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Attachment and loss

(No SPOILERS in this review, unless you want to count the title as a very oblique one.)

Colour me interested, because this game hooked me from the title screen itself. Besides the lovingly crafted, sepia-like backgrounds, who could resist a game that shares a name with Love and War: Act I's spunky heroine? But even if we leave aside these idiosyncratic reasons, there is much to admire in Lavender.

Those of you who have read my Ten Tales review know that I am no fan of allegedly clever "deconstructions" of classic fairy tales, because such deconstructions often read like a Chick tract for the author's political or social beliefs. Viewed against this background, Lavender is a very pleasant surprise indeed. While it is a contemporary and psychologically intriguing take on the tale of Rapunzel, it works extremely well because it focuses on letting the player slowly understand what is going on, rather than trying to beat him over the head with a message. It is one of those games (like Wither) where unlocking parts of the story is the actual main puzzle to be solved. And with two different endings that explore different facets of this story, this game manages to score over Wither in terms of the strength of its finale.

Story: (5 out of 5)
While the story is explicitly stated to be based on Rapunzel - that's not a spoiler, it's right on the game page - it actually takes some time for the player to figure out how Lavender is a re-imagining of the original tale. The game's creator shows a fine understanding of the principle of "show, don't tell"; information is provided, either as dialogue or flavour text, and the player is left to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Very cleverly and neatly done, indeed. Added bonus for the use of the paintings as a narrative device-by-allusion.

Artwork: (5+ out of 5)
Despite its excellent storytelling, the artwork is where this game truly shines. If I could award anything more than a 5 for the art, I'd gladly do so. Instead of using horror or fantasy graphics to create a traditionally "spooky" atmosphere, Lavender achieves its elegant, yet ominous look through subtle colour tones and a simple, faux-8-bit style. Adding to this are several lovingly drawn custom graphics, which come at important points in the story and undoubtedly enhance the player's experience. Outstanding.

Music: (5 out of 5)
The music consists of slow piano tunes, which do an excellent job of capturing both the game's aesthetics and its underlying sense of well-concealed menace. The tune that plays during puzzle-solving deserves special mention.

Gameplay: (3.5 out of 5)
If Lavender has a weak spot, this is it. Progressing from one room to another (in a linear fashion, much like a visual novel) requires that the player solve a variety of puzzles. These range from easy (the board game with the rings) to infuriating (the very first puzzle - and that is not a wise decision, because annoying the player right at the outset is not a good way to draw him into the story). Perhaps it's because I'm awful at puzzles, but I literally solved two of them (the first one, and the "balances" one) by sheer dumb luck. That I kept at it is a testimony to how well the story, artwork and music drew me back. While I can understand the need to implement puzzles for interactivity (otherwise, Lavender would just be a short kinetic novel), using a puzzle style similar to games such as Ten Tales or The Witch's House might have achieved the same effect without excessively raising the frustration factor.

Final score: (5 out of 5)
I wanted to give this a 4.5 for the gameplay shortcomings, but I couldn't do it. Lavender is simply too good in terms of its other parameters for me to penalize it in this way. Play it; even if the puzzles have you scratching your head (or banging it on your desk at times), the outcome is well worth it.

Highly recommended.