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Reviews by verityvirtue

melancholic

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View this member's reviews by tag: choleric ECTOCOMP ECTOCOMP 2016 IFComp 2015 IFComp 2016 Introcomp Ludum Dare melancholic melancholy parser phlegmatic Ren'Py sanguine Spring Thing 2015 Spring Thing 2016 sub-Q Tiny Utopias
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Krypteia, by Kateri

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A neon-tinged allegory , September 13, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic, choleric
[Time to completion: 15 minutes. This game mentions violence and harassment.]

You leave the village, defying the wills of the "wise men", in search for the heart of the forest. You have nothing, and danger presses in all around.

Krypteia sounds like an allegory, using both the language of adventures and quests, and the familiar language of the "monsters" and the "wise men" will likely be familiar to femme-presenting folk, who are, for instance, so often told not to dress a certain way, lest they invite trouble ("You can't go out dressed like that, the wise men told you. The monsters will tear you apart.").

The theme of metamorphosis suffuses Krypteia. This game diverts based on a single dichotomy: stealth or fierceness. Do you blend in, or do you confront? I found it striking that despite the approach you choose, the PC still loses her identity.

The language used here blends imagery of the wilderness with that of the night-time city, filled with leering men and streetlights. This is also interpreted literally in the ever-moving graphics. Building on that, symbols usually associated with femininity were, here, weapons.

With its purposeful text styling, graphics and sound effects, it is no surprise that Krypteia was nominated for a XYZZY in Best Multimedia, but it is also allegory, social commentary, kinda-fairy tale and a story of personal growth.

You are Standing at a Crossroads, by Astrid Dalmady
The ground shifts under your feet, August 20, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic, phlegmatic
You are standing at a crossroads. Wherever you go, you will end up at a crossroads.

The writing is memorable: evocative language, unsettling imagery. Visit a location twice, and it opens up. Enter. Participate. Maybe, finally, you'll discover where you are. Some locations recall childhood - a playground; a zoo - but all are deserted. There is a semblance of life, but you never get to see it for yourself.

Quiet piano music, links which set the pace and mutable text illustrate a place which changes only when you're not looking, which constantly keeps the ground uneven under your feet.

In the pattern of my father's long, long legs, Crossroads presents itself as an unsettling, low-interactivity twine. As dynamic fiction, one tends to ask, would this work as static fiction?

Perhaps not. Not without a way to set a reader's expectations, and let the reader discover how they might be broken.

Inventory, by Joey Fu

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A lesson in making do with what you have, August 17, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
You start out trapped in a dungeon - not an unfamiliar scenario - with a long list of possessions. Not all of them are tangible.

The basic idea behind this is simple enough: choose the right belonging, and you'll move on. The right object is not always obvious, however, and the error messages are unhelpful (probably due to the word count). The landscapes that this game traverses are often surreal non-sequiturs, leaving me to suspect that the inventory objects might have come before the story.

Inventory uses the aesthetic of old-school parser - monospace font, green words on black background, even a command prompt - but I think making it choice-based streamlined the actual process of using the objects.

(Spoiler - click to show)The heart of this game is escape, and it is elegantly brought out - yes, even in such a brief game as this. Escape is always in service of a goal, marks the start of a journey. But escape, here, demands a price: every time you escape from something new, you must give something up. (In this aspect it is tangentially reminiscent of Cat Manning's Invasion.) For what end? Is it worth it? For me, this made Inventory feel much more substantial than a 300-word game should be.

Down, the Serpent and the Sun, by Chandler Groover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A polished game with a lavish, gory setting., July 20, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
The serpent has eaten the sun. You are the last one who can get it back.

Based loosely on Aztec myths, this game presents a prime example of Groover's signature imagination. Down is dark and bloody - set, after all, in the maw of a monster - but unlikely metaphors abound. Gemstones in gullets. A sun in the stomach.

Contrasts abound in this game. You must relinquish control in the beginning to be able to participate, despite being a warrior - a person of action! The serpent is a broken, diseased creature, despite being undeniably powerful - having swallowed the sun and defeated all before you.

Though somewhat more ornate, and definitely more outspoken than some of Groover's other games, Down, the Serpent and the Sun is well worth playing.

Psychomanteum, by Hanon Ondricek

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Short "haunted house" game with reality-warping possibilities, July 16, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
Every year, your friends hold a Halloween party, and each guest must complete three dares. The Psychomanteum is new: a mirrored chamber, in which you must stay, in darkness, for an hour. That shouldn't be too bad, right? You're a connoisseur of haunted houses and all things Halloween, after all, so nothing should really surprise you.

This game has all the usual trappings of Halloween - pumpkin spice, haunted houses, darkness. This contrasts with the genuine sense of increasing derangement as the PC spends more and more time in the titular box.

Psychomanteum has a strong concept, aided by the background music and sound effects. There were some disambiguation issues, if memory serves, and I didn't know what to make of (Spoiler - click to show)the slate. Psychomanteum leaves its truth deliberately ambiguous, but presented some deliciously creepy possibilities.

Four Sittings in a Sinking House, by Bruno Dias

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A barroom back fable about a haunted house, May 17, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
[Time to completion: 15-20 minutes; this game doesn't work in Google Chrome]

Right. Yeah. The whole island was sinking, really. I say island because that's the official term, but if we're being honest it was more like a pretentious sandbar.


On a house on this sinking island, you perform sittings to uncover memories and, by so doing, figure out what went on in the house. Four candles flicker in the background of your choices, each one going out as you perform a sitting.

