J’dal

It’s pretty common, in heroic fantasy, to drop into a style of writing in which nobody behaves like actual human beings rather than third-hand genre conventions. J’dal does an awesome job of avoiding that. Its lead feels like a grouchy teenager, not an RPG cliche of one. I was won over at about this point:

I make a stupid sandwich with a whole apple between two slices of bread, and start eating.

Stupid sandwich! This is the perfect teenage petulant-irony response to a shitty situation that you’re powerless to fix.

It depicts inter-group tensions in a generally authentic-feeling manner, and at its heart there is this adoptive father-daugher relationship that’s complex and awkward and not all hugs and rainbows, but also involves genuine warmth on both sides. J’dal’s father sort of understands the racism she faces, but also sort of doesn’t get it; he’s often painfully oblivious in hurtful ways, he doesn’t really appreciate the sexism side of her isolation, and there’s some ambiguity about the extent to which he’s exploiting her for her race-dependent infravision.  But they do actually care about each other, although they’re both inarticulate about it. But this doesn’t actually make everything all right. If every relationship in heroic fantasy was this well-observed, I’d hold the genre in no small esteem.

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Valkyrie

Thieves often get the short end of the stick when it comes to characterization in role-playing games. Paladins get to cut through hoards of orcs, while mages blast lightning bolts from their fingers. But thieves end up as skulking and sketchy, or, even worse, as nothing more than portable trap detectors. Being a thief isn’t just about picking pockets and finding trip wires. It’s an attitude, a way of life, and Valkyrie captures it delightfully. From one of the thief endings:

“It took three hours and a ‘borrowed’ van but I managed to steal every last coin in the room without anyone noticing … I returned home and began planning a new life with my acquired fortune happily thinking that I now didn’t have to rent a van to move.”

I’ve had to move often in recent years, each time shelling out several hundred dollars in U-Haul fees. You think a mistress thief is worried about that? Nah.  She’s got it covered.

Aside

howling dogs

There is a sentence in this I have not been able to stop thinking about: something like “I am cut off from the passion of religious women.”

This sentence fascinates me and makes me sad. I thought of three different meanings for it:

— “Other religious women exist, but I am blocked (by society, by men, by having mystical/feminist experiences labeled heretical) from communicating with them or drawing on their strength.”

— “I am not, or am no longer, religious, and therefore I cannot enter into the passion of these women, although there is something about their experience that I wish I could share.” This meaning had the most personal resonance.

— “Religious belief — even religious delusion — would provide a frame that made sense of my sufferings, but as it is I am being persecuted without even having the benefit of a cause.”

All of those interpretations seemed meaningful and powerful to me.

Escape from Summerland

Holy crap, the central concept of this game is a lot of work! You can play as three different characters, with different views of the world, and the player’s allowed to swap from one to another at any time. And that’s not easy to do at all. I’m really impressed that it’s something pulled off by new authors (unless these people are using a pseudonym… but even then, I’m kind of impressed). Kudos to the authors for putting in the work to make this and to get it all the way to a finished state — and for updating it during the comp. That is some nontrivial effort. I hope they stick around.

I also like selkies, and the setting of a somewhat shabby amusement park is cool.

Though we only got a brief glimpse of the sweet shop, I had the impression that it probably sold skulls made of sugar and other creepy candy-stuffs. I am in favor of this as well.

Signos

I really liked the author’s attention to sound and image in this game. The music associated with the chapel was very pleasant, and after I triggered it, I just sat there for quite a while listening to it before moving on. It’s obvious that a lot of work went into the music and images, and into customizing the layout of pages.

Fish Bowl

This game hooked me right away. The description of the dead cat was disgusting, but in a good way. Throughout, there was always something a bit disturbing to wonder about.

I also really liked the sequence with the floating message in the bottle, where I was pretty sure that something very bad was going on, but nonetheless I kept trying to get the bottle anyway. This reminded me of Shade and some other scenes that I really liked, and I think it’s a great fit for horror.

Though I have seen a few things in other reviews that were critical, they were all about aspects of the game that I think could pretty easily be tidied up. That would be worthwhile, because this is a fun little short-horror piece.

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