Thank you, GamersGate, for giving us a copy of this game to review!
Back when I was much younger, and had much more time to do things not video game-related, I enjoyed pouring over the few [i]Choose Your Own Adventure[/i] books I owned. I was constantly searching for all the different paths I could take, but it was never really about that. It was the sense of involvement in the story, the feeling that my choices affected something. Of course, all of my choices led to an outcome decided by the writer, but that never bothered me. It was a story, and even though I influenced it, the unknown and unexpected guided the story just as much as I did.
The adventure/visual novel genre is the natural evolution of that idea, and 1931: Scheherazade at the Library of Pergamum tries to fill a small facet of that niche by focusing on a world-travelling, well-to-do girl surviving her first eventful year in college in the 1930s. The problem is that where Scheherazade should improve an idea in need of a reintroduction, it instead transitions it to different medium—only now with many more issues present.
As mentioned before, the story follows that of Scheherazade ‘Sadie’ Keating as she survives her first few semesters studying archeology at New York University. Sadie is following in the steps of her parents and working to become a true archeologist, just like they were before their mysterious disappearance. Trouble lies in wait though, and Sadie has an awful knack for uncovering it. There are more than a few Indiana Jones-esque moments throughout the adventure, and while Black Chicken’s inspiration is obvious during those scenes, they never fail to entertain. Although the main character is a female, it’s made clear that this was intended as an adventure, not a romance.
An unfortunate obstacle to that adventure, however, is the over-reliance on text to tell Scheherazade’s story. I can understand the lack of voice acting, and I appreciate how the developers had the foresight to properly break up the characters’ speech, but wading through lines of dialogue isn’t fun, it's irritating. This is a problem that plagues many other titles in the genre, and it’s hardly a reason to avoid playing, but the fact remains that players will have to commit to reading through what’s comparable to a novel in order to play this game.
What’s odd though, is that I found myself more involved in the characters plight when I wasn’t directly controlling anything. That’s partly because few interactive elements exist in Scheherazade, but it’s also because even fewer of them are any fun. Choosing Sadie’s response at key moments is enjoyable, if not a bit superficial, but there’s little to do outside of the main storylines. Optional side-missions called Capers appear as the player progresses through the story, and these take on the form of miniature stories, complete with their own unique characters and plot. The problem with both the main story and side Capers is that their success is dependent on key moments where Sadie must draw upon her inspirations—quite literally. Inspirations can be collected like trading cards and used at difficult moments to influence their outcome.
On the surface, this sounds like a rather insignificant mechanic, which it is, as the game is very forgiving about failure, but certain issues soon become apparent. To acquire the one-time-use cards, specific parts of the city must be visited, but there are so many different kinds of inspirations that finding the correct one can be difficult. Occult Lore, Resolve, Poise, Leaping, Self-Knowledge—so many could have been lumped into more general categories. Thankfully, missions display what abilities will be needed beforehand, but it still feels unnecessary.
1931: Scheherazade at the Library of Pergamum is a text adventure, and a good one at that, but it leans too heavily on the ‘game’ part of itself. When nothing is obstructing the story, Scheherazade shines, both the character and the game. I wasn’t alive during the 1930s, but the characters and music make me feel as if I was. Jazzy tunes and all manner vibrant citizens fill New York City, and underneath the touristy façade of Egypt lies a land with a rich cultural history and unique musical style. The backgrounds may rarely change for these locations, but what the characters describe and experience makes every place visited seem tangible.
Some of the events however, seemed a bit less plausible. It’s not a strong theme throughout, but there are a few Capers within the story that involve the occult and magical relics. It’s also an unfortunate fact that inappropriate language was present in the 1930s, and is represented here by d*mn and frequent use of the Lord’s name in vain.
There are times that will stay with me once the game has been forgotten on my hard drive—times where I was sitting hunched over my computer utterly spellbound by the adventures of an intrepid young girl trying to make her way in the world of archeology. The tense moments where I couldn’t click to the next piece of text fast enough, and where I was never quite sure what was going to happen. But there are also moments that will remind me of why I stopped playing: long stretches of uninteresting gameplay, an awful skill system, and too much text.
This is tale is firmly cemented in the good by its excellent writing and wonderful music, but unable to reach greatness because of a few problems that could have easily been avoided. 1931: Scheherazade at the Library of Pergamum requires the player to invest much more heavily in its story because of the way it’s conveyed (all text and very little player involvement), and whether it was done intentionally or not, it leads it to be one of the most fascinating tales that I never expected.
It’s not an adventure I would recommend to many people, especially at its $24.99 price tag, but it has a unique, endearing charm that makes the adventure worthwhile to those willing to put up with all of its idiosyncrasies.