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An intriguing mystery...if you survive.... (Updated for Overhaul!)

Did you ever wonder what would happen if you combined Harbinger and Demon Tower? Well, apparently Karsuman and Craze did, and this was the result; Visions and Voices, a tale of mystery, madness, and intrigue completed in a mere three weeks time. However, the creators were never happy with this earlier version and spent considerable time preparing an overhaul of many aspects of the game, which we will now examine.

The tiny little town of Montfort has a secret. Can you figure out what it is? You assume the role of a man known as the Wanderer, whom you can name and decide the statistics of, as he stumbles upon this little town and takes it upon himself to discover what has happened to the residents. Guided only by the letters of a mysterious figure calling himself “The Prophet,” you must find the secret evil corrupting the town before it is too late. And this time, you really can be too late…

Balance 3/5:
Those who played the older version likely remember the incredibly boring and drawn out combat that seemed to operate on completely arbitrary laws. Those encounters are gone now, battles are much more streamlined, enemies are much more manageable, and the effects of skills and equipment are much more clear. Once you've acquired a few extra party members, you should be able to handle any of the horrifying foes the Netherverse can throw at you, as long as you've done your exploring.

Some interesting battle mechanics are at work, such as how your main character can switch between light and dark magic by using an ability called “Reverse Polarity,” and there is a vast array of weapons and armor with widely disparate effects to be found beneath the town, as well as new skills for each character to learn.

Visions and Voices is an exploration-based game, however, and thus combat is not really the focus. Be aware that combat in this game does not yield traditional experience. Sometimes you get money or useful items, but not much. When you’ve found enough equipment and allies, there are some boss enemies you’ll eventually need to go after to acquire the treasure and items you need to finish your quest. But until then, you’re better off avoiding combat in this game where possible. Each battle is a strain on your limited resources that you must stretch as far as possible. Encounters are not random, so you can generally avoid fighting, but many of the dungeons have very narrow corridors making it very difficult to avoid battles, so you must always be prepared.

Level Design 3/5:
Being an exploration-based game, much of the focus of your quest is to look around the town, finding keys, items, and hints as to how to proceed. With each new ally you acquire, you gain a new way of interacting with the town, such as harvesting herbs or deciphering cryptic tomes. Your allies can do this by using “Feats” which are replenished each time you sleep. However, each time you sleep, the town changes in some subtle ways…and some not so subtle ways, so each trip through the little town is a little different. The dungeons are mostly uninspired mazes, but the large number of them helps to mitigate some of the monotony.

Given the “mystery” nature of the game and how closely it might otherwise resemble a point and click adventure game, I was rather disappointed to see how few objects throughout the game world could be interacted with. Then again, you can’t have everything.

Characters 4/5:
As you explore the town you will meet several survivors who each have their own side of the story to tell. Most of them are as confused as you are about what’s happening in the town, and are quite preoccupied with their own problems. If you talk to them enough, sometimes you can learn a little about them and help them sort through their troubles. Thus their stories are gradually revealed in a fairly elegant manner. Most of these characters will offer to join you eventually, although you can turn some of them down.

One interesting fact about the playable cast of Visions and Voices is that they're all adults. There are no comically underage teenage protagonists or annoying child sidekicks to be found. The youngest characters, Lyla and Ox, seem to be at least eighteen, the protagonist himself seems to be around thirty, and three of the eight playable characters are middle-aged men. It's an uncommon style that sets it a bit apart from more common party dynamics, even though it does not deviate entirely, as all three female PCs are specifically pointed out to be highly attractive. Although the characters mostly conform to basic stereotypes, the characters often have unusual characteristics, such as an uneducated farmhand who is a fan of classical literature, or a demonologist who is a master of table tennis.

Storyline 5/5:
Drawing heavily from the writings of Lovecraft, the focus of the story is in solving the mystery of what has happened to the town. Your only clues lie in finding the testimonials of a man called “The Prophet,” which will lead you to your next destination and slowly, over time, begin to reveal to you the nature of what has happened in the town. Eventually it will become clear that the town has been tainted by an unnatural presence, and the appearance of the peaceful town will slowly become more and more warped over time. When enough in-game days have passed, you’ll be thrust into the final battle against the nightmarish forces corrupting the town. If you were diligent in exploring the town in the previous days, you just might have found something that can save you. If not, well, good luck…

Overall, the arc of the story is told in a very open-ended and minimalist style, relying on context and visual clues rather than dialogue to reveal what is going on, a style not often seen in RPGs in even less frequently seen done well. The narrative also has an interesting twist in that when enough time has passed , the game’s conclusion begins, whether you are ready for it or not. This creates a unique sense of urgency once you realize what is happening, although the time limit is quite reasonable and I had no trouble completing all the necessary tasks to complete the game on my first playthrough with plenty of time to spare.

Music and Sound 4/5:
Most of the music is peaceful, quiet, and ambient, and some of the tracks are just beautiful. There are also multiple battle themes so you won’t keep hearing the same song over and over again…except in the main town area, where the music never changes. Rain and wind sound effects are also used to great effect to set the various days apart, as well as the weather and its accompanying sound effects becoming more and more ominous as the final day approaches.

Overal 4/5
Although undeniably it suffered from some problems, particularly with battles, in the older version, with its latest overhaul the game has become a much more enjoyable experience. Visions and Voices is a solid exploration game which, given its source material, is surprisingly light on horror elements. Given the extremely short timeframe in which this game was constructed from start to finish, there is quite a bit to appreciate here. If you like exploration, you might like this game. The exploraphobic should best keep their distance.

Posts

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Wow, this was a surprise!

It is worth noting that you can run from battle, it just fails a lot. Alphonse has a skill with a 100% run success rate, however.

I am happy someone seems to have enjoyed the story. Others have commented on its disjointed nature, which I am generally willing to agree with. But hey, to each his own.
Craze
why would i heal when i could equip a morningstar
15240
Woah. Thanks for updating this; it's quite appreciated. I'm glad that you enjoyed the game's reworked battles - and I'm sure you also liked the new final Testimonies. =D
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