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Quiet Labyrinth

  • Kylaila
  • 06/04/2019 10:32 AM
  • 323 views
Testament: Recall
Translation by: OldPat and Testament

"Recall" is a short atmosphere-driven game by Testament made for the Labyrinth Contest 2015, which now has been re-released with a few touch-ups and an English translation additionally to the Italian version! It can be finished in an hour or longer, depending on your map drawing speed (you'll need one).

With a short, concise but effective story and an on-point soundscape, Recall is a game I can recommend despite its simplicity with only one caveat - you will need a fully accurate layout (at least for the last segment) to be able to solve the last and only puzzle, so keep this in mind starting out. Testament achieved a full and responsive first-person-style exploration system in 2k3, which is amazing in itself, and which I am hoping will find some more use in the future.


That they have! Welcome the era of dungeoncrawling!

Story-telling and Environment:

Simplistic is the key word for this game - both in good and in a bit of a bummer. The dungeon has one basic wall-type, a few decorations to progress/pose hints for the one and last puzzle, with only one decorative item: the ivy. I really would have loved more descriptions in general, but also in a not directly story-related fashion. Ivy were an attempt at this, and I assume time and resource constraint made it a staple - but finding an ivy is not only boring, our protagonist had nothing to say about them. "How do they even grow?" is not really exciting to hear. Are there any bugs/insects living in this place? Skeletons, dead bodies? Failed traps? Collapsed worker tunnels or walls? The place feels decidedly untouched and that may be part of the charm of being the first to traverse it, but it feels a bit bare because of it. It simply doesn't feel old, when it supposedly is.

You are thrown into the game with the premise of legends and stories about this tomb you are about to wander into, and the protagonist simply wants to get rich - and not just rich, he wants to have all the riches. Reason enough I suppose! And that's it, basically.
While we hear little more from our protagonist himself about this place, the labyrinth itself reveals a couple of stories and mechanisms that help the player see more to this story as you explore, even if our protagonist does not comment on it more.

What the game does instead is to present the atmosphere of the dungeon itself, hollow footstep sounds included - there is the effect of a shadow-y figure appearing at the end of corridors, there are traps everywhere that you have to dodge, and our protagonist provides flavor text as you progress the dungeon, both upon triggering traps and wandering about.

The soundscape is really effective with soft and dark sounds right from the starting menu where you select the language and start the game. The steps sound amazing, and there are even occasional sudden noises in the background such as bats which keep the tension up. The game is also responsive (which is SO important!), although it would be nice if side-steps were somehow possible. The one and only sound that breaks the immersion is the loading sound, which I believe is the standard high-pitched one of the engine. Given that you may and will need to load often if you want to avoid all traps, this breaks the immersion quite a bit. So much, in fact, that I actually associated this sound with traps in my mind when it was the loading sound, not the trap sound!

The monologue flavor text that accompanies your journey is likely "every so many steps"-based and can feel off or not, depending on when you see it. For example, it reminds you to draw a map, it comments on the atmosphere of the dungeon, or it might be your protagonist chiming in to wonder if we have seen these walls before. On the upside, this means that you always feel like you are in touch with the game and not just restricted to the very few items/places you find. On the downside, it means the game isn't always in touch with you! It means the game will tell you to draw a map while you are actually doing this right then, or tell you these walls might be familiar when you can be 100% sure that the walls you are seeing are part of a new area. As a whole I liked the addition, but very specific flavor texts can be hit or miss. Trap flavor text becomes repetitive soon, too, but is not bothersome as reacting to just having avoided stabbing is a justified reason to say something in relief even if it's similar to what you said last time.

The only major gripe I had with the writing is that the ending skips a few steps of actions before unfolding its conclusion.

(spoilers)
A sword possesses you when the sword was not mentioned, nor picked up. Sure, you had the wall-drawing before foreshadowing that a sword exists, but that's not how this works. You jumped a couple steps there! First you see the treasure, then you touch it, and THEN you get possessed. Even if it could be done over some distance, our protagonist suddenly holding the sword feels awkward and out of nowhere otherwise. When did he ever pick it up? We don't know! It really irks me because the ending was otherwise well-executed.



Well... that's the reason I took fewer screenshots than usual. Don't tab out if you are using windows 10!

Labyrinth Layout:

First off: This is not a dungeon crawler, there are no enemies which lowers the tension a bit, and the layout/ map drawing drawing style is different from Etrian Odyssey and similar in case you are familiar with those. Like me, haha.
It is more like this: Walls do not take up tile-space, and sometimes two entry-ways are right next to each other with no tile space separating them which is very awkward to navigate in-game. For one, you won't be able to see those if you peek into the hallway ahead. Secondly, because you can't see the other one ahead of you, it also means it is hard to tell which of the two you just went into or came out of. This means that until you have properly mapped out and drawn the area, it can be very confusing to navigate when this particular oddity appears - and the only area/s I found hard to traverse did this and I had to double and triple check my layout, just to be sure I noted it down correctly. I would suggest avoiding this whenever possible, even if this style theoretically allows for multiple entry-ways to be right next to each other.

