Hallowed Legends – Ship of Bones

Let me set the scene: I had just compiled a massive list of basically all HOPA franchises and which ones I’ve played (out of 559 games I’ve played 164… roughly). I was going through it when I realized: Hmm, I haven’t finished Hallowed Legends by Elephant Games. Eh, the two previous were okay, might as well get it over with. Well…

I only ever reviewed one Hallowed Legends game on this site and that was Samhain, the first in the trilogy. It was a short review in a Casual Friday and I never mentioned Templar, the second game in the series. But the quick recap is this: they were okay. Both were pretty early in Elephant Games history, both in 2011, and… you can tell.

The graphics were kind of muddy, the aspect ration didn’t play nice with modern displays and they used live actors. I would never say anything negative about using live actors but it was a sign of the times, ESPECIALLY Elephant Games. Overall, they were just… fine. But in retrospect I remember them quite fondly and a big part of that is something I’m going to discuss with today’s game as well. So let’s dig into:

Hallowed Legends: Ship of Bones
(Elephant Games, 2013)

Something is horribly wrong in Erlenbourg. All the inhabitants are dead and the town has completely frozen over. On your way there, your plane crash and you soon come face to face with the terror behind the tragedy: Hel, Queen of the Underworld. Together with a raven and the Book of Fire, you must set right what went horribly wrong a very long time ago.

Do you SEE that? That’s Garm, an ice dog. Here’s a better picture:

He is so cool. I want a dog just like him, all cold and spiky and totally rad. Yeah, I know it’s concept art but he looks virtually the same in and throughout the game I kept going “No, don’t hurt him, he’s just too cool for school!” Get it? It’s an ice pun!

Anyway, Garm aside (difficult, I know), Ship of Bones first appears as pretty much any run of the mill HOPA from that time. A town in peril, a mysterious force unleashed and only you can save the day through a series of extremely inconvenient locks and puzzles. Seriously, most HOPAs would be over so quickly if people just used regular damn locks so you could pick them. The hidden object scenes were pretty damn standard, populated exclusively with list based scenes. Now, in 2013 I do expect HOPAs to have come a little further. After all, this was long after Dark Parables started parading around fragmented objects and plenty of other games used silhouettes and… other things.

But one shan’t complain too much as what it does it does quite well. While it may just be lists, they are very well made and they do include quite a bit of interactivity at times. Hell, there was one where you kept having to move a skeleton around just so you could access all the items. Quite clever. And they never really seemed to get boring. They offered just the right amount of challenge and never really outstayed their welcome. Unlike many other games from this time, it wasn’t excruciating to find all the objects.

Maybe they got a bit too common during certain sections? At times it felt like I was falling over a pile of random junk at every step and they could so easily just have let you revisit a few to clean up some of the clutter. Instead it felt like every time you opened a cupboard or opened a box, a pile would pour out. The game only contained something like 22 unique locations in the main game and while some of them were altered during the course of the game, 22 is… not that much so forcing a hidden object scene or two in every location is a bit… unnecessary. But again, this complaint is a big fat maybe and I’ll talk a bit more about why that is very soon.

But first, puzzles!

Now, you all know that I think the puzzles are pretty important and that I feel like puzzles have gotten a bit too easy as of late. Well, I’m here to tell you that there are still games with hard puzzles, you just have to go back a few years to find them! For instance in 2013 because frack did this game ever kick my ass.

Not all puzzles were as hard as nails, of course, but a few took deep pleasure in forcing me to actually think and not just react. Hell, I even skipped a puzzle because after ten minutes (or more) of fiddling with it I just could not figure it out at all. Maybe I was just having a bad day, I’d like to think so, but my brain simply looked at that puzzle and thought “What? I don’t… even… no, this makes no sense. I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS!” and you know what? It felt amazing.

Yeah, no joking, having to push the “Skip” button for the first time in… at the very least a whole year, probably more, was great. Cause that’s what it’s there for! It should be needed a lot more than it is. Cause this was the kind of puzzle that would’ve had me stumped for a very long time if I hadn’t been able to skip.

I know it seems super weird that I want puzzles that I have to skip and if I love puzzles so much, why don’t I stick it out? And I do love really challenging puzzles but there are puzzles that I’m simply crap at. Figuring out patterns I can do real easy and if it’s just a matter of putting in the time and sticking it out, I can do that too. But having to plan ahead and think several moves ahead within an intricate system? Yeah, I’m not so good at that. And before you ask, no, I’m terrible at chess too. And strategy in general. If it’s not a matter of rolling over everything with a very large pile of units, real time strategy games, like Starcraft, simply isn’t for me.

And games like this teaches me about… well, myself. What I’m good at already and what I need to train more. And that’s a good thing. I know where I can become better or where I need to trust in others for the optimal outcome.

What I’m saying is this: stop shying away from difficult puzzles, HOPA-developers! The skip button is there for a reason. And I’m also saying this to HOPA-players: stop being afraid of the skip button. It’s there for a reason!

But enough about that, let’s talk graphics and sounds before we talk about what I REALLY want to talk about in relation to this game.

This game looks real nice and doesn’t argue with aspect ration at all. In going through a bunch of old games lately, it was quite nice to find one that I didn’t have to run windowed or that simply refused to start at all without serious fiddling. You might think that’s not worth noting for a game from 2013, sure, but you’d be surprised at how recently HOPAs were still messing up on that front.

