Reviewing an Eipix game is always an event because it can go one of two ways. Either I find the game appallingly mediocre or a raging success. Sure, there’s been the odd outlier that fails to fit into my neat categories but for the most part, I tend to be either hugely impressed or massively disappointed. And it doesn’t just vary from franchise to franchise, even within franchises I find them wildly inconsistent. So… the fourth in the Myths of the World franchise, any good?
Well, first we need to take a step or two back and look at the history. The first game in the series was Chinese Healer, a game I found so thoroughly enjoyable that I still think about it today. It was a breath of fresh air in what is otherwise a pretty stale genre and really helped to set Eipix apart from other studios that wallow in mediocrity. But then came Stolen Spring and… well, I didn’t particularly enjoy this one. It was probably the first time I was greatly disappointed by an Eipix game.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t bad and at the time I simply chalked it up to myself: hyped it too much, forced myself to play it, bad time in my life or… well, any number of reasons. But this is where I began to dislike Eipix a lot more. Smithsonian Hope Diamond, Fearful Tales, Mutiny of the Heart and the Living Mountain were all games I found exceedingly underwhelming. But the real nail in the coffin came with Spirit Wolf and in my review of said I game I pretty much eviscerated the game and called Eipix lazy hacks. I was pretty disappointed with them at that point and I think you can really tell in the review.
After that me and Eipix went on break from each other. I know Eipix actually read the review and they got a bit cheeky with me on Twitter when I expressed doubt about my review but at the time I made a conscious effort to maybe word my criticism slightly differently in the future. It was more than three months before I took on the task of reviewing another Eipix game again, The Last Adagio, but my fears were once again reaffirmed as I found the game to be a slog.
But then came Homage and my opinion on Eipix changed dramatically. Back were the Eipix that I had once fallen in love with and sure, even if the game that followed it, The Italian Affair, didn’t reach my lofty expectations, I still found the game to be alright if a bit boring. It did some things well, others not so much and I came away from the game feeling ever so slightly ‘meh’. But my previous reservations about Eipix were gone and I still felt excited about playing their upcoming games. Especially their next one!
Your grandfather was very important to you. He was important to a lot of people, entertaining them with his stories of fairies and otherworldly kin. He even wrote a book about it. A book that created a legacy that you’re still trying to live up to now that he’s gone. But one night, while sitting in his home, trying to write your own work, there came a knock at the window. Or perhaps banging is more appropriate. Outside you find a fairy who brings grim news: the barrier between this world and the fairy realm is about to be breached and Oberon, king of fairies, is poised to invade with his grand army. With little time left, you must save the fairies and stop a war before it even begins.
So, another Eipix game, another review. And where do I even start here? Do I give away my opinion on the game right away? Yes, I think I will: I fucking loved Of Fiends and Fairies. Sorry for the cussing but I really needed a good word to convey just how over the moon happy I am with this game and for once the word felt appropriately extreme. I try to keep my language relatively neutral but this was just one occasion where I had to.
In fairness the game had a massive leg up on the competition simply because a lot of the creature design looked like it would fit right in with something drawn by John Bauer, an artist who was hugely important in making me curious about mythology as a child. I find the same mix of fear and fascination here as I do in his paintings, the dark contrasting with the light beautifully… okay, the rest of the game looks nothing like a John Bauer illustration but the creature designs themselves made me think of him and that’s a plus.
Not saying the game doesn’t look good otherwise because it most certainly does. Eipix never really make ugly games, not quite, but I find that they can sometimes phone it in or take a very generic route. Some of their games look so samey that it’s actually hard to tell them apart. And not just from their own games, other games in the industry can also easily be confused for one another. But Of Fiends and Fairies is definitely a visually appealing game that makes great use of color.
The one complaint I have is that some of the characters look a bit flat and the animations don’t always work very well. But even then it’s a minor complaint. One department they’ve really given their all this around is the cutscenes ’cause they look crazy snazzy and are really well animated. And keeping it simple at times is key, something they’ve taken to heart here as many of the cutscenes are delivered in simpler form, like something you might read in an old story book or similar. Simple drawings with some minor animations all narrated by various characters.
