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Chorus

by Skarn

Urban fantasy
2020

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Number of Ratings: 11
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Distaff-monster optimization, December 6, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020
Iím usually a story/writing-first, systems-later sort of player, but Chorusís big puzzle grabbed me hard, and I spent more time replaying and fiddling with it than any other game in the Comp so far. On the down side, this is because I found the prose at times a bit flat, and certainly often overwhelming; on the positive side, itís because the meta-puzzle provides lots of rewarding reveals and surprise interactions as the player pokes and prods at it.

Right, backing up: in Chorus, youíre tasked with helping whatís basically a community-based organization of (mostly mythical Greek and/or Lovecraftian) monsters do some public service: hunting down raw materials, sorting out paperwork in the library, that sort of thing. You donít play a specific character, but get to eavesdrop on the thoughts and decisions of nine central characters in turn, deciding how to allocate them between the three main tasks and then doing an additional task-prioritization within each of the main projects. If youíve matched the right character to the right task and sub-task, the job gets done; if not, not. Along the way, there are a fair number of potential character beats, both positive and negative, depending on which people youíve grouped together.

The premise is a fun, unique one, though Iím not sure the writing fully does it service. The monsters, as mentioned, are a sort of twee Lovecraft (thereís a slime-girl named Tekeli, e.g., plus Camilla who might be from the King in Yellow?), but the prose is actually fairly grounded. I suppose you could say this fits the entertainingly bureaucratic and grounded premise, but perhaps leaves some fun on the table (I believe the game may have been translated, given that French comes first in the FR-EN toggle, and I think there were some cases where the prose was adopting French sentence structure in a way that felt awkward, which also maybe sapped some of the fun from the writing).

Chorus also wears its worldbuilding rather heavily Ė the initial sequence feels very overwhelming, as it jumps in in medias res and then runs through the nine different characters without giving much chance to catch oneís breath or refer back to what and who came before (the fact that all the characters are female, and many have names starting with C or K, makes keeping track of things even more difficult). Despite all this exposition, there were parts of the setting I didnít fully understand Ė thereís some broader organization or powers-that-be who the community folks seem to resent but nonetheless have to work for. This never fully clicked for me, even though interactions with these powers seemed to be ultimately what's most important in the game's narrative, given how the different endings play out.

All right, so thatís the grousing out of the way. On the flip side, the tasks themselves are enormous fun, both because theyíre very clever examples of what a monster-y community service organization would do, and because the sub-tasks are really engaging to dig into. The library bit, for example, has you sorting through half a dozen books looking for supernatural secrets, and the different powers of the various characters can turn up very different results! Careful attention to the character dossiers, prompts in the text, and lateral thinking all pay dividends, and itís very compelling to tweak your solution to try to optimize it. And as mentioned, there are some unexpected and fun interactions that can happen when you pair up the right set of characters, which are fun in of themselves and make it feel like youíre making progress even when you still have a ways to go. I just wish there were a way to speed up replays Ė primarily by making it easier to skip through the exposition, since I think Chorus really shines on repeat play and has big just-one-more-go energy.

I very much hope thereís a post-comp release, or even a sequel/expansion, both to continue a story which clearly has more room to grow, but also to clean up these few niggles Ė with writing thatís a bit sharper and more careful pacing-out of the worldbuilding, this could be a real classic.

- E.K., December 5, 2020

- Karl Ove Hufthammer (Bergen, Norway), December 4, 2020

- necromancer, December 4, 2020

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Bureaucratic dark fantasy, December 1, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, choice-based, fantasy
Chorus is a choice-based fantasy game by Skarn, published in 2020. The game is about an organization of strange creatures who are trying to complete three community projects, such as cataloging old books.

The gameplay is about choosing which of the numerous characters will do which projects. The physical properties of the characters are vastly different, ranging from a gorgon to an amoeba, so you have to think a little who might be the best suited for any given task. After making your choices, you get to read what transpired afterwards. The game has a lot of different outcomes - tasks can succeed or fail in a variety of ways, and certain characters can also have unique scenes if you put them working on the same task together.