But from a quality standpoint I’m quite pleased. Going from Templar to this is quite the change, not only in terms of aspect ratio (it’s proper widescreen!). Everything is pretty crisp and clear, perhaps a bit muddy in some areas but overall I’m quite pleased with it. The 3D animations employed for the skellingtons and Garm and a few other pieces were surprisingly good for a HOPA in 2013 (I swear the quality of 3D animations have actually gone down since) and it really gave them the option to give the skellies more “life” as it were. Luckily they didn’t push their luck and force them to talk as well, instead using still shots of the 3D models when talking. Much preferred, honestly.

Whenever a cutscene or action required a bit more movement than the 3D models would be able to do well, they used live actors.

I was definitely pleased by that which, to anyone in the mainstream gaming community, might sound super weird but I just like it. It doesn’t look as bad as early 3D and it simply doesn’t take me out of the game as much as poorly animated 2D cutouts. I really do wish studios would go back to this cause they used to do very well in this area. Eipix and Elephant both used to do this and I’m not sure why they stopped. Maybe it was just more work than they were okay with and… okay, I see that.

But I still like it a whole lot. And it’s infinitely better than paper cut out dolls that just… don’t work properly. Some studios can pull it off, like Mad Head, but in general I just don’t like this way. I’d prefer it if they went back to old school stuff and just didn’t animate portraits at all. That’s less obtrusive than an Uncanny Valley effect.

Maybe it’s just me and nobody else cares… but this is my blog so I can whine about it all I want.

Finally, before the big talking point, I’ll talk a bit about the music and… it was quite nice. Not mindblowing or anything but good enough to earn itself a place in my digital music library. It’s not much you get, three, four minutes in total but it’s quite a nice few minutes. And REALLY fits the tone of the game. I particularly liked “Mystic Theme”, just so you know!

So, what was it that I wanted to talk about in particular? Well, I’m glad you asked or I might have gone on and on about live actors!

What I really liked about this game is how it didn’t shy away from dark elements. You could say all of Hallowed Legends was like this, quite dark and not afraid to pull any punches. There is death in this game. Not in the sense that a lot of people die but the theme revolves heavily around death. The obvious one is Hel, who was the Norse Queen of the Underworld. But the story itself is steeped in it and we eventually find out that the whole ordeal began because people got greedy and violent which ended with people dying, thus awakening Hel.

Then there’s the undead roaming the Earth. They’re not necessarily violent, they’re not out to eat your brain but instead… confused and uncertain what is happening, having only the thought that they had when they died as a kind of mantra. “All I know is that I have to dig up this grave” one of the skeletons say, another not sure what to do except rake leaves but… he doesn’t have a rake so how can he do it? All of them figure into a puzzle somehow, sure, but it’s also a rather chilling depiction of what death might be.

I’m not going to spoil too much but the interactions with the skeletons was a highlight but there are other aspects of the story that asks the player to reconsider what they’re thinking and that’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

And I miss this in HOPA. They used to be so much… darker, more brutal in what they depicted. I still remember the first Ravenhearst trilogy, that stuff was dark as hell. Highly recommended. I should do a retrospective of that trilogy. Anyway, that’s for another time. But the way this game was structured, it did give me chills at times and make me go “Ooooh, that’s grim.” and that, again, is a good thing. I’m not saying all HOPA have to be, I like colorful, zany fantasy adventures as much as anyone but this darkness… I miss it!

That wasn’t the only way this game took their players seriously either. As I mentioned earlier, the main game consisted of a measly 22 locations which, in modern HOPA measures isn’t a whole lot. But those 22 locations were filled to the brim with stuff to do and you kept returning to places again and again and again. I don’t think it ever shut any area off and instead there was a mechanic that had you revisitingg old locations, basically forcing you to commit every single location to memory so you could figure out what the clue was referring to.

It was great. I love this whole roaming aspect, it feels like they give me a big playground and slowly let me have access to all the toys but never taking any away from me. The map was a godsend because even I’ll admit after a while I started forgetting where there were puzzles and activities that I might unlock with my newly found treasure trove of items I’ve picked up. But I still prefer it this way in comparison to a game where the map is a mere useless addition because all HOPAs must have maps now.

Another way you might put it is that Hallowed Legends aspired way more to be like the old adventure games that still hadn’t returned in force at this point. I genuinely wish developers would revisit some of these ideas in modern designs as well because modern HOPA have shifted so hard away from this that it makes me kind of sad. Again, I don’t want JUST this but a balance would be nice.

That’s not to say the game is perfect either. There’s a few rough edges and while I enjoyed the collectibles they didn’t really do much except unlock an achievement which… I mean, okay, but I don’t care about achievements that much´. There was also stuff like this:

Pretty sure that’s Russian or similar to it so… oops? Wasn’t playing the game in Russian last time I checked. Things like this slip by, I work as QA so I do understand that, but it’s still disappointing every time it happens.

But at the end of the day, I really do recommend this game. Especially if you, like me, encountered these types of games when you first started out playing HOPA. It was simultaneously a breath of fresh air and nostalgic. Maybe one day Elephant Games will revisit this franchise, I kind of hope so, but considering it’s been four years since Ship of Bones was released, I find that hard to believe. Which is a shame because even if I didn’t find the two first games in the trilogy that amazing, the concepts are still worth revisiting. And if Mystery Case Files can keep going still, I see no reason why Hallowed Legends can’t!

 

 

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