatively short time available to it, that has not only met the Great Old Ones, but just… Dealt with it, and moved on.

And then it makes a lot of the characters I previously empathised with douchebags, who had been working with the folks I already thought were douchebags, or just plain creepy. I could probably, given a while, a decent headspace, and a 2000+ wordcount, write quite a bit about… A 2 hour visual novel.

To have an eldritch horror have to tell you this is probably a galling experience, I would imagine.

But, in a way, this is precisely the problem I face with The Miskatonic. It packs a lot into a little, and it leaves the critical brain a little frazzled, because not everything works together (Although enough does that it makes for an interesting narrative.) It’s flirty until it takes a left turn into horrortown. It’s pretty inclusive in messaging, but the majority of the characters are caucasian (When they’re not a plant-being, or a tiny adorable avatar of Yog Sothoth, or a person whose head entirely consists of craters), and wheee that’s a lot of breastage implied there!

What I guess I’m trying to say here is that it works… Overall… But definitely isn’t perfect, and the tonal whiplash doesn’t so much shock, as feel… A little off. Text could use the accessibility option of being larger (Although, not having TyranoBuilder, I’m uncertain how that would be applied.), musically and visually it fits together with its themes and mood, and as such, while I would overall recommend it as an interesting piece of writing (and a good example of relatively well proportioned, thirsty artwork that also manages to, with one exception that’s jarringly deliberate, normalise the body horror elements), I would maybe suggest to the developers they look to add a few accessibility options if that’s at all possible.

The supersonic squeal at the cuteness (and probably Welshness) of this Avatar of Yog-Sothoth broke seventeen windows. Kindly support TMW to pay the bill for that, it wasn’t my fault!

The Mad Welshman sounds confused today because his brain got hit by Shoggoth matter. Moreso than the baseline amount, anyway.

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Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal (Review)

Source: Gold Coins from Captain Skully Bartella.
Price: £7.19
Where To Get It: Steam

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, the majority of which were written by tabletop legends Steve Jackson (NOT THAT ONE) and Ian Livingstone, were an interesting part of the tabletop scene, although early books in the series were well known for gotcha traps, instant death paragraphs, and some highly frustrating collectathons. Looking at you, Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and your god-damn keys.

Ah, the heady days before “Mimic” became common parlance for anything pretending to be a chest…

They were also experiences that, like your linear, curated experience in a game, could be successfully completed on replaying… Through the notes you took last time, reducing the challenge of future runs.

Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal reduces the latter to a certain extent with its adaptations of the Deathtrap Dungeon trilogy (Gamebooks 6, 21, and 36, all written by Ian Livingstone), while… Faithfully preserving the gotchas, instadeaths, and collectathons.

As such, it can best be politely described as “An acquired taste.” Less diplomatic descriptions are usually long strings of vulgar language, interspersed with terms like “Garnet” , “Infinite Unwinnable Fights of Padding”, “Gotcha”, and “Black Imp.”

To be fair to the developers, they have taken steps to palliate this, with multiple difficulty levels and a lives system, allowing you to take multiple runs without losing your progress… To a point. Default difficulty has 9 lives, and, unless you are supremely lucky on those die rolls, and know exactly the path to take through the game… You will lose at least a couple of those lives. We’ll get back to that.

The Fighting Fantasy Experience, Part 1.

First, there’s something we’ve been missing this whole time: How have Nomad Games and Asmodee Digital adapted a set of Choose Your Own Adventure books? As a sort of top-down, tabletop like experience with dice and cards, with random encounters to both spice up the emptier bits of the dungeon, and replace one-off events that you’ve already dealt with. It looks pretty nice, with some good artwork, definitely nice looking maps, and music that doesn’t, generally speaking, outweigh its welcome. Menus are clear, and, while I would have liked some of the map segments to look a bit less muddy, clear icon signposts for direction choices and doors helps with this a lot. Text is in neat boxes, choices are clearly highlighted… It isn’t bad, in this respect.

But, amusingly enough, part of the problem is that it is a mostly faithful adaptation of the Deathtrap Dungeon trilogy. A trilogy which has some rather painful moments, such as, early in the Trial of Champions gamebook, six fights in a row, with minimal healing every two fights. Oh boy, I hope your skill rolls are good, my friends, because otherwise, even the generous checkpointing for this particular part (So notable because it’s more generous than, say, the entirety of Deathtrap Dungeon, which has precisely one checkpoint), you may well lose a few of your precious lives here! Add in some difficult, if not unwinnable fights with meager rewards in some paths, gotcha traps in both set and random encounters (Take 2 Stamina Damage. No, just take it, this isn’t a Skill or Luck roll like the others, you Just Take Damage), and some places where only memorisation will save you from unpalatable options there’s precisely no signposting for. Looking at you, rat staircase and arena fight in Deathtrap Dungeon! Looking… Right… At you!

