Genre: Fantasy RPG (minus the combat focus)
Synopsis: In a fantasy inspired by ancient India, five people have to make their way and shape the world around them during a period of social unrest: a princess ingrained in the surrounding politics, a mercenary captain following orders, a priest engaging in charitable acts, a peasant whose marriage is being arranged, and a diplomat whose people are being blamed for all the wrongs of the kingdom. The decisions that each of them make, the alliances that they build, and the traps that they dodge will determine the future of the realm–and who lives long enough to see it.
Verdict: Absolutely captivating.
This was an incredible game. The story and gameplay are straightforward, but there’s something powerfully compelling about it. I absolutely fell into this world, into the problems experienced by various segments of society and the positions this put them in.
The story takes place in Bhimra, a kingdom in the midst of a famine. Bhimra is working out a treaty with the Naga Empire, which is willing to trade food, in part for a looser immigration policy to deal with its own overpopulation crisis. But the people of the slums, who have already received the majority of foreign immigrants and view them as competition for the scare resources available to them, are fiercely opposed to this. (The plot line seems weirdly topical, for some reason.)
As the player, you take turns controlling five different characters with very different perspectives, and get to choose how they react. You choose who each of them trusts, which way they decide to push the direction of not only their own future, but everyone else’s. You try to manage your characters’ relationships with the people around them–with a dialogue mechanic that keeps track of how someone feels about you in terms of friendship, respect, and fear.
Each of these five characters belong to a different segment of society and experience the world differently because of it. Asha is a princess who’s just beginning to enter the politics around her, but the consequences of all the plans already in motion come crashing down on her head. Chitra is an ambassador from the Naga Empire, trying to push through a treaty beneficial to both nations, but finding riots in the streets in opposition to the treaty specifically and her people’s presence in general. Bhagwan is a priest carrying out charitable acts under a religious figure in the slums, a figure who is also aggressively anti-Naga. Shyam is a mercenary captain who chooses between prioritizing his men, his employer, or the most vulnerable populations in the city. Tanya is a fifteen year old peasant girl whose main concern is her own family and future, such as whether to accept the marriage her parents are proposing for her–or to take outrageous steps to escape it.
The societal problems they’re dealing with are complex, but it’s fascinating that we get to see them from so many perspectives. And so many opposing perspectives, at that. The player gets to decide how each of these characters react to the situations they’re in–are they motivated by personal gain, or do they care about the rest of the world? Are they trusting or cynical? Who do they give their loyalty to? And many of these choices have consequences, one of which might be whether or not that character even survives.
Moreover, the player sometimes makes decisions about their characters’ fate while playing a different character. Which is an interesting psychological exercise on its own. Because knowing one character’s story and motivations–a story that you made happen the way that it did, and motivations you chose for that character–while being someone else, someone who isn’t supposed to have any of that knowledge and doesn’t share the same priorities…that’s something. In a way, you kind of judge your own past decisions from an outside perspective. From the perspective of someone who has different concerns and a different reality.
It’s ultimately a cool experience, though I’ll admit that it hurt me to let bad things happen to my favorite characters, because the person I was playing at the time would have no reason to make a certain decision.
Note that this game is mostly dialogue and exploration with little to no combat–I’ve heard that combat does exist, but I never encountered it once in my entire playthrough. That’s pretty refreshing. I like to see different types of gameplay, and I don’t want every game out there (that isn’t a visual novel) to be so heavily combat-based. Variety is good. It means everyone can have the option to engage with something that appeals to them, instead of one group of people’s needs being prioritized over others.
Overall, I absolutely loved the experience of playing this game. It was immersive, it was powerful, it was nuanced. And it was different.