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Worst two hours I've ever spent in a single room.

Title: Forlorn Manor
Program: RPGMaker XP
Creator: Anaryu
Sample Time: 2.5 hours


This isn't going to be a typical review. I'm not going to go through all the Eye Candy/Ear Candy stuff this time, because the simple fact is that you should not download this game. Whatever atmosphere, story, or puzzles this game has is completely overshadowed by some hideous design choices and a disastrous control scheme. So instead of breaking the game down into its component parts, I'm just going to tell you why I quit playing and then go into detail about what what wrong.


Why I Quit

The first puzzle in the game is not only unsolvable, it's unplayable. I don't mean in the sense that the game is so bad that I didn't want to play it. And I don't mean in the sense that I had a hard time figuring out how to play it. I mean the game actively resisted any attempts I made to play it. The intro is short, maybe two minutes long. I spent a few minutes after that just familiarizing myself with the controls (which I thought were lousy, but I was willing to oblige). I lit a candle, I switched characters, I found a switch. Then I got to the first puzzle.

I spent, no fooling, two hours trying to solve this damn puzzle. At the end of that two hours I was no closer to solving it than I was when I started. I threw my hands up in despair, and quit the game. So this isn't a review of Forlorn Manor so much as a review of the one room I actually spent time in.


What Went Wrong?

I don't think Forlorn Manor is a bad game. I don't even think it's comprised of bad ideas. I do think it is comprised of jumbled ideas, though. As in, the designer had a list of things the game was supposed to do, but couldn't be made to work together. Or could be made to work together, but only when held together by duct tape and wishful thinking.

And of course, I don't know if anything in that previous statement is true, since I didn't make it past the first puzzle in the game. So let's talk about that puzzle.

This puzzle.

The goal of the room, in theory, is simple: you want to reach the mirror in the bottom-right corner of the room. At least, I think that's what you want to reach. I'm not entirely certain. But it's the only spot in the room I wasn't able to get to, so let's call it an educated guess. You'll notice that there are a bunch of crates in the way. Standard RPG puzzle: carve yourself a path by pushing the crates out of the way, and you're golden.

The trick is, Forlorn Manor isn't an RPG. It looks like an RPG, it's made with an RPG engine, but really it's a point-and-click adventure game. That's why, instead of a context sensitive "examine/use/talk/open" button, you have a series of verb icons at the top of the screen: use, take, push, pull, something, something, blank, and talk. So to "verb" an object in the game world you don't walk up to it and press your button; you walk up to it, stop, then click your verb, then click the object. Sometimes you have to be standing next to the object, sometimes you don't. The game isn't consistent about this, and doesn't give clear feedback about what's going to happen and why.

Attempting to make an adventure game with RPGMaker is a noble pursuit, and one I wholeheartedly endorse. However, one must be mindful of the weaknesses of the engine. In an adventure game, say, oh, Monkey Island, it's easy to tell what's important and what's decoration. You walk onto a new screen and spend a moment mousing over everything, and you get helpful labels telling you what everything is. If the footstool is going to be an important game element, the artists know a bunch of neat tricks to make it stand out.

An RPG is built with tiles, though. Every tile is meant to be used multiple times, mostly as decoration. Nothing stands out. Everything looks like background scenery. RPG designers know to draw your attention to certain kinds of objects (treasure boxes, save points, switches, jars) and use them repeatedly as interactive elements. RPGs simply aren't built for footstools to be an important game element.

So that's the first problem with this puzzle room: how do you know what's important, and what isn't? Well, you can mouse over every tile and, if you're lucky, get a magnifying glass icon to pop up. But unlike Monkey Island where you enter a room, immediately identify all ten or twelve objects in it, and zip your mouse around -- bam, bam, bam -- in Forlorn Manor you have to systematically wipe your mouse across every tile. Because there's no telling if this box is decoration, or if that bookshelf is interesting. Indeed, I came into this room with no idea what my goal was. The game told me how to push and pull boxes, so I knew I'd be doing that, but any object in that room could go either way. I guessed the mirror was my goal, because it's opposite the stairs. But I never really knew for sure, and the game didn't give me a magnifying glass icon.