It is, however, nice in that you do get to keep your items, and setpieces you’ve completed remain completed, even if you die.

The Fighting Fantasy Experience, Part 2. Albeit without the part where you skim through the book to find the paragraph number where you succeed.

Overall, Fighting Fantasy Legends Portal is, as noted, an acquired taste. So long as you’re okay with the fact that this digital adaptation only slightly pulls the punches of CYOA gamebooks from the 80s, with arbitrary game design moments to match, then you may well find joy and interest in this title. If this isn’t your thing, then y’know what? I don’t entirely blame you, as going back through this trilogy, swearing at various elements, and then thinking “Oh… Yeah, this was roughly how I felt the first time” was quite the experience. The game is also, at the time of writing, somewhat crash prone, although I’m sure that will be dealt with in time.

Still… It’s not often I both congratulate and curse a developer for correctly emulating the feel of an old property… Not often at all…

The Mad Welshman still remembers how his first experience with another CYOA series was the Deathlords of Ixia. He feels this may have had lasting effects…

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Omensight (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49 (Artbook £7.19 , Soundtrack £7.19 , Collector’s Edition £29.87)
Where To Get It: Steam

Omensight is, on the one hand, a game I quite like, set in a world I quite like, and spiritual successor (set in the same world, but some time/place else) to another game I quite like by the same company.

On the other, it’s a game where some of its options and choices are, to my mind, flawed and hamhanded. Still, let’s describe what’s basically going on. Because this will be the last time, both in game and review, it is basic.

Battle animations are fluid, and you can dash quite a bit round the battlefield… But then, so can some of your opponents.

Omensight is a spiritual successor to Stories: Path of Destinies (by the same company), and involves many of the same themes and mechanics remixed. There are time travelling shenanigans for our hero(ine. Being some form of spirit, gender is not assumed) , the Harbinger. There are fights to be fought against enemies using light, heavy, and special attacks in combos, with better performance leading to better rewards (And some enemy types being largely immune to some attacks.) There’s lore to collect, with the overall goal of solving a murder mystery: Who killed the Godless Priestess, whose demise has unbalanced the power structures of two warring kingdoms, and is about to end the world in a single night?

Problem the first: The solving bit is slightly inaccurate. What you’re doing is going through the last night of four individuals, trying to encourage them to lead you to both clues and, in the end, the solution via the cunning use of memories and following them. Sort of a Dirk Gently mystery. And the more efficient at solving the mystery you are… The less you get to know about the characters, the world, and the very mystery you’re involved in, beyond the core bullet points.

Twenty minutes after taking this screenshot, I accidentally ended up taking the path to the next chapter, through my desire to open locked doors. WHOOPS. This screen (Reminding of clues) is not available in “True Detective Mode.”

Equally, beyond a certain difficulty level in the detective mode, you lose out on a tool that can just as much remind you where you are after a break as supposedly give away the way forward. The same way forward that the Priestess will mention… The characters will mention… And… Look, as a murder mystery, it plays its hands too heavily, which means it’s very tough to miss out on the solution to each chapter’s conundrum. Which leads into the problem that you can, quite easily, miss the story collectibles because the game is too good at solving its own mystery.

Continuing on, there are four keys, and each chapter contains one of the titular Omensights, visions with which the plot’s direction… Changes. Funnily enough, the game does foreshadow its twists fairly well, even if, as noted, I don’t feel like much of a detective because its clues are heavy handed, and the four main characters are fairly well written. They play on you being a silent protagonist. Sometimes, as in the case of the cheeky (Yet brittle) leader of the Rat Clan rebellion, Ratika the Bard, they put words in your mouth. Sometimes, like when you’re collecting things, they speculate as to your motives. This can get annoying, but I also appreciate that yes, when the Harbinger, the being that both presages and is meant to prevent the apocalypse, takes a break to smash barrels for money, you too would wonder what was up with that. The voice acting is pleasant, although sometimes stereotypical (Hi Emperor as Grand Vizier! Hi Thug Bear With A Heart of Gold! ), and the music is good. Not always memorably so, but it fits well with its areas and its timing.

One of the titular Omensights, which the Harbinger will then show other people… To get to the truth in perhaps the messiest way.

