Message Quest Review

Developer: Royal Troupe
Publisher: Royal Troupe
Played on: PC
Release Date: October 22, 2015
Time Played (Steam): 1.4 hours
Paid: $1.97

Short games present an interesting conundrum.  On one hand, they tell a brief, concise story that can generally be experienced in one or two sittings without overstaying its welcome.  On the other, they provide significantly less time for the player to actually get invested in the game, whether it’s the story, characters, or gameplay.  In some games, this can work well; games like Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist immediately come to mind.  However, others can feel like they’re over before they’ve even really begun; sorry, I don’t have some perfectly relevant example for this off the top of my head.  Interestingly, though, Message Quest manages to fall somewhere in between, feeling like it’s both over too quickly and not soon enough.408280_20161111212506_1The game follows a young boy named Feste, who works as a herald; that is, when he’s not slacking off.  One day, Noah (Feste’s master) sends him out on a journey to deliver a message to a hero.  See, the world’s ending (isn’t it always?), and Feste’s the only one who can go out and find the hero who will save everyone.  It’s a simple premise that’s been seen before, but it works pretty well here.  The main draw for me was the writing.  While it’s occasionally a bit stilted or awkward, it had enough small doses of chuckle-worthy humor to keep me entertained for most of the experience.  Additionally, a cast of quirky characters manages to keep things oddly compelling, even if it is in a “what in the world is going on?” kind of way.  Unfortunately, as the game progressed, things started to get more serious, and there was less humor thrown in; I found that the game was the worse for it.  As a result, the ending of the game started to drag, where the earlier parts managed to strike a nice balance.408280_20161111213335_1Message Quest is a point-and-click game, but a more limited one compared to some that I’ve seen.  In many scenes, the only items that can be interacted with are the ones that are actually relevant to progression in the game.  The only real trick is that some items just need to be clicked on, while others need to be clicked and dragged, though it’s not always clear where the latter kind has to be dragged to.  While this is nice for keeping progression straightforward, it also makes the traditional “click on everything” approach that much more valid.  However, the game doesn’t really seem too interested in giving the player a hard time during its point-and-click segments; clicking a hint button in the top corner of the screen will briefly highlight every object that is clickable.  There’s no limit on how many times this can be done, either, so getting stuck rarely, if ever, happens.408280_20161111215349_1In addition to the point-and-click sections, the game throws in bits and pieces of other genres.  Many in-game tasks, such as reassembling roads and recalling memories, require the player to solve puzzles, fitting pieces together in sequence or into a board, respectively.  There are also very simplistic turn-based battles, which have characters performing “attacks” like playing dead and guilt-tripping their opponent.  These sections help to break up the main story sequences, but they’re not without their problems.  First of all, they’re all extremely easy.  In fact, this is something that extends to the game as a whole.  The puzzles use pieces with very obvious edges to make it clear which ones go where, the point-and-click sections use the aforementioned hint system, and I never lost one of the battles over the entire experience.  The other issue, namely with the battles, is that they got tedious towards the end.  The main reason for this is that the same sound clips are reused for each attack.  Hearing Feste let out the exact same shout every time he attacked just got painful by the end; it got to the point where I almost audibly groaned when the final boss had 50 HP and my strongest attack only did 1 damage.408280_20161111213711_1There’s also a very odd dialogue system in place.  It almost seems like the game was going for a “choose your own adventure” thing by allowing the player to select certain pieces of dialogue.  However, the weird thing about this is that the player sometimes gets to choose both sides of the conversation.  As in, you’ll select what Feste should say and then select a response for the person he’s talking to.  The game quite literally has you talking to yourself.  It’s an odd thing, and while I guess it could allow for one to create their own personalities for each character, for me it just meant that everyone was as snarky as humanly possible.  As time went on, though, I noticed something about the dialogue options: they were all the same.  Not in a literal sense, but each one was just a different way of saying the same thing.  In other words, the game simply gives the illusion of choice while leading you down the same path regardless of what you pick.  Honestly, this might not have even been that noticeable if it wasn’t for the fact that I was holding up both ends of the conversation.  It quickly became obvious that no matter what I had either character say, the available responses would lead me down the exact same path.408280_20161111220218_1Now, if there was one thing that drew me to Message Quest in the first place, it was the art style.  It uses a rather nice stained-glass aesthetic that has each character and object outlined with thick black borders and filled with solid colours.  Even the dialogue boxes shatter and tinkle as you click on them.  Despite the fact that the visuals occasionally look a bit cheap or simplistic in places, they work well overall; the style is definitely one that I’d love to see used in other games.  The music is also pleasant and charming.  Again, it’s simple, but for a small production like this, the collection of quiet tracks is quite enjoyable; as a nice bonus, the soundtrack is free on Steam.  The voice acting is decent enough, even if there are a number of lines that get reused.  My only real complaints about the game’s presentation are that at times it can seem a bit cheap.  There were a few instances where I felt like I was looking at something that was thrown together in Microsoft Paint rather than a polished, minimalist visual style.  There’s also some pretty obvious reusing of assets in places; it really stuck out to me towards the end, when a new group of characters is introduced, each of whom looks like a reskinned version of a previously-met character.408280_20161113181252_1The most apt comparison I can think of for Message Quest is to a Disney film.  It’s a short experience with simple puzzles that feels like it’s targeted mostly towards children.  It has a simplistic narrative with some plot twists that end up feeling predictable, and a resolution that is satisfactory while not delving deep enough into any of the characters to get much of an emotional response.  There’s even a bit of subtle crude humor thrown in for any adult members of the audience who may be watching.  Keep in mind that this isn’t a bad thing per se; I freaking love a lot of Disney films, and similarly, I got a fair amount of enjoyment out of Message Quest.  However, I found that while it worked as a shallower experience for a younger audience, there was enough bad and not enough good below the surface to make it truly enjoyable for the older crowd.  And regrettably, that’s a crowd that I find myself to be a part of.



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