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About the StoryTwo aces shelter from a snowstorm under the wing of a biplane. They've duelled and played in the air for years. Love is inevitable. But what kind of relationship will they end up in?
Rock Paper Shotgun
Thereís a lovely, gentle sense of longing throughout all of this game. Although itís a cliche situation clearly built on old adventure tropes, the writing is very sure and the flirting is bubbly and knowing. Itís got some pacing problems: the first two acts seem too short, and the endings seems to come too quickly, but the experience of revealing information about another person, and idly passing time by a fire in a whiteout by flirting with another warm, frisky, beautiful human being, is the kind of pleasant experience that isnít often indulged by games.
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I waver over whether to give this three stars or four. If I were rating it purely on how much I enjoyed it, four would be in order: romances are rare in IF, I tend to have fun with them, and this one is no exception. I like the setting, too -- an alternate history full of zeppelins and mountain-top retreats, with plenty of 1910s/20s style. It's no mistake that the game implements the aviator scarf and goggles, even though they're not strictly needed for anything; this is partly costume drama, and the game gives the player a chance to dress up and enjoy the part. And the main NPC is spunky and sassy and while this sort of flirty, defiant adventure heroine is a bit of a clichť... well, again, I thought she was fun.
On the other hand, there are some issues of construction and pacing that make me knock it down a star again. The characters will easily repeat entire swathes of dialogue verbatim, and while that might be less problematic in a different kind of game, it does a bit of a disservice in one which is primarily about conversation. There are also spots where it's hard to trigger the appropriate conversation topic, because sensible synonyms for the conversation aren't implemented. In particular, sometimes the conversation prompt is named something like "show you are interested", but "show I am interested" is not accepted when the player types it; one has to type literally "show you are interested". (This exact example is invented, but the principle applies.)
It's possible for sections of the work to drag a little longer than quite makes sense, too. While I found it easy to talk for quite a while, I didn't find the trigger to make the game *end* until I looked at the hints. That's partly because I forgot about the TOPICS command, but I think it would have been better if the game moved itself towards a conclusion once the player seemed to have run out of things to say, or if there were at the very least some hints toward getting a move on. Otherwise, the momentum of the conversation peters out and then the player spends a little while tinkering around to figure out how to make the game conclude, which is perhaps not the most effective way to pace this story.
Finally, on the characterization side: I wouldn't have minded there being just a little more of a challenge to getting Imelda to open up to me. And while I enjoyed the endings I saw, if you make the right choices, it's possible to get quite a long string of cut-scenes as the conclusion -- more than the game needs.
So the game could have been a little tauter, better polished, and more disciplined in a couple of respects. On the other hand, considering it was written in two weeks, this is hardly a poor showing. It's also an entry in a nearly-unpopulated genre, with quite a bit of charm. Between this and Gun Mute, I am looking forward very much to more work from Pacian.
More technically, the passage-by-passage quality of the prose was mostly sufficient to overcome the piece's structural (especially pacing) weaknesses.
The characterization of the protagonist inhabits a middle ground between a fully defined person and a shell for the user. This works well in some genres, but it's slightly awkward in a game as personality- (and conversation-) driven as this one. The talk is rather one-sided, and the NPC's emotions seem less justified for lack of a worthy target. This could be largely overcome by making the conversational options more symmetrical, by which I mean writing responses for "tell X" analogous to those already written for "ask X", although this risks making the conversation overly mechanical if carried out poorly. (Such a modification might also increase the perceived "challenge" of changing the relationship between the characters, which I agree would be an improvement.)
Don't let these problems put you off, though: like those of the protagonists of Aces, my attacks are made with admiration. Forget my criticisms and get in your plane.
During a war roughly analagous to WWI (but with more steampunk-fantasy elements), two fighter aces on opposite sides collide, crash in a snowbound waste, and must work together to survive; this is the climax of a long flirtation based on being honourable to one another in dogfights. The attraction is obvious: the question is what you do about it.
Pacian is consistently good at creating characters who are, if not particularly deep or complex, at least memorable and attractive. If IF fanfic were a thing, Pacian would be the genre's biggest ship-baiter. I've always felt that this character-design approach feels much more like a visual medium, and that of comics in particular: and the first impression that I got on examining Imelda was "man, this feels like a Phil Foglio character."
So the game succeeds at the first hurdle of romance-oriented plots: the audience should like the leads and want to see them get together. At the second requirement (there should be serious obstacles to the relationship) it's a little more shaky. As in Walker & Silhouette, the leads begin the conversation totally eager to jump into one anothers' pants, and largely remain thus throughout. This, combined with the highlighted-keyword conversation system, makes the flirtation feel like an effortless glide rather than a dogfight or a fraught landing. You have opportunities to disrupt it if you want, true, but doing so by mistake is unlikely. And because the game is so centrally focused on the romance, you're not really given any motives to do so, except to be perverse: I never felt as though Lucas' love of flying, or for his homeland, were evoked strongly enough to make for character conflict. You do not feel as though you're sacrificing a great deal by spending the rest of the war in prison. And of course, that frission is the obvious point of the game's premise -- so if it comes across weakly, that's a big problem.
Though generally strong and efficient, the writing is conspicuously less smooth than in Pacian's later works. There were a number of moments in the dialogue that broke the tone for me. The cutting banter is good at times, but less convincing at others; and the tone doesn't shift enough in response to key events in the conversation.
The game states that there are a good number of endings, but I didn't find myself wanting to seek out more than a couple. I can't help but compare the play experience to that of Galatea. There, conversation was much more of a struggle: finding enough topics to discuss in order to reach an ending can take a while. But because you have to search for them, there's a stronger feeling of things to find. After one playthrough of Snowblind Aces, however, there's a pretty strong sense that you've exhausted the great majority of topics.
But there's much to like about Snowblind Aces: a satisfying epilogue section, mostly fluid play, a distinctive and engaging premise. Like Pacian's output in general, it's overtly pulpy, but it's tasty pulp. (For me, this was one of those games that you save up for when you want to play something that you can be sure is going to be pretty good.)
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This is version 6 of this page, edited by Sobol on 28 March 2016 at 1:41am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item