Beyond the sound and story design, combat in Omensight is a little annoying, as, on any difficulty above the easy, quick reflexes are mandatory for the dodging, and being able to quickly visually identify your enemies is mandatory if you want to do well in a fight, as some enemies have shields (Meaning that light attacks will just bounce off), some have counters (Meaning you’d best be away as soon as the Angrier Exclamation Mark appears, or else), and some are flying, and so a pain in the rear end by definition (with the saving grace that all but one of these flying enemies falls down when hit, and can be coup-de-graced immediately after.) It doesn’t feel especially great, and, for all that there’s a lot of fighting in the game, it’s by no means the strongest aspect of it.

For all these flaws, Omensight still works fairly well, partly because it has a fairly strong storyline (Although it’s a downer… Apocalypses generally are), some solid, low poly aesthetics (Each area has a different feel, and I like that) , some good voice acting and music, and adjustable difficulty separated into the detectiving and combat end, so, if you really want, you can turn both to their lowest settings, and just… Enjoy the ride. That’s the nice thing about adjustable difficulty: You get to do you.

I’ll let you guess which clan is which.

The Mad Welshman doesn’t have a lot to say today. It’s incredibly hot at Chez TMW.

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Moonlighter (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

It’s interesting how marketing can change your mind. If I, perhaps, hadn’t been told, by quite a few people, that Moonlighter was “Recettear with the bad trimmed off” , I would perhaps feel nicer about it. As it is, the comparison leaves me distinctly unimpressed, and I can no longer quite be certain that my assessment of it on its own as “Alright, but never really excelling at any one thing, including making me care” isn’t based on this comparison.

Will, bridger of the gap between Merchant and Warrior. Twice the work, half the happiness.

There is a world, a world with a dungeon. As with many worlds with dungeons, people exploit this one, and an economy surrounds it. Or rather, an economy is restarted by it, as Will, a Merchant who owns the dungeon shop Moonlighter, re-enters the dungeons for things for his shop. Cue action RPG with shopkeeping elements.

As with many ARPGs of the modern day, the key to playing Moonlighter well is to know when to attack and dodge, using a variety of weapons, judging enemy patterns. It feels meaty, I’ll definitely give it that… But it also feels frustrating, for several reasons. Inventory limits are a starter. Every trip to the dungeon, only 20 things (plus equipment) can be carried. Items stack to their own limits (usually 5 or 10), and both cursed and uncursing items don’t stack. Why is this system here? Mainly to add something to inventory management. Unfortunately, what it adds is… Inventory management.

Shopkeeping is similar. What gets added when you level up the shop once? Shoplifters. Extra work, on top of the work you’ve got from extra features. You can, eventually, get shop security, but in the meantime… Enjoy chasing thieves to hit spacebar over them, or lose your stuff!

Is enjoy the right word? I’m thinking, and I’m thinking that the answer is no.

“Now remember, this one can only go to the sides, this one breaks if you get hit a bit, this one stops that rule applying for the first thing with rules it…” Please stop. Please.

Similarly, there’s a narrative, and it starts… Well, honestly, it doesn’t start well at all. Will goes into a dungeon ill equipped, gets his ass handed to him by a feature never seen again, gets told “Don’t look into the dungeon” by his Wise Old Mentor, then gets given a sword by said Wise Old Mentor, who continues to tell him not to go into the dungeon. Getting mixed signals here. Meanwhile, something builds up as you explore the dungeon, where it appears the dungeons are not, strictly speaking, dungeons, but parts of other worlds, randomly snatched with their security features still active. Is there a reason for it? Yes. Is it revealed? Yes. Does it, eventually, get resolved? Yes.

Is it particularly satisfying? Not really.

Indeed, this is the main problem, narrative wise, with Moonlighter. There’s little to no pressure, it’s true. But there are also little to no stakes involved, not much of a reason to care about the shop, not much of a reason to talk to any townsfolk outside of the shopkeepers. There’s an economy, but since nothing seriously threatens that economy, there’s no real incentive to keep those wheels turning except… That you need to do it if you want a decent chance of getting to the end of the game. Long before which, due to the lack of either threat or incentive to spend, you will have more money than you know what to do with, because, despite the seemingly silly costs of anything above the second tier, the rewards from the dungeons correspondingly increase.

So, in summary? It somewhat works mechanically, in the servicable, achieves its goals way, but Moonlighter feels uninteresting, at least in part because there’s nothing, good or ill, that properly ends up pushing the narrative forward.

I will give the game this: To be an adventurer is to often perpetrate or be complicit in otherwise criminal activity, and it acknowledges it.

The Mad Welshman is sometimes confused by what his peers consider “With the bad bits gone.”

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