In this self-described "barroom back fable", the narrator is cynical, jaded. I got the sense that they, like the titular house, has put their glory days behind them, though having never played into cheap dreams peddled by cons,

You can perform tasks in roughly any order, but you have to uncover all available bits of memory to really figure out what's at the heart of this house. Not to give away the plot, but what's happening in the sinking house reflects the island itself: a place that free market forces took over, yet was chewed up and discarded when it lost its value.

Bruno's writing belies a keen eye for detail. The house's fallen state shows through its faded, garish fittings; the hypocrisy of the promises that were sold along with the house, in its sterility. Four Sittings is a satisfying, polished tale of urban magic, with the same sort of seriousness as, say, American Gods.

The Skeleton Key of Ambady, by Caelyn Sandel (as Adalai Trammels)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A folk tale-esque game of uncommon depth, May 17, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
[Time to completion: 15-20 minutes; full content warnings given at the start of the game]

You are Adalai Trammels, Skeleton Key, and that means that you can unlock any safe, open any door... even intangible ones. It's a surprisingly nomadic job, and you carry naught but your key and the money you earn in exchange for your gift.

There is a surprising depth and breadth as to what you can do here. Sandel deftly creates a web of conflicts in the town that has no easy conclusion, no single villain. Every decision - including the decision to action or inaction - has consequences on the townsfolk: just because you can open any lock, doesn't mean you have to open all of them.

The Skeleton Key finds strength in its structure, borrowing the cadence of a folk tale or fairy tale. Like many fairy tales, the onus is on the hero to pass moral judgement on the villain, and the power of the interactive format is that we, the player, get to decide who we condemn and who we save.

This is a particularly strong example of Sandel's work, featuring distinctive settings and nuanced, sensitive characters; further examples of her work may be found here http://inurashii.xyz/games/.

Readers interested in the folk tale style but with a taste for horror may also enjoy A Good Wick, in which you play a lamp in a town shrouded in eternal night.

A Good Wick, by Little Foolery

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Visually attractive horror game about a doomed town, January 24, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
[Mentions violence and mutilation. Full content warnings are given on the first screen. Time to completion: 30-45 minutes]

Pyre on the Water is a doomed town, and you are one of its lamps. You've burned for three years, and that is no mean feat in a town with no more sun, in a town whose lamps must be relit by travelling knights. But it is in one of these knights who holds the town's destruction.

A Good Wick has strong writing, with the cadence of a folk tale. It makes deliberate, thoughtful use of repetition and chapter headings as transition. Characters are defined largely by their roles in the community - and the horror derived from their deviation from these roles.

This game makes heavy use of multimedia and text effects. The background flickers and writhes. Links glow like a lamp in the dark. It works well on mobile.

Sometimes, the effects that make it so visually distinct make it less than reader-friendly. The atmospheric backgrounds were occasionally distracting, and some of the links were hard to find - although that may well have been the intent. There seemed, sometimes, to be so many transition headings that it broke up the flow of the story.

Nonetheless, A Good Wick is a visually rich, haunting folk tale - without the immediacy of games like 1181, but with a song-like cadence.

Ash, by Lee Grey

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A midlength meditation on a parent's dying, January 8, 2017
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic, IFComp 2016
[Time to completion: 20-25 minutes]

Ash is about watching someone die. The PC, here, is getting to grips with their mother's proximity to death; the prevailing mood is deep weariness. The writing is stark, the descriptions minimal. The links mostly appear in conversation, and their brevity suggests that both the PC and their mother have long since exhausted most conventional conversational topics.

Institutional healthcare looms large in this story. Healthcare professionals appear mostly as faceless, nameless, taciturn individuals, delivering bad news bluntly and awkwardly, referred to in aggregate, making the hospital seem not even like a prison, but a mechanised facility. Ash emphasises how no one knows what is going on, how no one cares enough to look up from the charts and see how patients are doing, how bureaucracy strangles good medicine. The result is claustrophobia, a sense of being trapped.

Ash illuminates an aspect of illness not often touched on in games, and despite everything, despite everything, remains hopeful.

Hana Feels, by Gavin Inglis

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
We can only reach but never touch, December 27, 2016
by verityvirtue (London)
Related reviews: melancholic
[This game contains discussions of self-harm/self-mutilation. Please exercise discretion. Time to completion: 15-25 minutes]

Hana has been acting unlike herself lately. Can you find out why?

We, the player, see Hana's feelings through the eyes of four different people. Each is meant to play a supportive role in her life, but their different personalities means that their support can express itself in very different ways. The catch: the only thing you can control is what other people say to Hana. Some of the NPCs would have been self-centred had we only been able to see from Hana's point of view, but being able to play through their perspectives - and seeing their doubts and awkwardness - made them much more sympathetic, even when they say things which would be frankly hurtful.

Hana's journal entries provide immediate feedback about your conversational choices. I found myself wondering how I could optimise outcomes for Hana - or, indeed, if it was even possible. But there's something to this, isn't there? No matter our intentions, our words of comfort can so easily be interpreted in the exact opposite of what we mean.

Depending on the branch you end up getting, the overall tone of Hana Feels could be either cautiously optimistic or achingly sad. Despite occasionally getting to experience Hana's perspective, she remains distant; we can only ever reach her indirectly, through the filter of other people.

Hana has been nominated for Best NPC in the XYZZY awards, a fact which delights me, even if I'm never really sure what makes an NPC 'good'. The most I can say, though, is that the emotional investment the PCs pay into their interactions with Hana pays off. Each character reacts believably and sensitively to what the other says. A comparable game would be Hannah Powell-Smith's Thanksgiving or Aquarium, in which conversation is fraught and intricate as a dance.

Hana Feels ultimately deals with some weighty stuff - Hana, after all, has to deal with a lot and she doesn't always do this in a healthy way - but there are areas of levity, and perhaps even hope.


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