Quick summary: Interesting universe created a refreshing explanation of RPG gameplay; narration/storyline tried a too hard to be deep; story ends up not saying much about the main character; slow-paced game; battles are more puzzle-like than turn-based real time strategy; not enough skill points at times (but can manually reset in .txt log); great atmosphere and music; great art except I don't like the portraits.
This review is for played Winter Voices: Avalanche, which is the prologue or "Episode 0" of the series. I bought it on sale for less than $5.
I enjoyed playing this game for its interesting story and it's creative explanation of RPG elements such as character classes, character stats, skills, and battle system. The universe of Winter Voices held my attention. Hintings toward magical or spiritual themes made me curious for a greater understanding of this world, but interest alone does not make a game.
I wouldn't recommend this game because I see it as appealing only to a small, niche audience. Here's what you need to know.
1) Text-driven game with heavy reading. Not a problem, just a caveat.
2) Battle system is more puzzle-strategy than tactical turn-based strategy. You don't actually kill enemies, but employ defensive strategies of spatial rearrangement or using decoys. Common goals per battle include surviving, protecting, or reaching a checkpoint. Different maps, enemies, and goals were enough to keep it fresh. Some puzzles were easy; others made me want to throw my laptop out the window.
3) Limited skill points. The snowflake-shaped skill tree is really cool (ba-dum tss), but you only gain one skill point per character level-up. I ended the game at level 7 with 6 skill points alotted. You're meant to develop the skill tree over the course of the series, but completing some challenging battles in the Prologue would have been impossible had I not manually reset my skill points repeatedly.
4) Story is too "artsy." It tried too hard to be deep. This is mostly due to the writing style, which is very flowery and comes off a bit pretentious. I'm all for complexity and poignant commentary on the hardships of life, but many metaphorical comments were lost on me because if the writing style. Sometimes I didn't know what was going on in the main character's real life. Most importantly, her father seemed cold an unaffectionate, so why would she care so much about him? I couldn't understand the premise of the whole plot. These factors undermined my motivation to complete the game.
4a) As for the main character's inner demons, the writing goes overboard trying to be mysterious and grotesque. Still, it's interesting to read and makes you wonder about the main character's mental state and a possible incorporation of some kind of spirit world. But it needs less surrealist sequences and more relevant discoveries to the main character's life, or it starts to lose relatability to the player. Enemy memories are never revealed as specific memories relevant to her life, so we still don't know any more about the relationship between the main character and her father by the end of the prologue.
5) Slow paced. The pacing of the game is slow in general, so you must have a lot of patience to play. This is largely due to emphasis on reading and point-and-click mechanism. Your character has a very slow walking animation. Because clicks don't redirect, one misclick means you have to watch your character saunter to that point before you can backtrack. Sometimes clicking on the edge of the screen to go to the next area of the map was unresponsive.
6) Art is beautiful, yet the portraits of people are...kinda ugly. They are reminiscent of badly drawn anime. It's just not the style I was expecting from their concept art.
7) Music. No complaints on the music; it greatly amplified the mystic and somber atmosphere.