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Thursday, November 22, 2012

IF Comp 2012 Review - Valkyrie

Hmm, a curious start to the competition. Now granted, I've been out of the loop for roughly two years now, but this I think this is the first entry in a comp that I've had to play online... (maybe I'm wrong about that... I'm trying to remember) More than that this game is not alone. There are seven games in the same category, easily besting Tads which only has one. (Sad face emoticon) Oh well. I really have no expectations about this one. Let's see what happens. Full review after the jump! 

Non spoilery Final Verdict: Only comprehensible if you follow a very specific tree line. Otherwise it plays like a game written in the style of E.E. Cummings with a 12 year old boy's imagination. 

Well, that was a curious start to the competition. Basically a branching choose your own adventure story, but as seemingly written by different people and veering wildly from topic to topic. It's difficult for me to explain what the experience is like, so allow me to guide you through my experience. 

The game begins by describing a series of seemingly unrelated funerals in which the same 17 year old girl attends with tears streaming down her face. So far so intriguing. Despite the use of the word "approx" for "approximately" I'm definitely down. I'm definitely curious. So what are my options? "Choose what you have trained in: Mistress Thief, Wizardess, Swordswomen". 

Uh... what? 

So I decide to roll along with Mistress Thief, because I like the word "mistress" and what it connotes. I'm immediately given a series of predicate-only sentences which seem to summarize a life "getting kicked out of homes" and "kept getting caught stealing from everywhere". Then I'm given only one option which is to talk to Freya. Who's Freya? Good question. We're never told. She just gives us a task to retrieve a stolen necklace from Loki (what?????) and we're given another set of non sequitur options until we (or at least I) stumbled into retrieving a stolen necklace from some guy (don't know who he is either or why he stole the necklace or what the significance of the necklace is ) and that's the end of the game. Very strange.

I should also point out that all of these passages veer from being written in the first and the third person, while the narrative branch options are always written in the second person. Moreover the verb tense often changes mid paragraph and at times in mid sentence. This is particularly bewildering when you consider the options presented by other play throughs. 

So I decide to replay from the beginning and this time I choose Swordswomen and am given a much more evocatively written passage about waking up near a fire place. Now we're cooking! I can't wait to see where this is going. I choose to go back to sleep to see what's going on in my troubled dreams and am immediately at an end game screen being told that I now am burdened with the ability to see people's death auras, I'm assuming similar to the gift bestowed to Clyde Bruckman, the narrative shifting abruptly from first to second person. I'm getting whiplash by the transitions. 

I return and follow the middle bath of the wizardess and follow a trail that is MUCH better written and MUCH more easy to follow. Perhaps if this had been the first path I had followed I would be much more impressed with this game, but as it is, I found Valkyrie to be frankly incomprehensible. At times I wasn't sure if that's what the author was going for, in a sort of dream lyric poetry kind of way, but with the extreme variations of writing quality I'm guessing that there was no design or rhyme or reason. If I had to wager, this game was written by several different people with markedly different writing skills. I'm not sure how I feel about the choose your own adventure style being featured so prominently here, and I recognize the exponential difficulty in writing these kind of stories, because with each twist in the path, the work of the writer is compounded by a factor of two. 

But I'm not convinced this leads to good narrative, and sadly Valkyrie does little to alter my opinion regarding this medium. Of course I say this now. Next game I'll be complaining about how annoying it is to argue with the text parser. Just watch. 


  1. So if I read the blurb on the IFComp site right, this was written by three separate people (ESL students).

    1. That solution definitely makes sense. And I'm sure this was an entertaining exercise for the three of them. Sadly not so entertaining for the reader.