Review: Gothic Fiction: Dark Saga Collector’s Edition (PC)

Gothic Fiction: Dark Saga Collector’s Edition
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: ERS Game Studios
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 08/31/2012

It’s always surprising to me to find an adventure game on Big Fish that doesn’t have any hidden object elements to it. Games like that are a rare breed indeed. In fact, it was only about a quarter of the way through Gothic Fiction that I realized there were none to be found. I simply assumed the game would introduce the mechanic at some point. I was wrong.

Anyways, Gothic Fiction looks to be one of the more interesting casual titles released lately. It features actual actors for parts, a detailed back story, and a dedication to classic adventure game mechanics. Plus, it has that whole spooking occult feel going for it.

Is this just another generic horror game, or does it have the chops to rise above its station?

Story

As the game begins, you and your daughter have just moved to a new town. In fact, you’re taking the bus to a school in order to test the waters a bit. However, your daughter is almost immediately kidnapped by an evil witch. It turns out the school has been abandoned for decades, and that it has become overrun with evil. The witch has used her powers to summon forth terrible plant creatures that block your way at every turn. The race is on to find a way to save your daughter before it’s too late.

One of the interesting things about the game is that it devotes a solid amount of effort to relaying some back story. One of the main mechanics of the game involves finding book pages. Each page holds a little bit of a story on it. The story relates the witch’s first attempt at summoning her monstrosities. It reads like an old fantasy story, with tales of magical swords and brave knights.

The main plot itself is straightforward. You do whatever you can to advance in the school in order to find your daughter. Along the way, you’ll meet a few more characters that move the plot forward. One is the warden of the school, and the others are ghosts of children that the witch has already killed. By helping the ghosts, you progress. The game doesn’t go long with a line of dialogue or something to keep the plot at the front and center. Compare that to Inbetween Land, which I reviewed last week, and the difference is night and day.

There are some problems though. The plant monsters are supposed to be terrifying, but early on you get a magical sword that dispatches them with ease. All you have to do is click the sword and then click the monster. It dies in a spectacular light show. It kills any tension you might feel when confronting them. They become simply another obstacle to overcome. In addition, the sword is removed unceremoniously from your inventory when the last monster is destroyed. It’s very anticlimactic.

The game tries its best to be interesting and scary. In succeeds in part, but it lacks any real suspense once you obtain that sword. Some of the interest remains thanks to the history of the witch and the side characters. It’s enough to call the story satisfying for what it is.

Graphics

Obviously, the game’s visuals are a bit focused on the macabre. As such, the school is a dilapidated mess that could fall apart at any moment. The effect is nice, and adds to a creepy creepy atmosphere. Twisted vines and watching eyes populate each screen, never letting your forget that you’re in hostile territory. The overall art style is solid, with detailed environments making for a fun place to explore.

The game makes heavy use of FMVs. The humans in the game are actual actors that have been super imposed onto the artwork. The effect is almost unsettling. There are very few cases of this though, since all but one of the humans has some sort of effect attached to them. For example, the ghosts look like something out of The Ring, and the witch herself is a CG wonder of smoke and vapor. The transitions between FMVs and gameplay visuals are pretty seamless. The visuals lose a little bit of pallor for gameplay, but not enough to be outright jarring.

All told, this ends up being one of the better looking games on Big Fish.

Audio

I rather enjoyed the music. It was dark and foreboding, yet still playful. It worked brilliantly in the background. I just wish there was more of it. There are a grand total of four tracks, each of which maybe two minutes long. As such, they tend to loop continuously. Still, they were a welcome addition.

The voices are all over the place. One or two are great. One or two are mediocre. A couple of them are downright awful. It’s the ones that are awful that stand out the most, as have plenty of lines to spread their awfulness. The warden and daughter are two of the worst examples. The daughter’s voice is bored, even when faced with terrible things. The actress portraying her visually is smiling and jumping around in a high school theater kind of way. Bored voice work coming out of her mouth immediately kills any emotion that the scene was evoking. It made it hard to care about her in any way.

Sound effects are pretty standard for this type of game. There are plenty of creaking boards, clicking sounds when a chest is opened, and even some faint screams in the background. It all lends nicely to the atmosphere, and I can’t think of a single sound that was out of place.

Gameplay

The bulk of the game is standard adventure fare. There’s a location. You must explore it. However, the doors are locked and the passageways blocked. The only way to move forward is to interact with the environment. You do this by picking items up and using them in the appropriate place. For example, if you need to get to a high window, a ladder is your best bet. If you want to start a car, you’re going to need the key.

In addition, there are a number of mini-games to complete. These often serve as locks to doors, chests, and other things. Some examples include swapping pieces of a puzzle in order to from a picture, putting numbers in the correct order, and putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Gothic Fiction contains some of the easiest mini-games I’ve ever come across. Most of them can be completed by clicking things until you win. Very few of them require actual thought. For example, one had you pressing a button to bring puzzle pieces toward the center. They would rotate a few times. If they didn’t fit, you would have to rotate them separately before pressing the button again. Simple brute force solved this puzzle in seconds.

