Final Thoughts 08

The Whispered World

Note: This is not a review, but merely my musings after having recently completed a game as part of my Rogue's Adventures playthrough of my backlog. Follow @RoguesAdventure to keep up with my playthroughs.

Also Note: This was originally written (and game was completed) in February-March 2013.


MASSIVE STORY SPOILERS! I urge you to play this wonderful game first before reading this spoiler filled recap.

Developer: Daedalic Entertainment

Release Date: Aug, 28 2009 (Germany), April 26, 2010 (USA)

"I want to tell you a story..."

So begins the foreboding tale of Sadwick the depressive clown, his only friend in the world a morphing caterpillar named Spot, and a fantastical world on the brink of destruction.

Daedalic Entertainment has often been described as the LucasArts of Germany, but I found The Whispered World to be much more inspired form the fantasy workings of many of Sierra's best games. Taking place in the fantasy world of Silentia, Sadwick is depressed about his lot in life as a traveling circus clown who gets emotionally abused by his mean older brother and forgotten about by his elderly grandfather. The game opens with a recurring nightmare that's been plaguing Sadwick - the world crumbles around him as he races along, suddenly coming face to face with a giant glowing orb that yells his name, urging him to wake up. When exploring the nearby Autumn Forest where the caravan makes camp, Sadwick happens upon a traveling messenger for the King, Bobby, who entrusts him with the Whispering Stone, a sacred artifact that must be brought to the kingdom of Corona to prevent its destruction and restore the king. We also learn about the evil Asgil, a race of creatures that are determined to take over the world.

Chapter One continues in an uneven pace of exploration and discovery until you meet the Oracle of the forest, Shana. Shana prophesizes that Sadwick is destined to destroy the world, a fate which he refuses to accept. He is charged with bringing the stone to Corona, and has journey takes him to an industrial island (which is really the back of a giant bird) to the fortress of the Asgil until finally reaching the floating castle of Corona.

The game is spread out over four distinct chapters, each containing their own areas and overarching puzzles and lasting several hours. In Chapter One the first big puzzle is to find the Oracle, then to get to the island in the lake, while Chapter Three involves rescuing Spot and escaping the Asgil fortress. I found it immensely helpful that Sadwick's inventory was completely wiped at the end of each chapter so that previously used but reacquired items wouldn't clutter up his inventory. Even then some items would return in plausible and sometimes humorous ways; Grandpa's pantaloons in particular made a return in each and every chapter, always playing an important role in solving a different puzzle, and by Chapter Four I could feel the developers saying Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge, there's the pants again!

The game autosaves automatically, but Sadwick can't die, and you can never get yourself stuck (the latter being a huge plus in modern adventure games). On several occasions I was completely baffled on what to do next and how to solve a puzzle, until just when I was about to Shift-Tab to pull up a walkthrough I started experimenting with items and objects and would invariable find a solution. A few were just trial and error (sharpening a coin on a grindstone produced an arrowhead), but more often than not would result in a wonderful Eureka moment as I discovered complicated inventory combinations or an item I had missed. Speaking of missing items, I discovered somewhere in the middle of Chapter One (by reading a review of the game) that you could hold down the space bar to highlight all the hotspots on the screen. This was so incredibly useful I'm astonished it wasn't telegraphed in the game or Help or something, and it directly improved my enjoyment and puzzle solving capabilities: No one wants to be stuck because they missed a branch lying on the ground. With the amazing background art in the game, it was easy to miss important objects that could be manipulated.

As you can tell from The Whispered World photo album on the Rogue's Adventure Facebook group page, I really dug the artwork in this game. To the tune of over 200 pictures taken, the screenshots manage to capture the beautifully constructed scenes but not the wonderfully fluid animations and cartoonish cutscenes. It's simply the best looking 2D game I've played since Aquaria, and the characters and locations totally immersed me in this original fantasy world in a way I hadn't felt since playing the old King's Quest and Quest for Glory games of the early and mid-90s. The music is evocative and wonderful as well, with a particularly stirring piano piece as the title track.

