The illustrious illhousen graciously volunteered to take this one off our collective plate. Enjoy!
So, my first
step towards usurpation of this site review on this blog.
The Logomancer is an RPGMaker game which can be found here. It is advertized as a jRPG without killing, a game where conflicts are resolved through arguments. In other words, it falls into the same category of social battle games as The Last Word, Exeunt Omnes, Goblin Noir and Peace of Mind which were reviewed here. Let’s see how The Logomancer approaches the concept.
Art and Music
The game starts with cryptic statements about the Abyssal Fragment which is appropriate since you will spend most of the game staring in the face of the Abyss…
|I am so sorry Wright, but I cannot even with this. It just makes my brain short-circuit. — Act|
…with the Abyss staring right into your soul. And a bit to the right of your soul with the other eye.
Yeah, when it comes to people, the art is really ugly, there is no way around it. The proportions are wrong, level of detail varies from character to character and sometimes from one part of a character to another. The rest of the art is fine if not particularly memorable, but the portraits are really hard to get behind.
Soundtrack, by contrast, is done very well. It won’t blow you away or anything, but it works with the game and the melodies are memorable enough to create a clear association with the game. I especially like the use of silence. When the music suddenly fades, you know something creepy is going to happen. It builds suspense and sets the mood.
The game starts with our protagonist, Ardus Sheridan, walking in an unfamiliar part of the Mindscape which, as we will learn soon, is a place where people of his world go when they fall asleep. There, he meets the mysterious Composer who delivers some cryptic lines about the path to the Tower being barred for too long and how he managed to place the Abyssal Fragment near Ordolus. He says that Ardus won’t remember anything he said as it’s in his nature to be lost from memories, but Ardus’ subconscious will.
Since the Composer’s identity and nature are never revealed, I am just going to assume he wandered there from TWEWY.
Anyway, afterwards Ardus wakes up, indeed not remembering anything, and we learn why he went to Ordolus in the first place. He is a negotiator for Powell-Mercer company, here to sign the contract between said company and Glenton Dahl, a promising logomancer. As we learn shortly, the Mindscape normally resembles real world, with things rearranged a bit (which, naturally, creates a labyrinth for players to explore). Anyone can create things in the Mindscape with some training, but only logomancers can make their creations persist even after they wake up. As such, they use their gift to create various vacation settings with beautiful scenery.
Glenton, however, is an innovator. He created the Forgotten Plantation, a setting where visitors can live through an old local legend about a monster stealing color from the world and a brave hero returning it back.
Ardus, along with his apprentice John Marrow, are tasked with taking the final look at the Forgotten Plantation to see if there are any problems. They are joined by Cynthia Hadrospec, a member of Lucidity Guild, which appears to be some sort of regulation agency on logomancy, and an old friend of Glenton. She was the one who discovered his talent in the first place, and it is implied there is some story between the two, with Cynthia helping Glenton through dark times.
Technically, that’s it. While there are plenty of side-quests, once you finish investigating the Forgotten Plantation and sign the contract, you are free to exit town and see the epilogue. And I strongly recommend you do exactly that. You see, the true end that resolves what the Composer spoke about can be achieved only after you’ve seen the regular end, so getting it out of the way sooner rather than later is preferable. More, each completed quest expands the epilogue, with some adding new content to the protagonists’ individual endings, and it is interesting to compare them and see how the experience change the characters. Plus, it cuts down on redundancy.
Also, it provides a motivation for Ardus to get involved in various problems across the town. By himself, he doesn’t really have a reason to do so, and on more than one occasion contacting the authorities and letting them deal with it seems like a preferable solution (I mean, the characters aren’t your standard murderhobos, they are respectable people with stable jobs). The player, however, does as we remember the words of the Composer. As such, the player serves the role of Ardus’ subconscious, guiding him towards the true goal of this journey. Unfortunately, it isn’t acknowledged by Ardus or other characters until near the end, but it is still an interesting narrative structure.
The true end ties most of the quests together, with some of them contributing narratively by having characters provide valuable information, while during others you have a chance to retrieve an item necessary to activate the ending sequence. It is done very neatly, you can see the grand design of the Composer which Ardus unwittingly helps to bring to fruition.
