The name doesn’t make sense until you jump into this odd, episodic game.
I picked up Winter Voices for this weeks demo mainly because the cover art looked pretty. I’m not kidding here, but that’s the point. To randomly pick up demos and give them a try. When I picked up the game I didn’t realize that it was episodic and that the demo was just the first part of the prologue. Does this episodic game need to have it’s show cancelled, or is it destined to keep you coming back for each new episode?
Winter Voices starts out like an RPG, which I was kind of surprised about. You are a young woman in a very small village, with no option to change your sex. This isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but being a man it can sometimes be difficult for me to get behind a female avatar in an RPG. I’m sure the ladies in the audience understand.
You must choose from one of three professions, and the game says that it will play out drastically different depending on your choice here. Sadly for the first time player there are really only two options, as the third is only for veterans. You might scoff at that, but until you’ve played the game you won’t really understand why it’s important to listen to the game when it tells you to pick on of the other two professions if it’s your first time.
Next is the stat select screen. You’re allowed to allocate fifty points into any of six stats, but again until you play the game you won’t really understand what some of these options will do for you. Memory for example increases the XP you receive, but also increases the damage you take. When I first read that I was a little confused as to why having a better memory would cause you to get hurt more, but it all makes sense once you get into the game.
After that you’ll pick an avatar for your character ala Baldur’s Gate, then generate the 3D model your character will use. You don’t have a ton of options, with three or four outfits with different colors and a handful of hairstyles, but character creation is not what Winter Voices is about. The narrative is where Winter Voices things it’s strength lies, and it may later on in the game, but from my experience it is the combat sections that really made Winter Voices stand out.
Story wise you play a young woman whose aloof father has just died.
Right there. DED.
The art style is something to behold, the cutscenes done in a ‘painted’ comic book style and the main game in a unique, washed out style that really caught my eye. It controls a lot like Fallout with an isometric camera and a point and click interface. The resolutions leave something to be desired as there are only five or six. I had a large black border around the game world, like old Ultima Online, but it didn’t bother me as the game uses that space to hold the UI elements.
Once you enter the game world you’ll quickly get into your first combat situation, and you’ll realize how different this RPG is from other games in the genre. For instance your combat seems more focused on escaping, not fighting. You’ll gain abilities that will help you get away, or prevent damage, and I assume that eventually you’ll be able to fight back, but you couldn’t in the demo and I think the game is better for it.
Winter Voices has a pretty crazy looking skill tree with tons of skills. Each one is pretty unique and it’s fun to figure out how you could use each one.
You won’t just be spamming a flee button either, you’ll be navigating the battlefield like in Fallout, with a certain amount of movement points per turn and a grid to walk on. Your job is to figure out how to use your skills and abilities, as well as the terrain, to get away from the enemies without taking enough damage to kill you. This includes both setting and avoiding traps as well. Luckily you get an ability early on that allows you to find traps, if you want to waste a turn to do so.
It’s important to realize that Winter Voices is not a traditional RPG. It feels more like an adventure survival horror game at times, and though it might not be unique it certainly was a new concept to me. The presentation is pretty amazing for the $5 price tag, though the dialog and spelling could have used a few more checks before it was released. At times it almost feels like a foreign title, which it is, but the translation is acceptable and can be intriguing at times.
One thing I wanted to touch on quickly was the save and loading system. Any RPG could learn a thing or two from it, especially the Western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls and Gothic. When you load a game, you are presented with a list of characters. You choose which character you want to load, then it will show you all of the saves that were made for that character. This would have been a life saver with Oblivion, and there were even entire programs developed to better organize Oblivions terrible save system.
In short this is one of the best demos I have tried since starting the Sunday Demo Review. I highly recommend at least giving it a download, and at $5 per episode I’m going to enjoy tearing through the interesting story and gameplay style for a while, and the episodic nature of the game means I won’t be getting tired of the mechanics by the time I finish, and I’ll be drooling for another go by the time the next episode drops.