Narratives are a very interesting thing, especially in video games. For a game to be successful, a narrative is not required, yet for many developers, their inner author cries out at making an engaging, thought-provoking, and beautiful story that can only be expressed in this interactive medium. I spoke about another narrative masterpiece in What Remains of Edith Finch, and how the interactivity of the tales adds to the trauma and the emotional stakes that are brought to the table.
If On A Winter’s Night, Four Travelers is a point-and-click narrative game, in which you live through the tales of 3 people aboard a train, taking part in a bizarre masquerade ball, the oddity of which is only amplified when it is revealed that none of them remember arriving there, nonetheless, the stories of the 3 characters are told to Laylah, the fourth, and all merely just remark how bizarre it all is.
I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but sometimes they’re unavoidable.
The writing is incredible, as it should be when the largest influence of the entire game is If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino. Even the beginning on a train is a direct reference to the novel (read it, it’s quirky and fun). However, it explores the prospect of a frame story in a marvelous manner, with each tale being more windingly intense than the last. There’s a lot to unpick from the classical musical references, the literary nods, and the religious themes, but going in blind to all of this will not hinder your experience in the slightest. Laura Hunt (the writer) does a fantastic job here.
The artwork is by Thomas Möhring, and is beautiful. The pixel art style is a lovely throwback to games of yesteryear, and it scales easily to titles like The Darkside Detective. The backgrounds are rendered really well, and the pixelation doesn’t mask any of the creepy details. A particular favourite scene is the Sunken Library in Act 3.
The sound design is gorgeous, with each sound sounding perfect for the era, and the grainy nature of the recordings, while it could normally be considered a hindrance, works super well for the era the game is set in.
The puzzles are just tricky enough to be challenging, and hints are available if you pay attention to the dialogue or explore the area enough.
The walking animation, while nice, can get extremely tedious. There isn’t an option to run or speed up your walk, so navigating some of the bigger rooms (like the Mansion) can take some time. This is a nitpick as many people won’t find this to be an issue, but I felt I should mention it for honesty’s sake.
This game is very heavy. There’s a lot of dark themes and imagery present here. Things such as suicide, drug overdose, euthanasia, and self-mutilation are all present here. They do serve the story well, and the narrative wouldn’t be as hard-hitting or powerful without them, however, they can be a lot for some people. So if you’re of a sensitive disposition, please be warned before you pick this game up.
If you enjoy narrative-focused gameplay with heavy themes and some nice droplets of horror, then this game is right up your street. There isn’t a price tag attached, which means that any time spent on this game isn’t at the expense of your wallet.
I can’t wait to see what Dead Idle release next.
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