The underlying theme of the majority of quests is the Mindscape and its mysteries, which often serves as a metaphor for art and creativity. As such, the story often borders on metafiction. Metafiction is tricky to do well. Stories operate on different rules than the events they describe, and the two are not easy to reconcile. It is also very easy to become too self-indulgent, pretentiously making characters say stuff that references their fictional nature which contributes nothing to the story and achieving only a stale joke between the author and the readers, utterly destroying the immersion in the process.
For the most part, The Logomancer avoids those pitfalls. It makes sense for the characters to discuss the nature of the Mindscape as they are confronted with its secrets, and that in the process they say stuff that can be applied to real life art or their own fictional nature doesn’t feel forced.
For the most part. There are two instances where logic of the world and logic of the story conflict. First is Glenton. In retrospect, it really doesn’t make sense for him to be an innovator. What he does is just such an obvious idea. Logomancy was around for a long time, even if its nature is not yet fully understood, and we are told that anyone can learn to create stuff in the Mindscape. In order to believe that Glenton is one of the first logomancers to create an interactive environment where people can live through a story I have to believe that no kid ever asked their parents to create a pirate ship.
I would ask my parents to create me a pirate ship if it were an option.
It is especially jarring in the context of Edited for Content quest, which is about editing Ardus’ unfinished novel. To do so, the editor recreates a part of the novel allowing our characters to live through it and see how it flows. As the editor is not a logomancer, the result is very simplistic, which is represented by 8-bit graphics, but still, you’d think some writer who used his services would see the potential in it and spread the word.
It is clear what the author was going for. The Mindscape in this instance served as a metaphor for video games. Glenton even states that the main advantage of Mindscape entertainment over books is interactivity. But the metaphor is divorced from the realities of the setting, diminishing both the world and the moral.
Another instance is Fill in the Blank quest during which the characters encounter a legacy of an ancient logomancer and wonder if more can be around since things created by logomancers can theoretically persist for ever. And… shouldn’t it be known? Logomancy was around for a long time, with ancient logomancers being called sorcerers and apparently being held in high respect. Wouldn’t it be a common practice for them to create impossible palaces and dream cities where they live? The Mindscape, after all, is not some distant dimension that only a few chosen ones can enter. It is a place shared by all dreamers, and while there are some areas of warped space not easily accessible, for the most part it reflects the real world. Even accounting for other people changing what logomancers created, some of it should still persist same as ancient ruins in our world are still around.
In this case, the Mindscape serves as a metaphor for legacy writers and artists leave after their death, but it’s much easier to lose a book or a painting than a city.
That instance is much more mild than the previous one, though, and you can take it as a part of the world-building by assuming that the logomancers of old were much more secretive than modern ones. It fits with their sorcery being rather disturbing.
For the most part, though, the writing is solid. The aforementioned Edited for Content quest, while being a blatant medium for the author to speak directly to the players about the writing issues and his personal concerns, feels like an organic part of the world.
The best quest is probably Haunted Memories, a chilling tale about a haunted house which utilizes the nature of the Mindscape very well to put a spin on the old haunted mansion formula and makes you question what was a fair reflection of ancient events and what was a delirium born from a mind of a dying child. It is also the best instance of utilizing the medium of the story. At one point you are forbidden to run, which you were probably doing constantly before as any player would. That restricted movement is reflected in the narrative, and you feel closer to the characters and what they experience. In another, the space loops. Normally I regard it as a bad design, but in this case it helps to create a surreal environment where you are lost just as much as the characters. All in all, it’s a great quest, and I can recommend the game just for that alone.
So, in conclusion, the author has succeeded at making the Mindscape appear to be an intriguing and mysterious place worthy of exploring. It is surreal, it can be scary and it can be beautiful, and I don’t regret spending a lot of time there.
I’ve talked about how the epilogue shows characters change. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much the only instance where we see that.
The characters are static, which is probably the result of the sandbox nature of the game.
More, while Ardus’ insecurities and concerns as an aspiring writer come across fairly well due to the editing quest, John remains a comedic relief character. I have no idea what drives him aside from the obvious (his job, friendship with Ardus). I just know that he has a lot of empty banter with Ardus, and that’s pretty much all that can be said about him.
Cynthia is a distant figure. Sometimes she engages in banter, often she provides exposition, but for the most part she feels removed from the narrative. I think that’s because she joins the party later and it is possible to do most quests without her, so a lot of the time her lines are additions rather than an organic part of the narrative.