You also won't ever go back to areas you explored before, as there is only one direction: onward. There are three major segments separated by doors that need special mechanisms to open, but once you opened that door, there is no need to ever go back. This is not a huge issue, but it made me wonder why I am even drawing a full map when it was fairly easy to navigate for the most part. That said, a map will provide you ease and safety, and scouting places without it made it hard to navigate until it was drawn - so the labyrinth works as intended.
I see it more as a missed chance. With map in hand, and the labyrinth relatively small, I think some back-tracking actually can be done effectively - it can be used as a way to emphasize environmental clues (saw an item that had no use before, but you realize you might have a use for it now? There you go!), maybe there was flavor text you thought you didn't need, but you do, or it can be used to show-case a change to the labyrinth. What, if, for instance, the exit door disappeared? This might be missed, but could add to the atmosphere quite a bit. The draw of the atmosphere is that you have to traverse this unsafe space, and have to orientate yourself doing so. Going back to pick up something you missed does not feel too strange. That said, it is not a requirement, more food for thought. It did mean that past environmental additions were known to be utterly useless very soon, however (not that I had my hopes up for ivy).

Again, though, draw the map 'lest you need to ask for help. And by drawing the map, I mean a perfect map, not a sloppy utilitarian one like I did!

Gameplay:

So I mentioned three main areas segmented off by big doors plus an ending one? Well! This is where puzzles come into play, except not really. There is only one puzzle in the entire game which utilizes the map layout, and everything else before that is kind of mind-numbingly simple. Too simple, almost, as everything else does get repetitive.
You just walk around, draw the map, and pick up some items to open the doors and dodge traps, basically. The End. That's it!
Except for the last door, that is, which has a nice clever puzzle. I would estimate I had a 70%+ chance to solve the riddle had I had an accurate map. That's plenty for me.

Traps pose a quick time event trigger, but once you stepped on a trap it is gone for good afterwards. This quick time event is imho well-balanced as it is easy to get hit if you are new to the mechanic, or if you get unlucky/hard-to-read instructions. A random combination of directional key instructions appear and you need to input them quickly and correctly to avoid damage, and take damage if you take too long or make a mistake. This window of time is fair, but short: so you are very likely to be taken aback and get hit if you stop paying attention for a while. The traps all use the directional keys you are using to traverse the dungeon, so you can react to them well physically speaking, and your other hand is free to draw, too! After a while you get better at them and I managed to even dodge some while still drawing the map later on (I am left-handed). That said, the fact there are so many traps means that you don't want your health to be chunked down, so you will save often and load often in case you ever receive damage. This makes them more of a calculated annoyance over time. Even though limited saves might help this they would make for unfair lose-lose scenarios, so I did not mind too much.

It does mean the dungeon isn't too interesting beyond the sound effects and little flavor bits, which makes me thankful that the game has been kept to the small package it is with just enough flavor to keep you going. It would benefit from more riddles or puzzles, though, or just a different order, as it is tagged as a puzzler and simply picking up items is not all that interesting. It is effective in making you explore the entirety of the dungeon, though this could be done via puzzles as well.
That does not mean there was no variation at all, however. Two times you simply pick items up, another time you need to hurry after activating a switch, and towards the end you have a full puzzle. The only issue is that everything beside the puzzle boiled down to walking around the labyrinth, and the only puzzle that could have changed that pattern was placed at the very end of the game, meaning it did not provide a break from or change in the system as a whole.

All in All:

Can I recommend this to people who always wanted to try dungeoncrawlers but don't like battle heavy games? Yes I can. Can I recommend it to people enjoying some decent atmosphere or a nice little story in their games? That I can, too.
However, I simply feel this game could be even better than it is, and I wish it had a bit more gameplay variation in-between. I was unsure whether I should give it 3 or 3.5 stars, but settled for 3 in the end. The technical achievement is a feat no less.

pros:
- no battles
- atmospheric
- short
- story-driven
- neat puzzle at the end

cons:
- no battles
- repetitive gameplay
- few puzzles (one)
- neat puzzle requires accurate map layout (else: stuck)

3/5 Stars

Good stuff!

Posts

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Thank you very much for your time!

I'll take all of your suggestions into consideration in the case I'll crawl again into the genre. It's good to have a different voice to hear about how I take on the task.

About the spoiler parts:
Yes, maybe more cutscene were needed. After the last door, the influence of the sword was so strong that she took over your mind and control your body. For all the labyrinth her recall urge you to reach her and free her driving you crazy step after step.
author=Testament
Thank you very much for your time!

I'll take all of your suggestions into consideration in the case I'll crawl again into the genre. It's good to have a different voice to hear about how I take on the task.

About the spoiler parts:
Yes, maybe more cutscene were needed. After the last door, the influence of the sword was so strong that she took over your mind and control your body. For all the labyrinth her recall urge you to reach her and free her driving you crazy step after step.

The review finally made it on-site! Glad you appreciate it. It's a neat game : ) (I ADORE some dungeon crawling, as you may have noticed, I think that's the first one I played that had no battles whatsoever, though)

I see. I was wondering if it was something like that, but in which case - make it so you at least have some description of picking up the sword, or noticing you are holding the sword. Say, there was this moment where the protagonist was really scared - just add a "When did I - why am I holding a sword?" or something like that. And you are done! We need to know that he picked up something somehow, else the picture with him holding it feels out of place imho.

I hope you get what I mean! And... well, I will say I didn't FEEL I was being driven crazy in the labyrinth. Claustrophobic, maybe. Some flavor text could have been added for that (like the random step kind, maybe different ones after a certain time or door? But that's not a big deal : ) I mean, even if I took it for the sword having a range effect when I am fairly close, after the last door, that'd work, too, right?
Right. And yes, some more phrases would have helped...
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