The writing is good and the setting is imaginative, although there is a dark, stressful undercurrent to everything: (Spoiler - click to show)things seem to be on decline - massive amounts of red tape, among other issues, are choking the organization. Some creatures and elements here are Lovecraftian, which could also explain the feeling of mild gloominess.

The first playthrough will take less than 30 minutes, but Chorus is really at its best when replaying since you then have a better grasp of whatís going on and what type of character teams might create good results. There are a lot of branching story paths and multiple endings, plus you can conveniently place the game on ďfast textĒ mode which makes replaying even faster. Itís quite user-friendly that way, so depending on your level of curiosity, it can be easy to spend a while just tinkering with the game and seeing what can happen.

To criticize something, it can be a bit hard to get into the story at first since it starts with a massive info dump where you are introduced to the world of Chorus as well as 9 different characters at once. Some of the gameplay is also a bit trial-and-error, as most outcomes canít be predicted until you try them. (Spoiler - click to show)Consequently, it seems fairly tricky to reach the best ending - for me it happened by sheer accident after 6 playthroughs.

The good concept makes Chorus worth exploring, especially for fans of dark fantasy and low-key management games, even if the execution has some arguable bumpiness.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Replaces community service drudgery with high-stakes fantasy conflict, November 30, 2020
You're asked to divide six people between three different community service projects. The enjoyable twist is that they're all monsters and mythological creatures integrated into modern society. (Oddly detailed personnel files offer scientific discussions of their abilities.)

The story follows a run down, under-funded nonprofit that is already stretched to the breaking point. In a normal city, these organizations serve different groups of people whose needs are regularly in conflict with each other. When those people are harpies, gorgons, and beings from alternate universes, the conflicts become more interesting.

Chorus relies on a player who is willing to return to the story and learn from repeated playthroughs. Early remarks about "the reorganization of the district" hint at tensions behind the scenes, and my first experience left me eager to go back and investigate why the city felt like enemy-occupied territory.

- Sobol (Russia), November 11, 2020

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Cerebral, text-focused story with a large fantasy cast, October 20, 2020
by Enrique Henestroza Anguiano (Oakland, California)
Chorus ambitiously follows a large cast of fantasy-inspired characters through a day of carefully mediated interactions in a city full of secrets.

I was impressed by aspects of the writing, which is intriguing and uses evocative characterization to flesh out what appear to be a dozen or more unique characters. There also seems to be a nifty engine underlying the game that takes user-selected teams of characters and lets their interactions play out from different perspectives, Rashomon-style.

Unfortunately, the experience bogs down a bit throughout. The opening is very long, with stretches of text containing almost encyclopedic character-level details. These details then seem crucial to successfully choosing how the final sections play out, which is a cool idea, but the dizzying amount of information about each character and their motivations/relationships within the large cast is very difficult to track, so I ultimately felt rather lost.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A shortish game big on worldbuilding and branching, October 4, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes
I remember playing a game by Skarn a few years ago about an alien in t.he future, and so I was definitely interested in seeing what this one was about.

Mechanically, this game is very impressive. You're part of an underpaid, understaffed community group who needs to take care of three magical problems: decaying magical protections, dangerous magical books, and finding herbs for werewolf potions.

You have 9 characters that you can split up for these different tasks, with diverse options like Cheshire Cats, golems, centaurs, etc. One person is pre-assigned to each task, and then you choose the other 2. Each task then lets you pick who does what, each with their respective text.

This is a combinatorial explosion like Animalia, although shorter in each runthrough. The fact that the author was able to code in so many special combinations (and even ones that interact with each other!) is absolutely amazing.

I don't know if the tone of the writing matched the game, though. The tone is crisp and businesslike, told at a distance, while the content it is describing is wondrous and magical and deals with people's inner thoughts and feelings and interpersonal relationships. But I doubt that will be a universal reaction.

I'd definitely be interested in playing through this one again to see everything! The cast of characters and the worldbuilding is excellent.

+Polish: Pretty smooth.
-Descriptiveness: The game is quite descriptive, but as I said above I felt a mismatch between tone and content.
+Interactivity: I was impressed by the many options.
-Emotional impact: I felt a distance from this game, emotionally
+Would I play again? Definitely. Got to see all the cool options!

- chlorine, October 3, 2020

- Zape, October 3, 2020


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