Originally conceived as a tourist promotion for the town of Eger, Hungary, Yoomurjak’s Ring isn’t widely known even in adventure gaming circles, largely because it’s a foreign-language FMV adventure that hasn’t been fully localized for international release. But while most games confronted with such obstacles disappear from English-speaking markets forever, independent developer Private Moon Studios (better known for its ongoing AGON series) decided to push ahead with a subtitled download-only version, and adventure fans can be happy they did. It is a bit rough around the edges at times, but it’s a rare FMV adventure in an age when they’re rarely made anymore, and one of the more successful ones at that.
At the start of Yoomurjak’s Ring, journalist Jonathan Hunt is aboard a train, having left a failed relationship in New York to visit the birthplace of his mother in Hungary. Motivated to make the trip by her recent death, Jonathan plans to visit Eger, the city chronicled in his favourite book “The Stars of Eger”, and he brings along his great-grandfather Samuel’s copy to keep him company. Inside this aged book, however, is a pair of mysterious letters between Samuel and a Hungarian researcher named Pál Ábray, dated 1898. In this correspondence, Ábray claims he has discovered how to travel through time. These letters intrigue Jonathan, and though skeptical, he begins to wonder if time travel really exists. Could it have been discovered almost a century ago by a little known – some say mad – researcher in Hungary? And why were these letters put into this book? Could “The Stars of Eger” have something to do with the mystery of the letters?
Players will want to read the selected excerpts from “The Stars of Eger” and the accompanying letters, which can be found in the inventory right from the outset, but be aware that reading the book passages will seem a little surreal, as the prose seems to jump from topic to topic, making it hard to follow the thrust of the story at times. This is further complicated by the fact that it was obviously written in Hungarian and translated into English, leaving words you won’t understand (“janissar agha”, anyone?) and a number of foreign names that will be hard to remember for English speakers. However, the initial confusion is not insurmountable. The book, as well as most of the text you will read throughout the game, does fall prey to a few errors and oddities, but on the whole the translation is quite well done, which is crucial since that’s the only way to follow the story.
After arriving at his hotel in Eger, Jonathan decides to start looking into the letters, and as luck would have it, he soon meets Juli at the tourist information office. Juli is a local guide and clearly a possible love interest, and while getting a map of the town, Jonathan mentions what he is looking for. Though Juli is unfamiliar with the name, an older man browsing brochures in the office says he knows of Pál Ábray. This gentleman turns out to be the grandson of Ábray’s assistant – an assistant that happened to mysteriously disappear when Ábray started running his time travel experiments. He has been trying to uncover the truth ever since, believing Ábray did invent time travel, and that his grandfather travelled through time to gather historical information for “The Stars of Eger”. In fact, he believes the fictional hero of the story, Yoomurjak, was actually based on his grandfather’s time-travelling exploits.
Thinking these new letters provide the much-needed missing link, he invites Jonathan to aid him in his quest, but before they can join forces, the old man dies of a heart attack, leaving Jonathan to pick up the pieces and unravel the mystery alone. Unfortunately for Jonathan, there are more obstacles to contend with than he realized, as he’s soon threatened by a shadowy organization that doesn’t want him looking into Pál Ábray’s invention. This premise hooked me right away. Obviously much more than a tourism vehicle, I wanted to find out more, and I think most players will feel the same way. There are hints of danger and intrigue in his adventure, but there are cultural and personal elements as well, as Jonathan uncovers a lot of Eger’s history in his search, and even falls in love along the way. Too many adventures these days have thin, clichéd storylines, but Yoomurjak’s Ring offers a complex story, including over a dozen live-action characters to interact with and an entire town to explore.
Thankfully, Jonathan has Juli on his side, and her knowledge of Eger and its people proves invaluable to him as he begins following the old man’s clues. Juli acts as a sort of Eger encyclopedia for Jonathan, pointing him in the right direction and often providing him with information about a location or person, and he returns to her often to get more details. But there are many others for Jonathan to meet in his travels, from Laci-Laszlo Czifra, the Eger historian and Turkish bath lover who helps Jonathan find and interpret a number of important clues, to Klara Bakonyi, a literary professor who helps Jonathan with riddles, and Auntie Iza, the matronly keeper of the Gárdonyi Museum, where a number of puzzles and clues are found. As all dialogue happens in its native Hungarian, that means you will be reading a lot of subtitles to keep up with the conversation and glean the important bits. Luckily, the game comes with a built-in notebook, and every conversation is transcribed there as soon as it happens, so you can refer back to clarify any details later.
This shouldn’t be necessary too often, however. Despite the fact that the speech is in a different language, there is a very natural feel to the characters’ communication. Unlike the many stilted acting performances that helped give FMV a bad name in years past, all the actors here have an easy on-camera presence, and conversations have a fluid pace and flow to them. The acting throughout the game is very believable, and the cinematic style often shows Jonathan interacting with others directly, rather than merely observing them through his eyes, giving players a much stronger association with him as the playable protagonist. It’s a pleasure to guide Jonathan, who is an affable fellow that seems to get along with everyone, and his easy-going but persistent attitude gets him through a lot of tight spots.
This identification with Jonathan is important in the playable sections, as Yoomurjak’s Ring combines its many FMV scenes with a first-person navigation format. Moving node to node, exploring Eger is done by holding the left mouse button and panning the camera in any direction, then clicking an exit cursor in the direction you wish to go. While exploring is an important part of any adventure game, there is a huge amount of territory to cover in Yoomurjak’s Ring. The game has a built-in map, however, which is faster to use than simply walking around. Having said this, it certainly doesn’t hurt to thoroughly explore before becoming too dependent on the map, as I found out to my detriment. Not all the places you need to go will show up on your map just by interacting with the various characters, as a few must be discovered personally before they will be added.Continued on the next page...