Playing Fantasy University reminded me of how much I enjoyed text-based adventure games. Not that FU is entirely text based, just the the quest texts and item descriptions are meant to be read.
I checked out Choice of Dragon, a free text-based adventure game for a web browser or iToy. The multiple-choice interaction gave me the opened-ended storyline I loved in text games, without the turn-key-in-lock frustrations of a game that parses text entry. (Hey, I wasn’t THAT nostalgic) You play as a dragon in a generic fantasy land, full of princesses to capture (or princes, your dragon can be an equal-opportunity kidnapper), adventuring parties to torment, and treasure to steal.
CoD is a solid IF game. Engaging descriptions of scenes and character never become long-winded. The story uses fun fantasy stereotypes, without going into the complete parody in Fantasy University or Kingdom of Loathing, and uses light sarcasm, but never takes on the unhelpful DM’s tone from Zork or Adventure. The game is fairly short, but reading the game is such a delight, it’s practically impossible not to play through a few times for different stories.
Each decision players choose has an in-game effect. You can fight or flee, split the booty or turn on your ally for the whole thing. Burning the village increases your infamy and treasure hoard, while letting the villagers live as your vassals increases your honor. Your stats continue to affect your abilities and choices, giving you more story options and personalization.
The game could be improved with a way to save the game. At several interesting crossroads, I was sorry I could not travel both / and be one traveler, long I stood / and looked down one as far as I could. What works in poetry could be greatly improved with a saveslot. Right now, an incomplete game is stored for further progress next time, but there’s no way to return to a particular place besides restarting the game and trying to make all the same choices to lead back to that point. Knowing how way leads on to way, it’s a poor solution that could be solved with an option to save the game.
Choice of Broadsides, another similar game from Choice of Games, won my love with a choice of gender. Some games give you a female avatar, or swap some pronouns around to make the ladies feel at home, but CoB creates a world when young ladies sail the high seas and young gentlemen are sweet domestic angels. You encounter mutinous sailors, brave enemies and honorable sea captains, all female. Later, when one of your salty companions suggests you marry, and give yourself an attractive mate and the comforts of home life, you can choose a husband from an array of accomplished young gentlemen.
I didn’t enjoy the naval adventure quite as much the fantasy one, partly because I’m more of a princess-capturer than a vessel-seizer. I also felt like there were some choices that could be made in CoBroadsides that were just wrong, that in certain crossroads there was a distinctly correct and incorrect choice to be made, while in CoDragon I felt like different dragons and different choices led to different but equally valid stories.