What so often tends to be an issue with Eipix games were instead turned into a strength, like I so often advocate developers do, and it works perfectly together with the setting. You really feel like the designers read a lot of old fairy tales and books and tried their very best to make the game feel like it was ripped straight out of similar material.
And to further my love for the game, the gorgeous graphics are accompanied by beautiful music. Music that I, for once, actually feel compelled to listen to outside of the game. It’s that good. So good, in fact, that I’ve made some of the songs a permanent addition to my playlists. But the music really fit in the game itself, enhancing and strengthening the atmosphere and making the inspirations that much more obvious. I’d say it’s of Irish and Celtic inspiration but I’m no music expert but hopefully it gives you an idea of what you’re in for.
But that’s all well and done, this is a game after all and as good as the graphics and sounds may be, it’s the gameplay that decides. And here Eipix has a tendency to struggle, reusing old formulas and gameplay instead of thinking up new and fun ways to engage the player. Any such worries are immediately put to the rest, though, as the game actually features some of the most engaging hidden object scenes I’ve seen in a long time. Not only were they well done, they were fun and kept changing it up so I never felt like it was just repeating the same old patterns with new objects.
Lists and silhouettes were present, as always, but mixed in this time were rebus and riddles and pictograms and a huge variety of ways to keep me guessing. I actually enjoyed spending time with these hidden object scenes and even the scenes themselves changed things up. First giving you a small list of objects to find and when done with that you get a riddle and then you get the rebus and then you’re done. It keps the core feature fresh and trust me, that’s something most HOPA fail to do. I love riddles in general and to see that incorporated into the hidden object scenes themselves was genius!
But where they worked so hard to keep the hidden object scenes new and exciting, most of the puzzles were pretty standard fare which is a shame. Still no difficulty setting for the puzzles and most of them were pretty easily beaten. That said, though, I never felt like it was a chore like I so often do. Instead I found the puzzles to be a nice little treat that I spent a minute or so on, basking in the pretty graphics and good music while solving the puzzle at a leisurely pace. So while I could do with a bit more challenge to the game, I never once felt like I was wasting my time.
Of course, one of the coolest addition they added were puzzles combined with dialog. Instead of just getting a constant stream of talking, filling you in on what’s going on and what a character’s motivation might be, the game put you in charge of the dialog. As in you actually get to reply back. This takes the form of a puzzle, or perhaps minigame is a better term, where you’re given three replies you can use. Pick the right one and the dialog advances.
The only negative side is that there is no real failure state and that only one answer is the correct one instead of branching dialog or multiple choices that affects the opponent’s reply and their future questions for you. But even then, with the negatives pretty obvious, it’s still a really nice addition to what can otherwise become very passive experiences. The fact that they always have a reply waiting for you when you get it wrong helps the experience even if I wish it was deeper or that you could get it very wrong somehow. Perhaps adding NPCs that can give you clues if you charm them enough or perhaps give you fake clues if you fail to impress them.
Or perhaps that’s just me. I tend to be out of touch with many of the other HOPA players and their wants and desires. But then I’ve never claimed to represent anyone other than myself… as much as I wish otherwise.
Sadly the game had something that almost completely broke it: bugs. Many HOPA do but none quite as noteworthy as this one which almost stopped me from proceeding. In the game there’s a ring that you can switch the pattern on to suit various needs. Unfortunately this changing of patterns straight up didn’t work most of the time. To get it to work you had to jump through several hoops which simply shouldn’t be necessary. How something like this made it into a finished product I will never know. Things happen, you miss stuff, but not of this magnitude because it almost stopped me, and many others, from finishing the game. There was even a youtube video that told you how to get around it and I should not need to find stuff like that.
And I should totally slag the game for having such a game breaking bug left in it but in a game where even the loading screen made me stop and go “Oooh.” it’s hard to stay mad for very long. In fact, the whole game had a very calming influence on me and I played through the whole game in two sittings because I was so relaxed it was hard to put down.
Nothing should tell you more about this game than that. It may not be perfect but damn if it wasn’t a pleasant experience anyway… for the most part (damn bug). And I love the owl.
Feel free to make him a staple of the series, Eipix!