Saturday, 18 September 2010

Daughter of the Serpents

Sometime around when I was playing through the PQ series, one night I started thinking. That's already something hard to believe, but what I was thinking about was, would a combination of RPG and an adventure game work. Of course it would, that's such a stupid question that I don't know why I asked it in the first place. Think about something like Oblivion with an actual point to the game, with actual chance to role-play in it and make unique choices every playthrough, and with an outright horrible framerate.
Anyway, I was so fascinated by this idea of combining adventure and RPG that when I found a game that promised me the chance to create a character of my own choosing and play a role in a story that changes based on the type of character I create, I immediately had to play it.

Daughter of the Serpents, in CD form also known as The Scroll is a game with adventure-game-like static screens where you talk to people and inspect items and then use them on things, all the while playing as a character you create yourself. It's really neither an adventure game nor an RPG like I thought it would be, instead it's a very short story where your character plays as big of a part as the other characters of the game with the plot being basically a railroad track with no actual gameplay. You just click the screen to read through the text bubbles and every now and then you have to particularly choose what to click and drag an item over a certain area, but otherwise the train just keeps rolling whether you got aboard or not.  There are no tricky puzzles to solve and no combining items like MacGyver to distract guards or collect other items, everything's there on the screen withing your grasp and when a character wants something they outright order you to do it and unless the game bugs out you can't do anything else except the correct thing even if you try.
It's me. All this file is missing is a mention of
my good looks and great sense of humour.
So, because it has hardly any gameplay, the story is really the main point of the game. Sadly the story on it's own is, despite being rather interesting and nicely told, not very filling. It's short, about 30 minutes, and due to it's lack in length plot points drop a bit too radically. At minute one it's a murder mystery with supernatural themes in an exotic location, at minute three you're catching a drug smuggler and an illegal souvenir business woman (or something, don't ask me to pay attention), at minute eight it's a horror à la The Mummy, and at minute 20 you're either Indiana Jones and exterminating lizard people or talking to spirits in tombs and blowing magic dust at Egyptian gods. Then you're done and have no clue what the hell just happened and why it was so important to play through this interactive story.

What really is the whole point of the entire game is that the story unfolds differently based on what kind of a character you built at the start. When you begin, you choose a gender, an age (25-65), a birthday, a title (Mr, Prof, Doc etc.), a first and a last name, nationality (British or American) and a brief summary of your character's dominant personality from two possible (I think this affects which of the two main characters you help in the endgame). That's just the base of the character, though, and apart from people using my name when talking I didn't notice anything that would've been affected by my age or nationality in the story.
No, what really has a clear impact on events in the story is what you choose as your profession and skills. You choose a main profession from six categories (adventure, mystic, PI, occult, sleuth and egyptology) and divide points to unique skills under that main category (observation, clairvoyance, police procedure, Arabic language, occult rituals, necromancy, haggle, toxicology etc.). Then you get another set of points you can freely distribute to any skills under any main category, so you can have an adventurous mystic gumshoe or just a really great regular detective. Then you save the character and play the story tailor-made to fit how your character would perceive it. Sounds great, doesn't it?

I thought that guy was a zombie when I first saw this screen
The problem is that in the short and forced base storyline there is little room for unique changes. The letter you get in the beginning tells a different backstory to why you're in the game everytime you create a new character and depending on your skills you may add another three speech bubbles into the story and cut a corner at some point, but the changes are almost nonexistant in the larger picture and when you do succeed in creating a completely different character or choose a different answer to a question the game finds some way to force you back on track by the end of the next speech bubble. If you choose to not go somewhere the game still makes you go there, and if you choose not to tell the characters something vital then that character will use the power of deduction to figure out every stinking detail anyway right the fuck after you make your choice, and their insight is so great you start wondering why they don't count lottery numbers for a living, let alone why they are seemingly unable to figure out the "mystery" at hand. Sherlock Holmes fused with Nostradamus would lose to these people.
Due to the forced events the story can also lose some of it's credibility. For example, it makes sense for the police chief not to suspect you of any crime in the game when in the story you're a friend of his and actually helped him catch a criminal, but when your character ends up being the friend of the suspected killer and drug smuggler and you were caught inspecting stolen property in the company of said suspect, and later both you, your suspect friend and the stolen property you were inspecting vanish leaving just the corpse of a man last seen alone with you at the very place he died, it makes absolutely no sense for the police chief to just tell you that you're above all suspicion and are free to go. The story needs you out of jail in order to continue, sure, but in the end it just doesn't seem right at all.

Oh, those guys don't look well. They need their beauty rest
Another problem is that the majority of the story and dialogue that aren't affected by your character choice is just outright boring on the second run and onwards, and you'll just end up with a worn out finger after furiously clicking through all the long talky bits. It's largely boring even on the first run if you aren't particularly fanatical about Egyptian mythology, and unfortunately for me I'm certainly not. Unless your story about Egyptian things and... stuff... follows a neatly wrapped Boris Karloff, it better at least involve Elvis and a black JFK somehow.
Being that the short story gets painfully uninteresting after the first playthrough or two, and being that the character differences largely amount to an extra thought bubble in the over all story, and taking into consideration that there doesn't seem to be any change to the skills past the investment of 25% of points in them, Daughter of the Serpents is a rather unremarkable experience even though it is based on an interesting idea and is a well made game (apart from a weird bug that stopped my clairvoyant occultist professor Plum from finishing the game). While there is no reason at all why you should avoid it, there also isn't any good reason why I should recommend you to try it, other than that it's free and can regain replay value over time if you like Egyptian... things and can wait several days between playthroughs.

One thing I still want to mention, though, is that considering it's release date Daughter of the Serpents does implement the changing story better than, say, Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy). That goes without saying, though. The writers of this game weren't on crack.
Poor Abdul.
He had the guts to go in, but he didn't have the guts to get out
Although completely useless in a story this short,
the game does keep a good log of major events.
Also, the line "THEY WANTED MY SOUL"
never comes back to haunt you

1 comment:

  1. Stop playing this bullshit and get a copy of Leisure Suit Larry fool!! And get a super long blog post up based on your experience and thoughts of Larry!!

    - Derek