[Game Review] Herald: An Interactive Period Drama

One of the best kinds of stories, at least in my opinion, are those based on history. There’s less to really critique on the plot because it’s all compared to things that actually happened. What matters then when people try their hand at telling these stories, or telling historical fiction, is the execution and attention to detail.

Wispfire‘s Herald is a story and choice-driven game set in an alternate 1857 (originally a period of slavery and hardships — in this case, the Indian rebellion) and you play as Devan Rensburg, who suddenly finds himself prisoner at the hands of an Indian lady called “The Rani”. The story progresses as she practically coerces Rensburg (well, depending on how you shape Devan and choose how to make him feel about the whole thing) into explaining his journey before they met, aboard the Herald.

Herald is a choice-driven adventure game set during an alternate 19th century in which the West is united as a colonial superpower: the Protectorate. Help tell the story of Devan Rensburg, a man of mixed heritage who became steward on board of the HLV Herald, a merchant ship set for his country of birth.

Gameplay

It’s a visual novel type game with your characters actually moving around, but I never would have guessed that by “interactive” they also meant you could walk around via point-and-click, and click on items on your own. I usually end up getting dizzy especially if I can control the camera on my own, but the game instead has a set angle which is cinematic on its own. You can also examine different items aboard and have Devan make note of it in his journal. With most choice-driven visual novel games, you can often tell how the story will change or progress but with Herald, it’s more a conscious effort depending on the choices you picked; sometimes you’ll have to fight for something by convincing other characters, and some things you can just get away with. The transitions all feel seamless and completely natural; I felt completely immersed.

I suppose my only issue here is with the journal, and how things aren’t necessarily updated. You can see it on my Steam screenshot here.

Graphics

I think you can tell based on the trailer and the cover image itself how the developers played with the colors. The animation is pretty, too, with the graphics looking like 3D vectors come to life. No items are hard to identify, but if any, it’s usually explained by the game. Even the contrast of style between the more pointed graphics vs the softer character art work well together.




I remember back when I was younger and lurking on deviantArt, playing video games made by other users, there was always express frustration in trying to figure out how to make their characters look more alive than the usual blinking or breathing. Herald completely showed them by making the characters really feel alive. Making annoyed or giggling expressions with even some hand movements while matching the voice overs really added to the immersive quality (almost like how Ubisoft’s City of Love: Paris is also animated!).

 

Sounds

Since the story follows Devan aboard a ship, a lot of sea sounds, wind, and other medieval ship sound effects is played for ambiance. I initially thought it was lacking, but at the same time too much of sound effects prove to be distracting. Not only are those the sounds but also sound effects for everything Devan and / or the characters interact with, such as going up and down the stairs, opening and closing doors/cupboards, etc. All the music set the mood, and I really, really love the voice acting. It gave so much character and somehow matched their look as well. I can see the image of the characters based from the voices alone, and incorporating different accents (as this is a game that tackles relevant social topics) somehow added to the historical vibe, even if I was still trying to figure out the political issues going on within the game.

I already had high hopes for the game from the moment it played the opening video and asked me to click on the floor for Devan to walk on. I was very pleasantly surprised — almost shocked — to know that it sought out to tell much more. It’s a quick playthrough, and for everything you find in it, you get your money’s worth, and also interesting perspectives you learn on your own as you play. Not only do they tackle issues present especially in the olden days and the events that occur on long travels by ship, it’s very much reflective of present issues that are still very much relevant today. I can’t wait for Books III and IV to come out.

Rating: 9 / 10

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, even Herald stuck close to details with the kind of mise-en-scene in each room, even down to the content within inspectable items. After finishing Book I & II twice (for different choices), the option “Archives” opened to show correspondence between the different characters all in the similar way of writing used back then. They were the indie prize showcase winner for Best Narrative from Casual Connect 2015 in Amsterdam while still in development and were also nominated Best Art for the same association. It’s a really great game for Linux, Windows, and Mac, and for $9.99 / P319.95 it’s definitely a must-play.

Purchase Herald: An Interactive Period Drama on their website | Steam | GOG | Humblebundle | Itch.io

Thanks again to Erik Johnson for this game!

 

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