Saturday, July 05, 2014

Keepsake for PC

Note:  This review was originally posted on Epinions.  It has been modified slightly here

Many years ago, while shopping in EBX at the mall, I was looking for some video games for the PC.  I ended up buying two games, one of which was Keepsake.  It looked pretty interesting.  For $20, it looked like it might be worth it.

The story goes that Lydia (the character that you play as) is going to Dragonvale Academy to study magic.  She’s expecting to be greeted by Celeste, her best friend since childhood.  As soon as you start, you’re greeted by Mustavio, a merchant that tells you how the controls work and what all the icons mean.

When you arrive at Dragonvale, you find the place deserted.  This is odd, considering that there should be hundreds of people there.  There’s no sign of Celeste or anyone else.  Upon looking around, you meet Zak.  He appears to be a dog, but he claims that he is, or rather was, a dragon.  He was tricked into drinking a potion that made appear as he does now.  Upon letting him out, he follows you around and serves as someone to talk to throughout the story.

This isn’t so much a video game as it is an interactive story.  Lydia and Zak have to go around and figure out what happened, doing a series of tasks and solving a bunch of puzzles.   Along the way, you have to interact with a few characters that you meet.  You do get to interact with Mustavio a few times as well as the ghost of the academy’s founder.  Interaction comes in the form of predetermined questions that you click on to ask.  (Think back to older video games that had no AI, but rather used the same manner of interaction.)

Occasionally, you’ll have some random in-game dialogue with Zak or a hallucination that furthers the story.  With the dialogue, it’s usually Zak providing useful information about an area or Lydia wondering where everyone is.  The hallucinations are memories of Celeste that give some back story, but not much.

I found the game lacking throughout most of the story.  What little dialogue there was came across as kind of corny and not well thought out.  Mustavio, for instance, was kind of like Mario when he talked and kept wondering where the students were.  Also, Zak’s voice varied in volume.  Several points in the game, I was reading the text rather than listening to what he was saying because I couldn’t hear him.

One big issue I had was that the camera angle was always fixed.  This meant that you couldn’t look around and enjoy the scenery or get a sense of where you were.  This proved to be a problem because I would often not have a good sense of where I was.  Had I been able to look up or down, I might have realized sooner that there was a quicker way to get to where I needed to be.

Yes, there’s a map, but it’s more for general reference than to let you know specifically where you are.  When you’re in a room, the game will show you which section of rooms you’re in.  It’s up to you to orient yourself and figure out which way you have to go.  As someone that doesn’t have a good sense of direction, this meant having to run around more than necessary.

This leads me to another issue.  The academy is big.  There are a lot of rooms and you often had to go across the whole area to get to the next puzzle.  I realize that lining everything up in a row makes for an unimaginative game, but there’s no option to click on something and just go there.

In the second part of the game, you have teleportation platforms, but they’re paired off, meaning that A leads to B and B leads back to A.  I’d often have to go through several to get where you’re going.  It would have been easier to have platforms that could take you to any other room.

Also, the video quality varied greatly.  The characters didn’t look that good.  It looked like technology from 20 years ago.  The backgrounds were almost photographic in quality at times and blurry at others.  I don’t want to say that the designers could have done better because it does work towards a certain effect, but the characters could have at least been better.

As for the difficulty of the puzzles, that varied, also.  The first puzzle was fairly easy.  It was apparently designed to get you accustomed to using the game interface.  From there, they vary from somewhat easy to pretty much impossible.

Each puzzle gives you three clues which you can access with a question mark at the bottom left corner of the screen.  The first clue tells you what you’re supposed to be doing.  The second one usually tells you something more, like how the controls work.  The third will tell you a good part of what you need to do.  If that doesn’t work, you have the option of having the game just do the puzzle for you.  Out of a dozen or so puzzles, I had to use this option two or three times.

The entire story was difficult.  There was usually little or no indication what you were supposed to do.  I did fund out that if you click the question mark during game play, the game will tell you where you’re supposed to be next.  I had to use this a lot.  I’d probably have gotten as far as finding Zak and quit the game in frustration.  Because of this, I was able to finish the game in about a week.  (You’re looking at maybe 6-10 hours of actual game play, but it’s hard to say.  It depends mostly on how difficult you find the puzzles.)

The story wasn’t that compelling.  At first, you’re wondering where everyone is and you’re hoping to find someone other than Mustavio and Zak.  You get a ghost.  That’s it.  It gets boring after a while.  After an hour or two of game play, I was really playing just to find out what happened to everyone.  When I did find out, it was short and kind of sad.  (I mean sad in a tear-jerking kind of way.  I won’t ruin it for you if you want to play the whole thing.)

The game just ended.  For those that have played games like GTA, you’re usually allowed to continue playing in a sandbox mode.  With Keepsake, Zak tells you the epilogue.  This takes about two minutes.  Then, you get the credits (which you can’t escape out of, apparently) and you’re back to the main menu.

I’d recommend this only under two conditions.  One, if you can find it for less than $10.  Two, you should expect to play it as a distraction rather than as a main game.  I can’t say that I regret playing it, but I can’t say that it was great.  It definitely had potential.  This is one of those cases where a remake would be in order.

Keepsake PC Game Trailer

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