These days it’s quite unusual to see a single storyline spread across multiple games – often, we’ll see sequels or DLC take stories in new directions. Very few games are willing to risk a release of multiple episodes at regular intervals.
One studio ready to take the punt is Beyond the Pillars, who recently released the prologue of their series entitled Winter Voices. The story will take place across seven titles, released seven days apart at the price of $4.99, until the series is complete.
The prologue, subtitled Avalanche, introduces you to the story of a girl who’s losing her way. Right from the outset, it’s obvious the story and narration will play a major role throughout the series. Voice acting accompanies some well-compiled cut-scenes to set the scene for what becomes a rapidly evolving adventure, which is sure to tinker with your emotions.
The opening scenes acquaint players with the now-young lady and the gradual death of her father. At unease because of his death, the girl becomes frightened by hallucinations and bad memories. She needs to consult villagers to learn new information about her father, a man she never really knew, and to find out information so she can do something with her life.
The hallucinations and memories come in the form of ‘battles’. The turn based combat generally consists of trying to run away or survive for a preset amount of time – at least in the first episode – which is an intriguing twist on turn based battling. While it is definitely new, one can’t help but feel the battles are incredibly slow and repetitive, and normally consist of the same tasks. The combat could be compared to a game of chess where stalemate is imminent: you have a defenseless little king marching around the grid while his opposition throw everything at him for the win.
Through surviving these stalemate-like situations, and learning new information from villagers, you’ll gain experience. Every time you level up, you’ll be able to upgrade attributes, which range from energy (health) to movement points and psyche points (used for skills). You’ll also gain a skill point, which allows you to learn a new skill from quite a comprehensive skill tree.
This skill tree is just one component of the large character development system. As modern role playing games would have us expect, Avalanche initially gives us control of the occupation of our character and a large number of stats come into play beyond this, including double edged attributes; ie, attributes which increase one stat while detrimentally affecting another. There’s no denying that the character building aspect of Winter Voices is successful and will continue to add to the game right to the end of the seventh episode.
The presentation of the prologue is very much hit and miss. The hand drawn visuals throughout the game have a unique charm about them, and really give the game some character. Weighing down the lovely visuals is the music. While it is at times quite soothing, there’s a severe lack of variety, and the same two tunes will be playing throughout the whole playthrough. It’s fair to say the background music will get on your nerves after a while.
Despite the fact that the game combines an interesting take on the role playing/adventure genre with robust narrative, it’s not quite the role playing pioneer we might be hoping for (at least, not yet). The slow movement speed seriously detracts from the experience – it feels like a lot of time is spent waiting for slow animations to catch up to you. This issue goes hand in hand with clicking itself, which is somewhat buggy and doesn’t allow full precision.
While the innovative ‘battling’ system is impressive, it is quite a let down at the same time. While the story does go quite deeply into different areas, there’s often little connection the plot with the bad memories and realisations that prompt battles. It’s extremely irritating to have combat thrown at you at seemingly random intervals – the fact that fights take a long time to complete (successfully) does not help in this regard.
Beyond these flaws lies a game everyone should give a go. While the exterior of the game shows an experience which is repetitive, tedious, and at times directionless, the interior presents a completely new type of game, with a focus on the details many players never seem to appreciate. Those interested in the series should grab Avalanche and stick with it for a while – there’s a few hours worth of play, and the $5 tag attached is a very small price to pay to see whether the series will drag you in.