Whilst the game has its share of fetch quests, they almost invariably take you to new and interesting locales, opening up more of the world as you search. Often quests will update as you go along, such as when a vital item has passed through many hands, requiring you to speak with each temporary owner about it. The majority of these puzzles are not especially hard, simply requiring diligent exploration and detailed conversation to resolve. It is probably advisable to take some notes, however, as the isles have a large populace, making it tricky to remember where everyone is. There are a couple of puzzles that break the fourth wall, whilst simultaneously maintaining the illusion of the game screen being a portal to another world. Some simple tinkering with Underhome’s systems is also required.
One major recurring puzzle involves using an alchemical device to brew potions. Sometimes this is done at the request of others and sometimes these potions grant you the necessary skill, such as the agility to cross a precarious bridge, to reach less accessible areas. Once you have found a particular alchemical ingredient, the game acts as if you have an infinite supply, allowing you to experiment to your heart’s content. For one optional puzzle, no recipe is available, so experimentation is necessary to complete this side quest. Random combinations can produce such surreal results as the smell of orf or Nothing, the latter being an object you can then carry around with you, though I was unable to find a use for it.
Whilst such experimentation can be fun, there is a major drawback when it comes to following recipes. Activating the alchemical machine in Underhome displays the ingredients you have collected without labels, up to a total of fifteen. Once you have selected an ingredient, there is no option to change it without completing the current concoction. Unless you make manual notes of all the ingredients, this can make following recipes as much a matter of trial-and-error as the random experimentation. This is compounded by the need to refine some potions in a separate machine with another selection of up to eight other unlabelled ingredients, the wrong choice sometimes forcing you to start over. As a one-off puzzle this would have been a minor niggle, but with several uses required it becomes seriously annoying. Nor is it the only frustrating puzzle, as on two occasions you are made to repeat largely the same action many times in order to advance.
As with all of Kyratzes's games, the puzzles undoubtedly take a back seat to the story and setting. The Fortunate Isles are rich and varied, filled with a large cast. You will meet such characters as a dwarf stallholder, a mouse running an inn within an inn, and a retired octopus minding a lighthouse. All these characters have many stories to tell, with extensive dialogues covering their lives, your quest and the isles themselves. You can even have a brief conversation with the sea monster that appears on the magic instant travel map. The locations provide welcome depth to the fantasy setting, the ruined village of Olwynion a sad reflection of the decline of the Isles and the Petrified Forest a grim reminder of the reign of the Timber Tyrant. The background story of the villainous Urizen serves to drive the narrative, with messages about how to deal with such characters woven into the story in a fairly subtle manner.
The result of this rich backdrop is a world that feels like it has a history that started long before you arrived and will probably continue long after you have left. Whilst the story speaks of dire danger, the overall tone is a humorous one, evoked from the start when you find out Mysterious-Druid is a surname, and the character who summoned you is actually named “The”. The background is further expanded by a huge number of objects eliciting a detailed comment when clicked. Individual books on shelves and various items on stalls all have their own descriptions. These are almost all written with an amusing or philosophical tone, including fungi rehearsing for a performance of The Mushroom of Venice and a bucket that is empty but hopeful. Unfortunately, this wealth of detail serves to obscure inventory items, as objects you can collect are hidden among a slew of fun but irrelevant hotspots.
For those looking for an adventure with a sense of wonder, The Sea Will Claim Everything (available for download exclusively from the official website) is a must-have, clearly illustrating that the latest 3D graphics and full voice-work are not required for a compelling adventure. There are some minor flaws, but the fine art style, extensive cultural background and delightful music come together in an altogether pleasing whole. Whilst it is possible to simply plough through the storyline, the wealth of background in both dialogue and pictures make this a game that rewards players willing to sit back and take their time. As a fast reader it took me four hours to complete, though you could easily spend longer, so mileage may vary widely between players. In taking the leap to a commercial release, this game takes a world born free to new creative levels, and I hope to be able to return to the Lands of Dream again some day.
|Digital||May 23 2012||Jonas Kyratzes|