Riddles of Fate: Into Oblivion

So, at some point Elephant Games sat down and said “Right, this whole Riddles of Fate, give it three games and that’s it. Same with Hallowed Legends. Now these other series? Make them work until their bones show.” And I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad.

Way back in 2016, I reviewed a game called Riddles of Fate: Wild Hunt. Reading my review these days is… well, just listen to this: “the four horsemen are on the hunt and they seem to be hunting for something”. Hunting for something indeed, that is typically what you do when you’re “on the hunt”. But more than that, I rightly pointed out that I rarely talk about Elephant Games, attributing it mostly to the fact that they make generic, middle of the road games that don’t really stick with you.

And, well, that still holds water to this day, he said on his third review of an Elephant Games game in a row. But I have also reviewed my opinion of Elephant since, something I have been forced to do with HOPA studios at a rather worrying rate throughout my career as a “reviewer”.

What really has me worried is that I’m starting to think I might have been wrong about ERS Games too. Now that would be embarrassing.

Back on point, though, what I said in my review still holds. I do remember Wild Hunt as being an entirely forgettable experience that, even when looking at the pictures and reading the text I’d be hard pressed to remember anything significant about. So it was with very low expectations and an arsenal of preconceived notions that I went into Into Oblivion. And perhaps that was a good thing. But not how you might expect.

Riddles of Fate: Into Oblivion
(Elephant Games, 2014)

You once defeated the four horsemen. Now comes a much bigger challenge. The seven deadly sins are walking the earth and their new target is Riddlestone. An idyllic kingdom ruled by a benevolent and kind king and his family, the sins see it as their duty to tear it down to the foundation. One by one the royal family begin to act strangely and soon the townspeople start giving in to their most basic desires. Greed, lust, pride, a town once hailed as a paradise is slowly becoming hell on earth. Beckoned by the queen, you must go to the city of Riddlestone and combat the sins.

I was not expecting much from this game, partly because Elephant abandoned the series after three games so I assume it didn’t do well for… reasons. But also because of the first game leaving such a small impression on me. Up until reading the review again, I had actually mixed it up with Chimeras: Tune of Revenge. I don’t even know how I mixed those two up at all but that is exactly what I had done.

Wild Hunt more or less represent, in my mind, what an average HOPA is. Decent, playable but wastes potential and entirely forgettable. And they typically share very similar plots that are interchangeable.

So, again, I expected virtually nothing and was more or less poised to write it up as one of the most generic, if not flat out bad HOPAs and use it as an example of what not to do.

And it didn’t start off too well, a very familiar palette with a blue dominance for atmospheric impression and a pretty straight forward vanquish the embodiment of evil plot, a young maiden begging for my help and a town so gothic it looks like vampires and werewolves stalk the streets regularly.

The graphics may be impressive but the blue dominance does it no favors and while the design was generally good, the times I got stuck it was often because interactive areas were really poorly hightlighted. And there were times when the backtracking got a bit too intense, rarely did you use items in the same location as you found them. And the story got way too busy toward the end and the bonush chapter (included in the Collector’s Edition) is a big, fat retcon of the entire plot.

But, and watch this masterful swerve, I… liked it. Clearly not all of it and I’ll flesh out my statements a bit more down the paragraphs but overall, coming away from this game, I was pleasantly surprised. This is probably the closest I’ve come to feeling like I was playing an actual adventure game and not just a casual game with pretty graphics.

For one, they cut down on the number of places you could go. In total I think there were only 24 which for a modern(ish) HOPA is quite few, they usually like to push above 30 at minimum. But that didn’t make the game short, instead it was quite a decent length because the places were absolutely packed with stuff to do, puzzles to solve and items to be unhidden. The initial ten locations or so easily make up more than half the length of the game.

And despite my gripes about the color palette, the graphics are actually really nice. I’m sure some people will complain about the cutscenes but I much prefer it when a studio doesn’t try to push their graphical prowess. Coming from the AAA game industry section, regularly playing some of the best looking games of today, HOPA studios trying their hands at serious animation comes off quite… badly. And you can see plenty of examples of that in this game, especially the bonus chapter (again) which has cutscenes that look horrendous.

Again, not sure why Elephant Games keep trying to push 2D animations when they were doing just fine with 3D animations for so long.

Another thing I really liked was the music. I don’t normally talk about the music when I review HOPA cause it’s one aspect that’s typically just okay. Now, it’s not on the level of how awesome the sound design in Haunted Hotel 4: Charles Dexter Ward was but that’s a pretty high bar to pass. But the music was very nice and the rest of the sound profile was good too. For once the voice acting didn’t make me want to bash my head against the desk and I actually skipped as little as possible because I thought it was worthwhile listening to.

The quality of the recording could’ve been better in some cases but overall I was pleasantly surprised by the voices.

But one aspect that it’s impossible to avoid talking about is the plot. While it was fine in theory, and throughout a lot of its execution, it suffers from being overloaded. Combating seven sins is not a small feat and doing it all in less than four hours even less so. There’s enough plot in this game, at least in theory, to cover a whole trilogy but instead they crammed what they could into one game.

