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About the StoryI am falling, I am fading, I am drowning, help me to breathe...
Nominee, Best NPCs; Nominee, Best Individual NPC; Nominee, Best Individual PC - 2003 XYZZY Awards
It's kind of like the third quarter of a really close (American) football game. Sure, the score is tied at 24, but that's what it was at the half, and you're not down to the wire yet, because it's still the third quarter. Or maybe it's like the second to last chapter in a short novel -- all the really good stuff has already happened, and all of the explanations are saved for the last chapter, so even though you're in a great story, it isn't happening now. It's already happened, or it's going to, but everything that happens in Shadows is subtle and under the surface.
-- Jessica Knoch
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>VERBOSE -- Paul O'Brian's Interactive Fiction Page
The game's writing really worked for me -- it described the scene vividly and with judicious use of metaphors. The NPC's diction felt appropriately mysterious and foreboding, and I thought that many of the details were well-chosen to paint a picture of a PC whose life combines the ordinary and the extraordinary in a plausible way. The implementation was reasonably deep, though it could have been deeper for such a small environment. The same goes for the NPC; he seemed to have some very basic emotional modeling, but the game didn't provide verbs like THANK or APOLOGIZE to let me interact enough with that emotional state. Still, he was able to answer a generous set of topics, and I felt intrigued and tantalized by the answers he gave. At the end, though, I felt like I still hadn't really gotten the point, which I suppose is another way of reiterating that the game just didn't provide enough to feel satisfying. I guess the fact that I wanted a lot more of Shadows proves that what was there was a very good start.
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Number of Reviews: 3
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"Shadows on the Mirror" feels very much like an entry in that genre. The heroine's Awesome Powers are only hinted at, but are undeniably Awesome, and also Unique ("Are you... like me?" she asks the hero, Galen, at one point, to which he replies, "No one is like you."). There are also tantalizing hints of ways in which the world of the game is not quite like our own, references to things unfamiliar to the player that the characters seem to view as so ordinary as to warrant no explanation. This could easily become frustrating, but it's done sparingly enough that it remains simply intriguing. That said, at times the game feels like almost too small a fragment of a larger story, a teasing glimpse of something that deserves a novel-length exploration.
Make no mistake, though: the real focus of the game is the Brooding Love Interest and the heroine's interactions with him. This was never quite my cup of tea (I was in it more for the power-and-destiny bit), but it's done fairly well here; the heroine is well-characterized, and the love interest, while a bit more of an enigma, is at least interesting. There's the possibility for some playful, fun interactions, and while Galen is not exactly warm and outgoing, (Spoiler - click to show)once the necklace comes off he's not such an unbearable jerk that it's impossible to understand why the heroine likes him.
The gameplay mostly consists of talking to Galen about various topics; the mechanics of this were a little hit-or-miss. Most of the topics I thought to ask about were implemented, and often asking or telling about a term that came up in response to the previous topic resulted in a conversational flow that seemed logical and natural -- no easy feat in IF. On the other hand, with the way that certain conversational responses are "unlocked" by pursuing other lines of questioning, it was sometimes unclear when Galen really had nothing, or nothing more, to say about a subject, and when I simply needed to talk about something else for a while to unlock more information about that subject. The "topics" command was also less useful than one might hope -- it seemed to return four or five topics in random rotation, regardless of whether that topic had been exhausted or not, and sometimes would return "You can think of nothing to say to Galen" even when there were topics remaining to be discussed.
After playing once, I immediately restarted the game to see if I could get a different ending, but was quickly frustrated by the fact that I was unable to discuss topics I had discussed in the previous playthrough and I wasn't sure why or what I had to do to unlock them, and I couldn't tell if the game was progressing especially differently to the first time. I did get a different ending the second time through, but I couldn't quite figure out why I had. At that point I gave up on replaying to find other endings--kind of a shame, as I don't think I even saw the "best" one, but replaying the game had become more irritating and confusing than fun.
For all my complaints, the conversational system was pretty strong overall, and I did enjoy the game as a bit of nostalgic fun. However, I'm not sure it would hold the same appeal for anyone who has never been the particular sort of teenaged girl who reads that particular sort of fantasy novel.
The PC is well-characterized and once you come in tune with her personality, figuring out he next step becomes a lot easier. As for Galen, I found him to be a rather interesting personage. He has that unapproachable-macho-but-really-sweet-inside vibe about him. Shadows on the mirror is a game with a dash of romance in it, so you should treat it as such. Flirt with Galen and act the way the PC would act if she liked a young man. If you really get stuck, you can always take a peek at the topics list provided in-game. Also, (Spoiler - click to show)examine everything, ask Galen about everything, and tell him about everything. Sometimes, very nonessential things turn out to be the key to the next step. Do things that you would no normally do in an IF. You can touch Galen, steal Galen's possessions, and if you get the timing right, even kiss him.
Once you get Galen on your side, you'll find that there is a wide array of endings to the game - some more romantic than others - outside the linear story progression. And if you really, really want to know how to get Galen on your side: (Spoiler - click to show)Take off that pesky necklace from around his neck. Things should develop a lot easier after that.
I love conversation games and I found this one to be a real treat. The atmosphere is perfect, the NPC is lovable, the PC is believable, and the storyline is interesting enough to keep you reading for more.
The whole "Spend time talking to someone you hate" thing is not fun AT ALL. (Maybe the female gender loves this sort of thing for reasons I'd rather not psychoanalyze. Someone did add this game to a romance list. Yeah. That in itself is creepier than the entire game.) And it's a one-room game, so your claustrophobia is off the charts, but not in a creepy or terror-inducing way, but in a frustrating way. You might end up quitting the game out of boredom before the end comes, but if you hang around for it, there's nothing spectacular awaiting you. That's the ultimate insult.
The ending itself doesn't even seem that awful, so the entire point of the game is pointless. Not only that, but the big feature of the game -- conversation -- is implemented as standard ask/tell. No, there are no topics. No, there is no "Talk" verb. Argh! And if that wasn't enough, there are profanities included for your discomfort, reminding us that the PC is just as scuzzy as the NPC.
So to sum, there's nowhere to go, no-one to root for, and nothing to do.
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