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A Change of Seasons

(NOTE: As this game is one that must be experienced first-hand, I am not including any spoilers in this review.)

Can a video game be considered art, or even fine literature?

"No," some would say. "The video game is an artifact of popular culture. It is no more worthy of the term art than, say, a line of children's toys or dolls. To describe a game as art would be to debase the term."

"Yes," the counter-argument runs. "Art is art, regardless of the medium. Video games provide a unique opportunity for an interactive form of art, in which graphics and music are joined to a player's experience of the game itself. They're a different sort of art from, say, Raphael's Madonna and Child, but at least some of them are worthy of the label."

Sunset over Imdahl, in this reviewer's opinion, could easily count as Exhibit A for those - like me - who subscribe to the second position.

Sunset over Imdahl plays with traditional RPG motifs - a war between fictitious nations, time travel, puzzles, mini-games - but, at heart, it is both a complex story and a remarkably simple one. Complex because the player travels back and forth in time, in a desperate attempt to prevent a tragedy. Simple because, in the end, it all makes sense, with no need for elaborate explanations or fan theories in order to "get it".

To be more specific:

Artwork: (5 out of 5)
Instead of using traditional tiles, Sunset over Imdahl uses hand-drawn backgrounds and objects. The result is a work that is both appealing and quaint, in an old-fashioned, hand-drawn animation sort of style. The artwork in this game is of a very high standard, and is our first clue that this is not your run-of-the-mill RPG.

Gameplay: (4 out of 5)
There's nothing truly original about the gameplay - in the sense that the individual motifs used in Imdahl will certainly be familiar to any player who has even a passing acquaintance with RPGs. What makes it special is the way these elements are blended together and integrated into the main plot, so that you feel you are "playing your way through the story" rather than "finishing a quest" or "solving a puzzle". The only complaint I had was with the mechanics of one or two of the mini-games; in a game like this, button-mashing comes off as slightly jarring and breaks the tempo of what is otherwise a well-paced experience.

Story: (5 out of 5; I'd give more if that were mathematically possible.)
While the very nature of this game precludes my disclosing too much of the plot, I can still affirm that it is one of the best I have seen in a game. A town is being beseiged during a war; things are at a stalemate. A plague breaks out, leaving very few survivors - including the protagonist, a young boy named Lohn. A mysterious stranger appears, offering Lohn a chance to stop the plague - and he, out of desperation, accepts. And so it begins. As you follow Lohn through his quest, you will experience what he does - hope, despair, frustration, excitement, and resolve - and this is a testament to the author's skill at creating pictures using few words.

Music: (A perfect 5 out of 5.)
What ties the entire story together, and makes Imdahl such an unforgettable experience, is the music. Lohn never travels out of his town - rather, he travels in time, visiting his hometown during different seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. Accompanying this are the relevant movements of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. No better choice could have been made - Vivaldi's music is a perfect fit for the story of Lohn's trials, and the overall effect is something like Dream Theater's A Change of Seasons. Even if you dislike this game's gameplay mechanics, the music will still make it worthy playing.

Other noteworthy material:
- The difficulty level. Not too easy (or it'd simply be a visual novel), but scrupulously fair at the same time.
- The ending.

In summary, Sunset over Imdahl is not just a game - it is a work of literature and cinematic art, masquerading as a game. There is nothing quite like it, either commercially or in the freeware game world, and because of this, it deserves the highest praise.

Highly (and I mean highly) recommended.