This leads to a plot that’s fairly slow in the beginning, disappating a sin here and there, only to race through half the sins in less than an hour in the end.

This is problematic because the sins are supposed to be terrifying but outside of Greed, Envy and Gluttony, none of them get any sort of development as villains. I barely realized I was even up against Sloth and Wrath only gets a few appearances before the end. Similar applies to Pride and Lust who show up briefly and I was convinced I had already dispatched them once when I actually went up against them. That’s how little of an impact they left on me.

I also found that the game chickened out quite a bit towards the end and in the Bonus Chapter. It’s made clear in no uncertain terms that the people possessed by the Sins cannot be redeemed, they’re already gone. But despite their central roles, none of the royals were ever killed or possessed. Instead they were merely “influenced” or “under a spell”. The game continuously tells you that the royals had also changed; the previous kind and just Prince was suddenly vengeful and angry, the youngest became envious and the Princess suddenly developing quite the greed.

But nope, none of them are actually harmed. No, everyone else gets banished (aka killed) but the royal family suffer no ill effects in the end.

And the Bonus Chapter is just a continuous punch in the face in this regard. Not satisfied that you saved the entire royal family and averted disaster for Riddlestone? Now you get to go back in town and save EVERYONE! Because they happened to have a mirror to use for time travel. Yeah, the royal family just happened to have this in storage, I guess? No wonder they’re royalty.

Despite all of that, I enjoyed the story in the main game enough to not be bothered by it until I reflected on it. Most of the story is told through simple cutscenes and scraps of papers, letters and notes found lying around. It’s the first time in a long time that I actually took the time to read most of the notes found. They’re typically quite skippable in HOPA, fluff more than anything after they stopped including crucial information in them. But they were appealing enough that I for once took the time to read them. Which should tell you quite a bit.

In terms of gameplay, however, the game fared… a bit so-so. The hidden object scenes were quite basic, some interactivity but not a whole lot. It was almost exclusively list-based so no variety here but they were well designed and enjoyable enough to look at that it didn’t bother me in the slightest. Didn’t exactly light my pants on fire either but you can’t have it all. Well, all of the time, anyhow.

As for the puzzles, it was a bit of a mixed bag. Good and bad, but it was mostly variations of already well established forms. The usual array of jigsaws and Towers of Hanoi show up, some straight up while others with a bit of a twist.

The Bonus Chapter also included a pretty brutal instane of picross which I haven’t seen, at least not this substantial, in a HOPA in years. Very glad it was in there, I’m a very big fan of picross puzzles in general so much appreciated. Some of the puzzles were quite easy while others fell somewhere in between medium and hard. Nothing truly brain stressing but some did give me pause at least for a brief moment. Others had simple solutions but actually entering the solution could be a bit of a pain due to various reasons. Such as slow or bad interface, poorly thought out interactions and similar things along those lines.

So it’s kind of difficult for me to point out exactly why I enjoyed the game as much as I did. Again, how the game was structured and how it made you feel like you were in an actual adventure game rather than a meandering transport between puzzles and hidden object scenes was huge. And one of those weird things I latched on to especially was the map. At first I really disliked it, it was hard to navigate and seemed useless in actually getting around. But then I found out how to really use it, zooming in on various areas to get more detail on what needed to be done where and how to get there.

One other thing that I really appreciated with the map was that it didn’t necessarily tell you where you needed to go but it did tell you where there were things to do. This is not unique, other HOPA have had this too, but they tend to be simpler affairs where you’re pretty much just on rails. Here, due to more free roaming design, it was sometimes necessary to walk around and reminds yourself what needed to be done and where.

Unfortunately, as I hinted at earlier, one of the major reasons I did get stuck from time to time was because the interactive areas were sometimes really poorly indicated. I even played it on the lowest setting this time and the game still failed to throw up signs where I needed to go to progress. Sometimes I had just been lazy, I admit, but I hold that most of the time the game just flat out didn’t indicate at all that I was supposed to be able to do something. It harkens back to what I said in my review of Dire Grove, Sacred Grove, HOPA designers are sometimes really bad at designing intuitively. Relying far more on the crutches of sparkles and the Hint system than actual design.

I do enjoy getting stuck every so often, sure, it makes me feel like I’m playing an actually difficult game that isn’t entirely on rails, an “interactive experience”. But there’s a limit and I shouldn’t get stuck because of poor design. Or rather, lacking design.

If I’d gone into this game with higher expectations, I doubt I would’ve enjoyed it as much. That may seem like a bad excuse but it’s easy to miss genuinely good parts of something if you keep looking for other aspects that the game never claimed to have. Yes, it is flawed but the structure of the adventuring, the quite clever map, the initial stakes and puzzles and hidden object scenes that range from good to pretty good and you still have yourself a perfectly good game.

Others may disagree (and judging from the fact that there’s only one more in the series, I think it’s safe people did). But I had fun with this which is a lot more than you can say about other HOPA these days.

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