Basically, the characters are mostly here to serve as a window into this alien world rather than to tell their own stories. As such, by themselves they have little value.
As I said in the beginning, the game is advertised as a jRPG without killing. The characters are negotiators, and words are their only weapons.
Unfortunately, unlike other games that use the concept of social battles, The Logomancer doesn’t really do anything creative with the idea. Instead, it falls back on the standard RPGMaker battle system, the only difference being that instead of casting a freball you use a Pathos argument. The characters don’t even talk during battles, the skill use is accompanied by sound effects you would expect from spells and such in other games. And the thing about the RPGMaker battle system is that it’s really dull.
To be fair to the author, there clearly was an attempt to make battles exciting, which is most evident in boss battles. They are powerful enough that brute force approach isn’t going to work, and there is often a puzzle element to them as they assume an alignment which makes them immune to some types of damage and weak to others or just become immune to certain types of damage in different combinations, or inflict effects that affect everyone on the battlefield. That forces you to constantly adapt to the changing situation, especially since different characters have different affinities when it comes to damage types, so the roles of buffer/healer and attacker get passed around.
I think I would like the game much more if there were only boss battles, with the characters having a bit more narrow focus.
As it is, however, it’s a pretty standard RPG, complete with grinding. Your regular opponents are stray mental constructs that populate the Mindscape. They also respawn every time you enter the location, a common element in the RPGMaker games which I regard as a personal offense since it makes exploring the areas so tedious.
This is a shame because there is a lot to explore. Nearly every area has something worth your attention. Secrets are everywhere, be it a hidden chest, a secret boss or a puzzle. You can spend hours just walking around, poking stuff and uncovering more and more new content.
Speaking of puzzles, there are a lot of them, and I found them pleasantly challenging without being overwhelming. There are, however, a couple of issues.
Firstly, Louder than Words quest. The quest contains a puzzle much more difficult than pretty much every other puzzle in the game, which could come as an unpleasant surprise for some. More, one of the pictures that provide clues is drawn wrong. While it’s still possible to work out the puzzle in spite of it, that can trip people up.
Secondly, the author likes unmarked secret passages where you need to go through a solid-looking wall. Sometimes it works fine as you can see an inaccessible room and figure out there must be a passage somewhere in the area, other times, not so much. Since a few such passages must be discovered in order to get the true ending, it can be very frustrating. I swear, I’ve spent like an hour running around the Forgotten Plantation trying to find one of them, and even on a second playthrough I had trouble locating the damn thing.
Thirdly, sadly the ability to create things in the Mindscape is not incorporated in puzzle solving in any way. It’s not a big issue, but it is weird that every weird thing in the Mindscape is external to the protagonists despite all of them working closely with logomancers, thus having no reason to not know how to cause small alterations. It would be fun to just create bridges to inaccessible chests and such.
But those are small issues compared to the sheer number and ingenuity of puzzles present in the game. If you like puzzle-solving, you should definitely check this game out.
So, in conclusion, the game is well-crafted, but suffers from the standard RPGMaker issues and doesn’t live up to the potential of its ideas.
The game gets points for racial diversity. For the most part, it’s not really a focus. There is a short conversation at the beginning where Glenton and Ardus poke fun at John’s accidental racism, which I don’t like much, and Glenton is partly motivated in his work by the desire to teach people about local folklore, but otherwise the focus is on the characters and their personal troubles rather than issues of race and culture. All three protagonists are white, though.
Female characters… There are only two of them: Cynthia and Eventide Solais, a shop owner selling clothes. They don’t talk to each other. Everyone else is a guy, so the game can’t exactly be called progressive on that front. On the plus side, there is a cute little story about how Ardus’ first attempts at writing were a self-insert power fantasy about him as a knight rescuing a captured princess who, naturally, instantly falls in love with him as serves as a perfect waifu. As he continued working on his writing, however, he started to think about how the story would look from her perspective and ended up developing her character, giving her proper motivation and agenda, while his self insert became a self-righteous fool blinded to the world around him and ultimately killed by the woman he objectified. So there is that.
I would give this game four out of five stars. While by no means flawless, it is a gem by the standards of free RPGMaker games and, terrible art aside, it can stand up to many commercial games as well.
If the problems I’ve mentioned during this review are not a deal-breaker for you, you should definitely check it out.