IF Comp 2016: Quest for the Traitor Saint (Owlor)

Quest for the Traitor Saint is an exploratory fantasy game made in Twine. Spoilers below the cover image.

Cover art for Quest for the Traitor Saint

First Impressions: The blurb is a little lore-heavy, but I like the sound of the setting, and diplomacy is always a draw. I like the pink and black constellation look of the cover image: the scattering of stars appeals to me. Starting play, there’s an offer to “get up to speed” on your situation, which I gratefully accepted, and got a bit of backstory for the protagonist’s current predicament. As a human diplomat to the Horses, a race of alien beings, you’re looking for assistance for your homeland, which is threatened by rising sea levels. So you’ve come to this island to search for a Traitor Saint who can serve as a mediator between Horses and humans.

There’s a lot to get to grips with here: the lore-overload from the blurb carries through to the start of the game, and I found it a bit hard to get things straight. I would have preferred to have information more evenly spread through the beginning. However, it is interesting enough and the otherworldly images help reinforce the sense that the Horses’ viewpoint is “slightly askew”. I should have been careful what I wished for with the pink and black, because I quickly found the text hard to read.

Getting Stuck In: Ah, relief! Post-prologue, the colours are nicer on my eyes, and I’m chilling out in a boat with my Horse friend Silili. I take a minute to look over my Bestiary, which has some cool sketches of the creatures I’m likely to encounter on my trip: I wonder whether I’m going to need to collect animals or plants?

Things drift along until we reach the island, where I can choose which part of the island to visit. There isn’t much information about where might be best, so I pick the grasslands at random. Oh, what a cute little critter…! Oh, it’s attacking. I’ll run away with Silili! Oh. Silili has vanished and the game’s over…?

With a surprise game over like that I would usually chalk it up to experience and move onto something else, but since this is a Comp game I started again. And I’m really glad I did: I got a much richer experience for exploring elsewhere and fulfilling my mission. It was just unfortunate that I hit that game over without much sign that if I ran I’d leave my friend behind.

So, another go: I appreciated the ability to skip the prologue this time, although there is a reasonably long linear section before getting to the island which might have been nicer with variation.

This time round, I explored Fangtop Mountain, met quirky characters, went into another dimension and had all manner of adventure. I decided my character was very serious-business and focused, so I was polite but distant with the characters I met as well as with Silili, and as respectful as possible. I was having fun exploring and poking around observatories and tombs, and a few times ended up getting distracted from my actual mission and thinking “so why am I going to this swamp again?” I had a sense that the game was funnelling me towards where it wanted me to go, but at this point I was enjoying the setting and characters enough that I didn’t really mind.

Pros: The characters, the imaginative setting, and the game art. The sketches brought the island and its strange creatures to life for me, and I enjoyed the points at which the colours changed, giving a different feel to the places I was exploring. Similarly, the times when a ghostly character faded out of view helped build atmosphere. Different playthroughs had very different feels and there was a different perspective on the island communities.

Medium: The writing is a little hit and miss: evocative descriptions and sometimes wry asides, but sometimes not so neat, and with occasional typos or grammar errors. I liked having an inventory and bestiary, but I was only able to use items a couple of times and didn’t have so many that I felt I really needed to keep track of them. Still, your mileage may vary.

Cons: I didn’t have much of a sense of consequence in the story (aside from when I got my only Horse friend killed, I suppose…). There wasn’t a great feel of urgency, and there were points where I simply let the game pull me along rather than feeling proactive. The ending was anticlimactic – intentionally so from the author’s postscript note – which made me wonder whether a longer game had been planned, or perhaps a sequel.

Overall: An engaging and intriguing setting and characters, and a competently put together game that could use a stronger, more urgent plot. Its flaws are interesting ones and I’m looking forward to playing more by this author, especially if they continue their atmospheric use of art in their games.

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