Would you sacrifice one life to save millions?
It’s a question that haunts young Geron throughout The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav. Thirteen years ago, an evil Seer prophesied that Geron would bring about the end of the world. He was promptly burned at the stake. After that, the only thing worrying the Kingdom of Andergast was its ongoing war against its neighbor, Nostria. The game begins innocently enough, when Geron, being a bird-catcher and having won an audience with the king in a contest, is instructed by the king to clear some ravens out of his guest bedroom so that a visit with a Nostrian monarch can run smoothly.
However, it soon becomes clear that these ravens are not what they appear, with their mere presence enough to make a man go mad. They soon infect the land by the thousands and, convinced the Seer has returned, Geron’s teacher, Gwinnling, sends him to fetch a fairy from the forest who is the key to undoing the curse. When he returns with the fairy, Nuri, however, she is greeted less than openly. See, Gwinnling neglected to tell Geron that the way she could halt the curse is by… well, not being alive anymore. Being a young man of honor, Geron won’t stand for this. He rescues Nuri from an angry mob and sets out to find the Fairy Scholar, the only one who may know enough about magic to break the curse without murder.
And so the real adventure begins.
It’s a wonderful story, and the slower pace of a point-and-click adventure game gives the melancholy Geron plenty of time to grow and consider his actions. Nuri, who is essentially a Cloudcuckoolander, is so naïve, innocent, and endearing that you will feel Geron’s plight as he tries to protect her from those that would do her harm. There is just one plot thread that does not get satisfactorily resolved — an early solution Geron comes up with is to send Nuri back to her fairy world of Neirutvena, something she steadfastly refuses to do. When you go there at one point in the game, it seems like a mildly unpleasant place at worst, and a wonderful land that worships a giant, friendly, talking peacock at best. It isn’t a central plot point to the game, but for all the whining she does about not wanting to go back there, an explanation would have been appreciated. Outside of this, the story is well conceived and thoroughly resolved in an emotionally satisfying way.
All of this heavy storytelling is driven home by brilliant voice acting and 2D animation that can only be described as sumptuous. Geron sounds every bit the wistful, pensive young man he should be in a grey situation such as this. Every character, from Gwinnling to the Seer to every incidental background character have distinctive and appropriate voices, and the sparingly-used orchestral score is just beautiful. Once in a while, though, there is a strange disconnect between what is being said by the voice actors and the text that appears on-screen. In one section, attempting to set fire to a certain living plant, Geron’s text says “Fire seems to scare this plant,” while his voiceover says that the plant does not seem to be troubled by fire. Point-and-click adventures live or die based on precise descriptions of objects, and while these mistakes are few and far between, they cause unnecessary confusion. As for the visuals, the hand-painted characters and backgrounds are simply stunning, and it is clear they were lovingly crafted by someone with a knowledge of how to create a sense of warmth or fear. Other than that, only two things need to be said. This:
In order to find the Fairy Scholar and hopefully break the curse, Geron will need to partake in copious amounts of puzzle-solving. In true point-and-click adventure form, this means finding lots of things and using them on lots of other things. The difference here is that, especially in later chapters, some of these solutions are pretty morbid. Need some bait to attract ravens? Use the knife to cut some meat off a dead horse, stick it on a broken pole that used to hold a ritualistic sacrifice, and stick the pole into a pile of human skulls. The Dark Eye is certainly a far cry from the more comedic and well-known Monkey Island series.
One of the best things that can be said about this game is that it gives you plenty of meat when compared to some of its cohorts in the genre. On the hardest difficulty, it takes about fifteen hours for someone relatively seasoned in the adventure genre to complete, and that’s when they’re a reviewer using a walkthrough for part of the last two chapters in order to get the game finished. Genre newcomers shouldn’t fret, however, as there are three difficulty levels, as well as various options for getting hints that can be turned on or off at any time.
The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav is a great attempt by Daedalic Entertainment to move the point-and-click adventure genre forward. Geron is a much more complex and interesting character than Phoenix Wright or Guybrush Threepwood. The world he explores has an exquisite backstory, and the stark visual contrast between his hometown when he leaves and when he returns at the end of the game drives home that his actions have considerable consequences — if he had just killed Nuri at the beginning of the game, none of this would have happened. Guiding him on his journey and unraveling the mystery of the Seer’s curse and seeming reappearance, one feels like he has grown from a young boy to a world-weary wandering hero by the end. Few, if any, of its contemporaries in the genre can match that depth of character development. For any fan of challenging puzzles and wonderful storytelling, Chains of Satinav is a game that must be played — nay, an experience that must be had.
This review is based on a Steam download of The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav, provided by the publisher.