So, about the actual puzzle, then. There are a couple different ways to move blocks in RPGs. The most basic way is to simply walk into it; the block moves forward. If the designer is really fancy you can pull it backwards too. Maybe you can pick it up and move it. This is the basic range of actions between "hero" and "block" in an RPG world.

But, again, Forlorn Manor isn't an RPG. Instead of interacting with the block, you have to interact with your menu and hope the block reacts the way you want it to. The red arrow is "push" and the blue arrow is "pull". In theory, "push" moves a block away from you, while "pull" moves a block towards you and makes you take a step back.

Bear with me here. My review notes are literally just a page of how this puzzle simply fails in every possible way.

I'll start with the tiles. Even though Forlorn Manor isn't an RPG, it's still built with RPG tiles. Your hero moves in one-tile increments, which means he moves boxes in one-tile increments too. However, the boxes are two tiles tall, which means anything behind a box is completely obscured. This means you'll attempt to move a box onto what you think is an empty space, but it won't move there because it's not an empty space, but you didn't know that because you couldn't see through the top of the box. It also means if you have two boxes sitting right next to each other on the same vertical line and you want to move the top one you're liable to accidentially click the bottom one instead, since the bottom one takes up more space and is obscuring the box you want to move.

Let me get that screenshot again...

Here it is.

Let's talk about the clutter in this room, which is an extension of the decoration vs. important objects point I outlined above.

You can see the top of my hero's head, just to the right of the red arrow. He's standing behind a dresser with boxes all around him. The boxes to his head's immediate right aren't part of the puzzle; they're just decoration. I don't know how the box in front of the dresser is sitting there; it looks like the two objects are occupying the same physical space. The dresser is completely obscured by boxes when you enter the room. It also looks like I can push the box I'm facing to the left, to clear a path for myself. I can't; that tile just to the right of the stairs isn't walkable. The tiles just below the china cabinet are walkable, and you can push boxes down there. The tile immediately above the china cabinet, though, isn't walkable either. You can stand on the tile just below the stairs, but you can't step down from there even though it looks like you should be able to.

If you had trouble parsing all of that, you're halfway to understanding how I spent two hours in this room and made no progress.

The real problem is, though, that the "push" and "pull" mechanics are simply broken. They're more complicated than "push or pull the box you're facing". You don't have to be facing or, indeed, even touching a box to move it. I think any box within two tiles of you is fair game. Maybe it's only one tile. Maybe it changes depending on where you are and what direction you're facing. I don't really know.

Moving boxes around means walking into position, clicking your desired arrow, then clicking your desired box... then watching to see if the box is going to do what you want it to do. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it does something completely random. If you're facing left, with a box immediately behind you, clicking that box pushes it right. I guess the hero is pushing it with his butt, or something. If you're standing next to a box and facing down, and try to pull it (which should be physically impossible) both you and the box move upward. These magical movements have no internal logic to them, and because of all the tiles that look walkable but aren't, sometimes you'll move and the box won't. Or the box will move but you won't. Or some other combination of completely random movements occurs. There's never any way to tell except to try it.

"Push" and "pull" aren't even equal-but-opposite actions. If you pull a box into a space there's no guarantee you can undo the move by pushing the same box, and vice-versa. More than once I got a couple boxes down into the lower-left corner, only to find that was an unsolvable state. So I tried moving the boxes back out, only they wouldn't move. Time to reset the puzzle. Again.

Your hero's facing plays a big role in all this. Where a box goes is influenced (kind of) by the direction you're looking in. But, of course, there's no way to look in a specific direction without also walking in that direction. On many occassions I found myself staring down the perfect move, if only my guy could stand on that tile and face that direction. Alas, it was impossible. The action simply isn't available. Of course, chances it would have actually worked are slim, anyway...

The game's page has a link to a walkthrough, so after about ninety minutes of shooting in the dark I decided to look it up. Here's what it says about the box puzzle:

Switch to kid #2. Have him go down to the basement and push and pull the crates out of the way to get to the small chest in the corner.

Well, okay, I didn't see a small chest in the corner. I see a box in front of a mirror, so I guess that's what it's talking about, but I had already been working towards that anyway. So I complained a little about the puzzle on IRC, plugged away at it for a little longer, then gave up. If the walkthrough had had step-by-step instructions on which boxes to move, and where, and in what order... well, who knows. Maybe this could have been a standard review.


