Gothic Fiction: Dark Saga review
The Good:

Large number of scenes to explore; highly detailed and beautiful hand-drawn artwork; some genuinely creepy moments.

The Bad:

FMV detracts from the experience; very easy puzzles; repetitive music that doesn’t match the mood of the game; fair amount of backtracking.

Our Verdict:

There are numerous beautiful scenes to look at and explore, but Gothic Fiction is overrun by easy puzzles and visual stimuli that never let the game really take root.

Lightning crashes and rain pours down in a constant stream. You’re visiting a secluded school to check out its suitability for your daughter, but it looks eerily abandoned... until a witch abducts your child and crazy tree roots burst through rock and stone blocking your path. Yes, it's just another day in the haunted casual game neighborhood in ERS Studios’ lite adventure Gothic Fiction: Dark Saga. Here you’ll encounter the developer's signature lush hand-drawn artwork along with a ton of exploration. As the title hints, there’s an involved backstory to unravel as you try to save your daughter, but you'll have to machete your way through some bad acting, very easy puzzles, and the feeling that the designers put more effort into the Collector's Edition bonus play than the main game itself.

You and your daughter Hannah have moved to a new town in England, far away from your old home in New York. As a bus drops you off in front of the school Hannah will be attending, you notice that the building looks more than a little worse for wear. In fact, you discover that the school has been closed for more than 40 years. Why you don’t discover this until you arrive is never revealed – an important detail that would have saved you a lot of trouble – but the reason for its abandonment soon becomes apparent when a nasty witch appears in billows of smoke and abducts your child. As soon as she does, the school and its environs become overgrown with gigantic vines, trees, and roots, gnarled and twisted and very much alive and menacing.

The story behind your daughter’s disappearance mirrors the tale in a strange book you find, which is missing most of its pages at first. Your investigation leads you to its scattered pages, which are pretty much the only vehicles for this story, as most of the folks you encounter in this school are either dead or ghosts. The lone exception is one Christopher Warden (or Worden, a frustrating inconsistency that the game spells one way while the journals write it the other way), a man charged with watching over the children. He also has a dark secret, and may have had an encounter with the witch before the school began its decline.

The search for your daughter takes you through scenes choked with hand-drawn detail everywhere you look. Tree roots more like monstrous tentacles curl around doorways, their green bark split open with blinking, yellowed eyes and vicious mouths full of sharp teeth; paintings featuring mythical beasts dripping with fire and knights shimmery in their armor hang askew along the school’s halls. If you play on the game’s harder level, where the hotspots no longer sparkle, you may find it difficult to find inventory objects given the large amount of detail in every scene. Even your inventory menu at the bottom of your screen is made of intricate curlicues of green ironwork. It all can be a little bit much at times.

Going with a botanical theme, the colors are awash in greens, greys, and earthen browns. Despite the large number of scenes you’ll explore, this heavy-handed color palette and the wild abundance of overgrown vines and trees make many areas seem just like the one you’ve just left. Whether I was poking around an old sanctuary, a creepy child’s dorm room filled with abandoned toys, or a laundry room, since everything is covered in tree limbs and roots, every scene felt rather monotonous to me.

Set against these backgrounds, ERS has once again turned to full-motion video to supplement the hand-drawn aesthetic. Rather than adding to the game, unfortunately, I found the use of FMV to be extremely distracting. The acting, or rather overacting, in many instances only added to the dubbing distraction that the designers attempted to disguise rather than embrace. No character can say anything without wind blowing their hair across their mouths and faces or turning their backs to you. I wondered why the designers went with the FMV choice since they chose to obscure the actors so much. It felt like some strange pantomime at times. The voice acting is just fine, and I would have preferred animated voiceovers to poorly implemented FMV. An additional distraction is the fact that the actors playing children appear to be much too old for their parts and often dress in very bad fashion: One young man wears a dark seventies disco reject with white shoes, a black three-piece suit, and white flyaway lapels. These “children” look to be more in their late 20s rather than school age kids.

The ambient animations, on the other hand, do a fine job of setting the mood. Every scene is crawling with roots swaying and hundreds of eyes peeping and jaws snapping. Some animations, however, are downright annoying. The game provides you with two journals, each of which goes through a short animation every time you click on it, which dissuaded me from clicking too often either to read more about the witch’s story or to gain insight into my own. Other animations are much more successful. Shadows flickering in your peripheral vision across a car's side mirror instill fear. Other juicy scenes involve a nail gun and the unearthly screams of a plant and the blacked-out moments just after a car crash. You awaken and see a dark screen where dozens of spooky eyes suddenly light up; high pitched voices whisper: "Wake up, wake up, wake up." I found these instances to be deeply creepy and wished that the designers had focused on more of these types of animations rather than the distracting FMV.

Continued on the next page...



AD Gothic Fiction: Dark Saga can be purchased at:
Big Fish Games  

Game Info

Gothic Fiction: Dark Saga

Platform:
Mac, PC

Genre:
Thriller

Developer:
ERS Game Studios


Game Page »

Digital August 31 2012 ERS Game Studios

Where To Buy

Gothic Fiction: Dark Saga

Available at Big Fish

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User Score

Average based on 2 ratings

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About the Author
Merlina McGovern
Staff Writer

Comments

rtrooney rtrooney
Nov 21, 2012

I can’t disagree with the review. I stated pretty much the same thing in the Casual Games thread. Albeit less eloquently and with far fewer words.

That said, I like the fact that some publishers are pushing the “Adventure Lite” envelope by eliminating hidden object scenes from gameplay. However, there are games with few, and minimally-intrusive HO scenes that do a better job of being “Adventure Lite” games than the subject of this review.

Which brings us back to the problem that has been discussed before. If only casual games without hidden object scenes are reviewed. are you missing some far-superior games that have the sole fault of having a few hidden object scenes?

Interplay Interplay
Nov 21, 2012

I agree with rtrooney above.  As I’ve said before, I fully support the site as far as what games they choose to review.  Having said that, though, there does seem to be a clear policy that no casual game that incorporates hidden object (HO) scenes will be reviewed anymore.  That’s all well and good, but the downside is that adventure gamers looking to dip their toes into the casual waters may feel that these AG reviews are highlighting the very best of casual games.  In truth, most of the casual games that AG reviews are frequently just average games.  Adventure gamers may try these games which will just reinforce their image of casual games as not that good. 

But, just know, as rtrooney points out, there are much better casual games out there that happen to have a HO scene or two.  For those interested, they can always find the casual thread in the forums.

after a brisk nap
Nov 21, 2012

Pretty graphics, text in Comic Sans. Why would anyone do that?

Hanged
Nov 24, 2012

I hope they gave the graphic designer a huge share of their profits, since his work is pretty much the only reason to buy this game. The story seems to have been written by a twelve-year old during his lunch break. The insultingly easy puzzles are scaterred around randomly, almost no effort has been made to incorporate them into the story. The acting is terrible. But hey, you get to look at pretty pictures all the time.



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