As per usual for this kind of game, repetition is king. That magical sword I mentioned is used probably half a dozen times alone. My biggest concern is the large number of puzzles that have to be solved with a particular item when another I already have would suffice. For example, why can’t I use the sword to cut a rope? Why must I use a pair of clippers? Another section asked me for a ladder. I knew of four that I had used before and wouldn’t use again. However, I couldn’t pick them back up. I had to wait until I found a new ladder. It was silly.

This game also has a bit more back tracking that usual. At one point, I had to run from one side of the game to another to get an item just to run back and use it. It took a total of twenty clicks to go one way. This is somewhat mitigated by a mechanic where you’ll be given a portal to get to an area you need to go, but this mechanic isn’t used very often.

Despite these annoyances, the game is quite solid. Point and click mechanics make it easy to play, and the hint system ensures you don’t have to get stuck for long. It could certainly use some polish, but it’s far from bad.

Replayability

A single playthrough will last anywhere from four to five hours. That’s pretty much standard length for the genre, and the fact that it pulls this off without time consuming hidden object sections is commendable.

Once the game is beaten, you’ll unlock a bonus chapter. This chapter technically takes place immediately after the main game, but the story is self contained. Let’s just say some other baddie shows up to capture your poor daughter. This extra gameplay will last around forty-five minutes to an hour.

Beyond that, there’s nothing to go back for. All the extras are unlocked through normal play, there are no achievements to earn, and the story is the same every time you play. You could try playing on a higher difficulty, but you’ll already know how to solve all of the puzzles. It won’t be fun.

Balance

For the most part, everything is pretty easy to find/solve. Your character will usually make a remark that hints at what item you’ll need. Or, is some cases, she’ll outright tell you. The biggest concern is when you get an item that you need to use in an area you haven’t visited in a while. It’s easy to think an area is cleared out when it isn’t. For example, I got a halberd and was lost as to what to do with it. It turned out that I needed to pull in a floating log in an area I hadn’t visited for about an hour.

The game comes with a hint system and a strategy guide. The hint system doesn’t work on hard, but there’s nothing stopping you from using the guide. In fact, the guide is a single click away at all times during gameplay. It’s very hard to not give into temptation when you’re lost as to what to do.

All told, this is a pretty easy game, even without the help. The mini-games were a breeze and the puzzles were fairly obvious. The hardest part was forgetting where you needed to use something. If you’ve got a decent memory, you’ll have no problems.

Originality

The story might initially seem fairly unique, but it hits all of the tropes of the genre. You’re off to save a kidnapped child, the baddie blocks off some areas until you perform a certain action, etc. It’s like developers have a checklist, and they’re just running through the motions.

No mechanic here is even close to original. In fact, I’ve seen them in every single adventure game I’ve reviewed this year. These guys have created a number of casual titles. They know what works, and they aren’t about to bite the hand that feeds them by deviating from it.

Addictiveness

I was initially quite addicted to this. It looked fairly novel, and the art style intrigued me. However, it quickly fell prey to familiarity. I didn’t feel like I’d be missing much if I turned the game off. Still, I soldiered on because I know these games don’t take long to complete.

There is a latent addictiveness to the genre that helps the game out a bit. Each action opens up a new puzzle or the way to solve an old one. There is a constant sense of progression that is often quite rewarding. It can hook you in quite easily. The only reason I wasn’t so swayed is because of how many of these games I’ve played just this year.

Appeal Factor

If you’re a casual fan of adventure titles, and you’re looking for one that doesn’t include the hidden object games, Gothic Fiction will work you. It hits all the right notes and hits them well enough to be a worthwhile time killer. It doesn’t reach the apex of the genre, but it doesn’t outright fail either.

This game could also work for someone looking to get into adventure games and needing something simple to get them started. It will also appeal to those who like a darker tone to their casual games. There are a number of people who could get something out of this. The CE is also the right way to go, thanks to bonus content.

Miscellaneous

The Collector’s Edition comes with the standard set of bonuses. There’s the bonus chapter, concept art, screen savers, wallpapers, and music. All but the bonus chapter can be saved to your computer, which is nice. It doesn’t offer anything spectacular, but everything here is at least worth a look.

The Scores
Story: Decent
Graphics: Good
Audio: Decent
Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Pretty Poor
Balance: Poor
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Score: Decent Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Gothic Fiction: Dark Saga is a decent casual adventure title. It has an interesting premise fun art style, and solid gameplay. It could certainly use some polish in areas, but it doesn’t do anything particularly egregious. This is a safe purchase if you’re a fan of these types of games.

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