My first post on the comp explains how I chose pieces to review and what judging criteria I’m applying, so I won’t dwell on it here, and will instead get straight on to the next batch.
No of Playthroughs: 3 (kinda. Not really playthroughs as such.)
Fallen Leaves is introduced as a ‘ghazal-sonnet’. I’ll freely admit, I had no idea whatsoever what a ghazal-sonnet it, but the interwebs tells me it refers to compositions ‘of a minimum of five couplets—and typically no more than fifteen—that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous.’ It goes on to explain the various structural rules, suggesting that there may well be some serious technological stuff¹ going on under the hood in this game.
My first sonnet came out as below. I liked the images it threw up at me, and particularly enjoyed how it gave just enough to encourage me to construct a narrative without firmly telling me anything.
I found myself picturing two characters, one rural and rustic, the other from ‘the palace’, a distant place across the sea. The pair meet and revel in one another’s company despite their differences, and their parting, I felt, is routine, one of a cycle of absences and reunions. I was thrown by the phrase ’empty diagram’ as it just didn’t have the same evocative qualities of some of the other words and phrases. The next sonnet I generated had the exact same ending, and also included ’empty diagram’ which led me to wondering what would happen if I selected the same two terms more than once. I’d expected this to clue me in a little more as to how the text was doing what it was doing, but I remained none the wiser, as this generated a completely new ending, the incredibly evocative: “You retreat to your alcove and depart by effortless flight.”
I enjoyed the descriptive text overall and felt after three sonnets that I’d had my fill, but poetry afficianados may get way more mileage out of this than I did.
Playthroughs: 1 (With a restart to check some stuff)
Reading Ash made me think a lot about All I Do Is Dream (reviewed in the previous IF comp post) and question why I liked Ash a lot, but was less enthused about All I Do. Both are essentially ‘downer’ games. Ash deals with the slow death of a parent, while All I Do explores how it feels to be depressed. Both contain choices that are not particularly desirable (many of Ash’s choices are between ‘bleak’ and ‘bleaker’).
Yet by the end of Ash, I felt genuinely moved and empathetic towards the protagonist, while in All I Do, I felt merely frustrated. I haven’t experienced the death of a parent, but I have experienced depression, so perhaps this had something to do with it? The pain of Ash wasn’t mine, so it was easier to deal with, while the pain of All I Do was familiar? Also, Ash is in first person, and is openly described as being autobiographical, while All I Do is in second person and contains no such explanatory note. I’m not suggesting it should, just attempting to understand my own reaction to it. What confounds me more is that when I played Depression Quest some time ago, I had no such problem with it – in fact some parts made me cry, because they rang so true to my own experiences. Yet All I Do is equally true, but elicited frustration over any other emotion.
The only answer I could draw out (and I apologise that this has turned into a comparison rather than an out-and-out review) was that Ash’s inevitablity is truly inevitable. You cannot ‘beat’ death. You cannot really ‘battle’ cancer, you merely play the hand you are dealt, as Graham used to say. Yet All I Do’s inevitability is the illness talking. The protagonist isn’t really useless and worthless: the depression is making them feel that way. Again, this is not to say that All I Do should be any other way than it is, but I think this is why I preferred Depression Quest – because it offered the possibility of hope, even though some of the endings were hopeless. Perhaps I was not frustrated with the game itself, but the impossible, paradoxical, cyclical nature of depression.
Anyway, to return to Ash, it’s beautifully written and the choices are not so much choices as tweaks in how the protagonist deals with the heart-rending situation he’s in. A very moving experience, and one that left me feeling privileged to have shared in something so personal.
EDIT: I should also add that my musings on All I Do hasn’t changed my attitude to the rating I gave it, since I felt it had a severe technical fault in it, regardless of whether that fault was artistically intended.
FURTHER EDIT: Adventure Cow explains with far greater clarity what I was trying to say about All I Do in this post.
Playthroughs: 1 + a bit of fiddling
This is a fun, knockabout story set in a Steampunk universe, well written, and clearly carefully researched too. I felt the chart used to display acquired magical metals could have been clearer (the words changed to italics after being collected) but I liked that some of the choices required a little lateral thinking to determine whether or not your character had the metal (mettle?!) for the job.
I felt that the game intruded with its own status as a game a little too often, with interruptions such as additional non-story text explaining which links moved the story forward and which provided further information. This could have been avoided with a little structural rejigging (having fewer clickable links in one section, for example), which would have streamlined the experience.
I liked the roster of characters, although my fiddling revealed character choice doesn’t make a great deal of difference to the story, but that’s not really a criticism. Having the choice in the first place was very welcome, and allowed me to imagine the scenes more vividly too.
I would probably have graded this at least a little higher, but encountered a bug towards the end that brought up the same piece of text and choice repeated on one page, and you know my bug restrictions! Therefore:
Rating: 5/10 [eek, sorry – I initially put the wrong, bug-free score, apologies if you read it before my edit]
May get in one more set before the judging ends, all being well, but don’t hold your breath…