As Seen From Space

So that was my life for two hours. At first I tried to solve the box puzzle intuitively, by looking where the boxes were and where they could move to. I've solved a lot of box puzzles in my day, I know what the score is. When that didn't work I tried solving it randomly, just moving boxes around and hoping I got lucky. (I've solved a lot of block puzzles that way too, heh.) When that didn't work I checked the walkthrough, which was laughably unhelpful. And then I gave up.

What happened is pretty clear: the game's author tried to be clever and increase the number of ways the hero can move boxes. Interesting idea on paper, but it simply doesn't work. Everything about these boxes is broken, and the complexity translates into mere randomness.

Is there more to Forlorn Manor than this one puzzle? I don't know. You won't either.

I'm not giving this game a score. Even a 0.5/5 would mean that the game was just really, really bad. In its current state, I can't even judge Forlorn Manor as a game. It's a short cutscene followed by an unsolvable puzzle built on impenetrable logic solved through a faulty control scheme. Avoid.


"First, to switch characters, press the (L) key. (By default this is the letter Q key.)" - Information, Forlorn Manor


Pages: 1
Is this really 0/5??
I actually did complete that box-pushing puzzle, but damn did it take a while. I got stuck shortly after trying to figure out what to do. It's too bad, cause I liked the idea of the project, but my brain just ran out of juice. I think 0 stars is super harsh, but I guess it's good for venting frustration.
Ironically someone else had just talked to me about this game last week and several improvements they had suggested:

1. Better tutorials (use images, make it shorter, mouse-over description of skills)
2. Item pop-up like for the weapons
3. Make possible items more clear (particle engine)
4. Fix the box puzzle.
5. Smooth out some controls issues (more mouse interaction like right-click to move, E to work as C/Enter key, etc)
(I've got about a half-page more from over the years)

Thanks to Drea I'm actually 2/3 done rewriting all the dialog in a better message system (and with actual terrible writing instead of what was in this one) and got some other features added (item pop-up and control changes).

This would have been the first time I've ever touched a project after it's completed, but this one was always odd in that some people either hated it beyond measure or loved it (Xchain wrote that FAQ and I ran across it by accident.)

What could possibly have spurred anyone to play this relic at this stage I'm not sure; you think it's worth finishing the revision?
WIP assigned it to me. And what WIP says, I does.
Also yes, if only a select few like something it it's usually a sign of a fault in the design since it's inaccessible to the general player-base for good reasons.

There are a lot of messy design choices in this game, there's a lot of room for improvement, I'm sorry that you spent 2 hours trying to solve that first puzzle, I went overboard ensuring each puzzle was insanely hard or frustrating instead of challenging.
*click to edit*
This is hilarious :D
Probably not for Brickroad; we've all played frustrating games before. At least he had a way to express how much it sucked. :)
The way you describe your frustration with the puzzles reminds me of the abysmal sliding puzzle in Silent Hill 5. I spent over a hour on it and got it out of sheer trial-and-error. Then I went online to read about how people had solved it in 5 minutes. It was upsetting to say the least.

I actually managed to complete this game which is apparently quite an accomplishment (without the FAQ mind you). It definitely has some really great ideas later on. I especially enjoyed the boss battles which involved puzzles to solve. Unfortunately, I doubt many people will ever see the later stages of the game since the beginning is so difficult.
Obtuse actually is probably a better word to describe it.
Max McGee
with sorrow down past the fence
This is the worst two hours I ever spent reading one review.

I feel like you could have said everything you said here in 1/1000 as many words.
Dude, Max, do you live for bashing Brickroad's reviews?

Seriously, I find it amazing that you can criticize the length of this review (which is actually quite humorous) when you were totally incapable of finishing a single damn one within the span of several months?
I'm not comfortable with any idea that can't be expressed in the form of men's jewelry
Took you two hours to read that, huh...
Actually while it was quite long it gave a solid insight into each frustration he had, it was like a full review of a single terrible puzzle. Perhaps it'll be a new fad for reviews?
I got stuck on plenty of games at the first puzzle but I didn't consider reviewing them as you can't really say anything. This review just seems like what a beta tester would report back to the designer hence the "no score", probably.
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