Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Circus Reviews - So You Killed a Guy

The issue with reviewing interactive fiction games is that they often have no pictures, and thus inserting pictures throughout the review ends up being boring and likely to spoil things. However, I feel like I haven't played nearly enough text-based games lately, especially with IFComp upon us. So here, I present to you an interesting gem plucked from r/interactivefiction: a Creative Writing thesis as presented in Twine.

In an unforeseen twist, So You Killed a Guy opens with the narrator telling you that you have just killed a guy. This narrator purports to be your guide, claiming to have instructions that will allow you to get away with this crime unpunished, and as long as you follow these instructions, you will be perfectly fine, probably.

To me, a lot of second-person fiction sets up the protagonist as a concrete character while still referring to "you" when telling the story; this game, however, doesn't really have a protagonist, unless we count the narrator himself. The story is set up in such a way that you alone fill the "protagonist" role, and it feels more like the choices themselves are the character, if that makes any sense. A number of your options are filled with sarcasm and apathy, and you are presented with a number of opportunities to mercilessly screw with the narrator, but you can also play along and be cooperative.

The narrator is probably the real character here. He begins by presenting an almost too enthusiastic front, being quite into the fact that you're a murderer and rushing to offer his assistance, but the facade shatters pretty quickly if you refuse to play along with what he's telling you. What develops is a neurotic voice that lashes out and gets angry, but at heart wants nothing more than to write a good, original story. That's something that hit particularly hard for me, especially considering the recent slump I've been in. What's different about the narrator's fits of rage, though, is that they actually affect something. The narrator is in control of the game world; if he doesn't like something in it (like, say, YOU), he can change it...unless, of course, he lacks the creative inspiration to do so. Isn't that an ability we all wish we could have?

There are several different ways the story can end depending on whether you heckle the narrator and how much, and each one explores a slightly different aspect of the issue of writer's block in a unique and compelling way. You might successfully make it to your planned ending, or you might poke fun at the narrator one too many times and end up being severely punished for your actions. I personally started feeling rather bad for the narrator in at least one path, only for this to dissipate somewhat when he began threatening me with violence.

I fully admit that I am not qualified to judge the merit of any sort of thesis, but I do know at least one small thing about video games, and I feel that this holds up as a game pretty well. It treats a subject I know very well in a new way, and I'd strongly recommend it to writers of any kind, or to people who enjoy IF games and are looking for a quick one to try out. Also, I hope that the author considers continuing to write for Twine, because their first project is an enjoyable one indeed.

So You Killed a Guy is available to play for free on

Final verdict: While perhaps not intended as a game in the traditional sense, So You Killed a Guy stands out with its relateable narrator and its short but fascinating exploration into the struggle for creativity and inspiration.

So You Killed a Guy is developed by tomfrom1995. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Circus Reviews - Empty Horizons

As I'm writing this, I've just reached a certain point in Empty Horizons. A certain point that gives me strong admiration for ebi-hime as a writer, yet again. A certain point that reminds me that reading a story without having anything spoiled for you is an amazing experience. A certain point that makes me realize that this review is going to be very similar to another game by ebi-hime that I reviewed, Round the Mulberry Bush, in that I can't discuss what I want to discuss without breaking my policy of not having spoilers in my reviews.

...Well, fuck.

Let's talk a bit about stories like that. It's very difficult to recommend them, because telling people that something might seem bad but it will get better if they keep going sounds like advice from your nightmare's life coach. And yet here I am trying, because it's gotten to me and it's just that surprising.


Empty Horizons follows Mireille, a sheltered eighteen-year-old girl whose life is thrown into disarray after her father's death. Her uncle in France invites her to stay with him and hires Lyon, a former chauffer for the family, as her escort. Mireille is reluctant to go with him and isn't even sure if living with her uncle is what she wants, but goes along anyway, and during the journey, she struggles with how to feel about her father, about her lost former life, and about Lyon, who despite his irritating habits and womanizing ways has a certain charm to him.

I'll be honest...I was set to skip reviewing this game. At first glance, the story was predictable and boring. Mireille and Lyon's relationship develops rather predictably; while their banter is amusing at times, it's easy to see where things are going, and Lyon isn't a particularly likeable character despite sharing the narration with Mireille, who is just as abrasive but is also a lot easier to sympathize with due to the more frequent glances into her head. Also, Mireille at one point reads what is very heavily implied to be Twilight, which is incredibly offensive.

And then...a thing happens.

As much as I admire ebi-hime, I'm annoyed that she keeps writing visual novels that I can't fully discuss without spoiling the experience, which is something I never want to do. So good on you, ebi-hime; you have stifled me yet again. I'm left standing around unable to say much other than, "Please play this game; it's worth it!" And it makes me look like kind of a shitty reviewer. But if I have nothing else, I have moral standards when it comes to game reviews.

So to get back to things I actually can talk about:

SillySelly returns to do the artwork, and it stands out once again. Backgrounds are well done, and I'm particularly fond of the sprite art for Mireille; there's something about her expressions that betrays her vulnerability despite the harsh front she puts up. The soundtrack is lovely as well. I'm particularly a fan of the title screen track, but then, I've always been a sucker for a good piano track. And the story itself...the turn it takes is not one that you can predict. It blew me away when I first read it, but looking back on it now, I'm a bit sad it turned out the way it did. There's no other way it could have turned out, really, but I did end up feeling for the characters in the end.

This review is not much of a review. I feel like maybe I shouldn't have even written what I did, because again, there's little I can say about the plot here even though that's all I want to talk about. All I can say is, don't give up on this game like I thought about doing. Keep going. Give it a chance. As I've said before, it is not in any way what you expect it to be.

In conclusion, I am set to name ebi-hime the OELVN master of defying expectations. There isn't a medal or a trophy for this, but hopefully it's not too dubious of an honor all the same.

Empty Horizons is available on Steam and

Final verdict: With Empty Horizons, ebi-hime has pulled out yet another game with a plot twist so important that I can barely properly review it without giving it away, so all I can really do is recommend it and then go and mumble in a corner.

Empty Horizons is developed by ebi-hime and published by Sekai Project. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.