Inspiration for a video game can come from anywhere. From book series, to secret societies, to magicians and ghosts to… stained glass windows? Probably not anyone’s first idea for the basis for a video game, but the artfully designed and nicely executed Message Quest is proof that even unconventional inspiration can still make for a great game. This is a short but sweet and simple point-and-click game that’s ideal for a rainy afternoon, or any time you feel like playing a game and not thinking too hard.
The main attraction of Message Quest is its unique art style, which is bright and colorful and designed to look like stained glass windows. The distinctive aesthetic contributes greatly to a fun, lighthearted atmosphere that I absolutely loved. We may be used to looking at stained glass as a purely stationary art form, but it transitions well to motion as the character animations and handful of cutscenes are surprisingly fluid. It’s unfortunate that the backgrounds are so static, however. There’s no random movement such as clouds floating in the sky, no candles flickering or leaves blowing in the breeze, but since it’s stained glass, it’s easy to ignore the seeming strangeness of a still environment.
In contrast to the whimsical art is the somewhat grim tone of a story involving a kingdom on the edge of ruin. But even this is presented in an upbeat, almost “Disney” way that I found a welcome break from heavier-handed, high-fantasy tales. Message Quest is plot-lite, designed as a sort of mini-homage to the great genre works, including references to Tolkien, Shakespeare, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. This adventure follows the laziest and last member of the Order of Heralds, Feste, as he takes a very important scroll out into the world in an attempt to deliver it to the hero who will save war-torn Avarange. Naturally, the errand is not quite as simple as it seems as no one, not even Feste, knows who the hero actually is. But he reluctantly sets out on his quest anyway. No, seriously, you literally have to drag him across the screen to start the quest.
Clocking in at just over an hour and a half, Message Quest is definitely on the shorter end of the spectrum. While a brief play time can be seen as a drawback for many gamers, it is appropriate here in that the game is highly linear and doesn’t include much filler. While it definitely could have been spun out to a longer game, part of why it works so well is because it’s so straightforward. The main goal is to help Feste, the reluctant herald, deliver the scroll to the hero who will save Avarange and rescue its people. But first he’ll need to figure out just who that hero is. So, with some harsh words of wisdom from his mentor Noah, he’s unceremoniously booted out of the heralds’ order to undertake his quest.
The characters, like the plot, are not very well-rounded, but they’re still an enjoyable group. Besides Feste there is also Noah, who is his master at the Order of Heralds; Madlen, a pregnant innkeeper with her five children; and Lyn-Ryne, a traveler Feste meets on the road. Despite not having much screen time, we’re given a good snapshot of these characters and their basic personalities, flaws and histories. For example, Noah is clearly at the end of his rope. It’s obvious from the start that he is a kind and caring person, and he likes Feste well enough as a person, but as his mentor he is fed-up and out of both patience and options. You’ll have long conversations with each character, during which you can choose responses for Feste, though the result at the end of the dialogue is always the same, usually putting a stop to Feste’s laziness and sending him onto his next task.
As appropriate for a game set in what appears to be a mystical version of the Middle Ages, the lilting instrumental background music in Message Quest wouldn’t be out of place at a Renaissance Faire. The score has a fairly consistent loop throughout the entire game as well as the menu screens, but there are a couple of different tracks so it doesn’t get too repetitive during the short play time. There are also sound effects to punch up the atmosphere and set the appropriate tone, like the grinding of carriage wheels as you travel and the background chatter of bar patrons at the Inn. While there isn’t any voice acting per se, the characters use a sort of nonsensical speech called “Lodge-speak” that changes vocalization tone depending on what’s being said, while word bubbles spell out exactly what the speaker is saying and thinking.
Message Quest has a decent mix of puzzles scattered throughout, which are enough to keep you entertained but offer nothing truly mentally taxing. For example, you have to connect puzzle pieces to build bridges, “battle” other characters in a small strategic minigame where you click to attack or heal yourself, and explore your surroundings to answer riddles and find necessary items, among others. There are no complex inventory-based puzzles, and everything you need to solve the puzzles is right there in front of you as you progress one individual screen at a time. While the puzzles are simplistic and almost too easy at times, they’re not too repetitive and help keep the action varied and moving along nicely.
Gameplay is easy to get the hang of, but there’s an oh-so-helpful scroll at the top of the screen that gives you hints, instructions and goals as the game goes along, though it gets a little sassy at times. There isn’t, as far as I can tell, an option to turn this feature off, but the scrolls aren’t hugely distracting. If you’re not sure what to click on, pressing the “?” button lights up the available hotspots on screen. All interactions are performed using the mouse, including the few times you have to manually move the lazy Feste, in which you click and drag him across the screen. This is cute the first time you do it, as it shows how reluctant he is to do anything other than sleep, but it gets a bit tiring after the third or fourth go.
Overall, Message Quest is a short and simple point-and-click adventure that probably won’t appeal much to hardcore genre fans, but will be fun for casual gamers and kids, or anyone who wants some lighter fare between longer, deeper games. It isn’t very long and it isn’t at all challenging, but its beautiful stained glass artwork and whimsical fantasy atmosphere help make for an enjoyable hour or two before the window closes.