After playing the wonderfully interesting Resonance, I wasn't expecting another adventure game to hit me so hard with its emotional story so soon, but Sadwick's tale did just that. Throughout his odyssey Sadwick retains his low-self esteem but never say die attitude, and the boy and his pet relationship with Spot provides an important emotional anchor through all four Chapters. By the time Sadwick reaches Corona and fixes the planetary device, a scale model of their universe that also represents the universe itself, the blue orb has descended and the world as he knows it begins to crumble away. In a last ditch effort, Sadwick destroys the machine, defeating the orb but also freezing the world in time. No one will age, no one will change, and the art takes on a darkened tone. The Asgil invade, and their leader Loucaux seems the very personification of an unwillingness to change or adapt, preferring the frozen in time world and literally feeding off the stagnant tar that now leaks from the former fountain of life. Only when Sadwick defeats Loucaux (who becomes a slithering tar monster) with the help of a newly hatched butterfly-Spot, does the villain's motives make sense.

What Sadwick discovers in the king's spire is a very familiar looking room. It could easily pass for a young boy's room with paintings, a bookshelf, a fish bowl, and a chess set. The room is dominated by a large mirror and when Sadwick peers into it, he sees the reflection of a young boy in a hospital gown. The boy pulls him through the mirror into the world between mirrors (basically a dark hallway). The boy explains that he's been sick, and shows him the reflection on his mirror. Sadwick sees the young boy asleep in a hospital bed, with his father reading over him. The father's voice is the same as the blue orb, and he's reading the story of The Whispered World. The boy explains that he's been in this fantasy world for a long time, but it's time to wake up and face reality. Everything in the fantasy world was just that, a fantasy that the boy was living in, and to wake up, he has to indeed destroy the world and everything he knows. The boy presents him with the decision (and Sadwick still has a crowbar in his inventory) though I later discovered if you try to return home, the boy just chastises him and there is no real choice. In the end, Sadwick shatters the mirror to reality and the boy awakens to an overjoyed father.

The ending was nothing short of amazing. While the "it was all a dream," story twist is nothing new, the fact that the boy had been in a coma, and that the father was actually helping him by getting him to "destroy the world," was an amazingly cool revelation. During the end credits we got to see the various characters that had inhabited the boy's world and translated into his fantasy - such as his beloved family dog being Spot, a funny little bearded garden gnome was the spitting image of the astronomer in Corona, and Bobby the messenger was the local paperboy. I found the whole ending to be an incredibly moving experience and thought back on how cool that makes the beginning of the game, with the seemingly generic narrator opening a book and beginning to tell the story.

While giving an emotional and interesting story the game also managed to include a ton of awesome puzzles. There was a great variety from combining various inventory objects to solving chess puzzles, pipe mazes, and a few dialogue puzzles where Sadwick got to flex his surprisingly clever wit. Spot's various forms that he learned in the first three chapters came in handy as well, and I got in the habit of when in doubt try using Spot.  A few puzzles were counter-intuitive and required some experimentation but as a whole I found the challenge and difficulty to be just perfect, and although it took me a while (15 hours over three weeks) I'm proud to say that I never succumbed to looking at a walkthrough.

The interface was intuitive and great, with holding the mouse over an object bringing up options to Look, Grab, and Talk, and the only other interface was for changing Spot's form. Sadwick is extremely talkative, which could be very off putting with his unique voice work. For a verbose protagonist, Sadwick has an incredibly whiny voice which totally fits his character but definitely takes some getting used to. Every single review I read had the voice acting under a negative, but I only had issues in a few spots. You could easily click the mouse to skip a line, and with my fast reading I utilized that quite a bit. Even then Sadwick's very descriptive anecdotes for each item or item combination almost never repeated, leading to a lot of entertainment during the experimenting times. One complaint I do have is that it was far too obvious to tell that the same handful of voice actors had been used for all the characters, one higher pitched voice in particular made me cringe and it was used on at least three different characters.

I'm saddened to see such a low MetaCritic score for this wonderful game (70) as it seems the voice acting and some of the trickier puzzles really brought down the experience for many reviewers. Don't be fooled, The Whispered World is one of the best adventure games I've ever played and I've played a lot of them! Your mileage may vary, but the beautiful fantasy world, the wonderfully emotional story, and the brain burning puzzles have solidified The Whispered World as one of my all time favorite adventure games.