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Esoterica minus the good

  • calunio
  • 06/30/2012 02:14 AM
As one of the judges from the 2011 RMN Summer Games, I got to play an interesting title called Esoterica: The Dreamlike, by sbester. Despite some clear technical problems, it's an interesting game with a clever concept regarding dreams, surrealism and alternate realities. You can read my thoughts on it here.

Surreality: Fabrication of Time is what sbester calls a "spiritual successor to Esoterica", and by that he means the games follow the same line, same concept, same style, but there's no world or plot connection between them. So I was obviously interested.

Despite being categorized as an adventure game on the gameprofile, this is a visual novel. There is no gameplay other than walking around and talking to people, and it's strictly linear. There are no choices to be made, no dialog branches, no kinds of action. I'm not sure how I feel about that. It made the game shorter, simpler, and more likely to be played in one sit. But I think I missed the engagement of gaming... Esoterica had a strange and criticized (yet fun IMO) shooting game, but it had a welcome effect on the game's pacing. Surreality ends before giving you a chance to get involved.

One thing that Surreality and Esoterica have in common is technically bad presentation. The graphics are messy, the sound effect is a bit crazy (stepping sound used for a door knock, lightning sound used for bullets), and the soundtrack doesn't make any sense. I have to say, the bizarre soundtrack may have actually added some... well, "bizarreness" effect to the game, which one can say is a good thing. Bad graphics and mapping are worth mentioning, but not really a problem.

What's cool about this game's presentation is, despite sbester's lack of skills in this area, he used some clever tricks to increase the "surrealism effect" within the game. One of them was changing graphical styles every time the protagonist wakes up in an alternate reality/dream. The game tries to convey the feeling of "I'm in a familiar place, but it feels unfamiliar" through changing tileset/charset styles yet maintaining map designs. I liked that, it works. There's also a particular instance when a character in the game "tlaks lkie thsi", and the letter mess was used to represent the character talking with a strange voice. Nice again.

Overall, I can say the game's ambiance does feel surreal, and for this game, that's what matters.

Finally, the plot. In Surreality, you play as Corbin, a guy who wakes up many times from dreams, not knowing what is dream and what is reality, trying to figure out what happened to his girlfriend/wife Jessica. As a visual novel, all you do is talk to people, trying to gather pieces of what's going on. Unlike Esoterica, this game doesn't stimulate you to think, rather having you follow Corbin's path of cluelessness until the game end, where everything is explained clearly for you. There's some sort of actual build up, but it's too quick and too straightforward to be engaging. I have to say, I wasn't a fan of the whole plot, for the following reasons:

- Too quick;
- It never makes you wonder, you're always sure whether you're supposed to understand what's going on or not;
- Although I didn't predict it, the game ending doesn't come off as a surprise. When I finally discovered what was happening, I got a feeling of "oh... that", like when you watch the 3rd movie where the main characters find out they're dead after Sixth Sense.

Having played Esoterica, I can't help but feeling this game was a little rushed, and a lot less thought was put into it. sbester says it's based on a dream. I'm curious about this dream, and how faithful the game was to the dream. But one thing we all know about dreams is that, no matter how awesome they were in our sleep, they sound very boring when we tell someone else.

Conclusion: It's a short game, so play it and draw your own conclusions!


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Thanks, calunio! Awesome insights as usual!

You're right about it being a bit rushed (actually, it was a lot rushed), but it's just one of those things. It's a story I wanted to tell for the sake of telling, and I never intended to put a whole lot of work into graphics/mapping/etc in comparison to my other more serious projects. Just enough to make the short playthrough work well enough. I think you covered the major issues pretty well here, and I agree wholeheartedly.

Whenever I get around to doing a third surreal game, I'll make sure to add in gameplay elements as you've suggested. I tried to figure something out for this one and it just never seemed to fit.

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