The walkthrough is here.
Gifts of Phallius 3: The Valkin War (henceforth GoP3) is the third, but possibly not final, game in the Gifts of Phallius series. We last visited the world of Ereos in 2006 with Gifts of Phallius 2: The Key to Eternity. In that game Princess Dania and the Captain (the PCs) undertook a quest to imprison Goraz, the Valkin prince. The climax of their adventure was a ritual where Dania gave up her virginity to the Captain. It was supposed to imprison Goraz, but in fact it freed him because the entire quest was a lie.
GoP3 is set approximately eighteen years later. Humanity is losing the war against the Valkin. This is partly because the god Phallius, who is supposed to be the protector of Ereos, is sulking in his temple because the humans freed Goraz. Given that in GoP2 he was enough of a micromanager to send a nymph to distract a guard but somehow didn't realise that Kalia wasn't one of his priestesses, it seems to me that he deserves to take some of the blame. But then he does come across as a bit of a dick.
The structure of GoP3 is very similar to GoP2. The player controls multiple characters, and switches back and forth between them as they journey to Phallius's temple to perform the ritual that will lock away Goraz forever. The major difference is that this time the ritual actually does what it says it will do, rather than the exact opposite. It was refreshing to play a GoblinBoy game that didn't feature one of his 'trademark' twists at the end, as they were becoming somewhat predictable.
Another difference is that there are five major PCs, compared to two in the previous game. Each PC gets a separate 'path' along which they travel to their destination. From time to time each PC sees 'tracks' left by the other PCs, but they don't actually meet in the flesh until the very end of the game. Because of this, GoP3 is much more obviously linear than either of GoblinBoy's recent magnum opuses. In most cases, the only direction the PC open to the PC is forward. Detours are infrequent, and there are only one or two points where the player has a choice of paths. There are several instances where decisions create different effects further on the in the game, which gives GoP3 a greater degree of replayability than its predecessor. However, for the most part, the effects of those decisions are fairly minor and don't alter the ending of the game.
The world of Ereos is highly sexualised. Basically, it's what you would get if took the character of Melissa from the School Dreams series and made her the normal standard of behaviour. People have sex at the drop of a hat, no one is very bothered by incest, almost no one knows what monogamy means, and so on. Although it sounds like a perfect setting for AIF, I'm not convinced. The effect is to make the sex scenes easier to access. There are a couple of occasions where all you need to do is 'proposition girl' and most of the other scenes aren't much more difficult. If you've read some of my previous posts, you'll know that I enjoy a sex scene more when I feel like I've done something to earn it. I didn't get that feeling in GoP3.
Another issue I had is that because nearly every character is having sex nearly all of the time none of the scenes feel particularly special. They're just two (or more) characters with no deep emotional attachment to each other having sex, which is an everyday occurrence in Ereos. There's no designated lust object who is teased as a prize for the PC, there's no hint that any of the scenes is more than a casual encounter, there's not even a frisson of the forbidden to any of the incest scenes. Moreover, other than Farek being upset if Dania or the king have sex with Vialla before he does, none of the sex scenes have any significant consequences, which just emphasises how meaningless the sex is overall.
There are five main playable characters in GoP3: the Princess, the Captain, the King, Queen Alicia, and Princess Dania. Each of them essentially has a storyline to themselves, although they occasionally encounter the effects of the other PCs' actions. The vast majority of the NPCs are confined to a single storyline as well, the only exceptions being Farek and Vialla. The effect of this is to severely restrict the amount of time any character spends on stage. That leads to comparatively shallow characterisation as you never see enough of a character to develop an interest in them.
The Princess is ostensibly the central character of GoP3, as the player starts out in control of her and it's her idea to petition Phallius for help, which acts as the catalyst for the entire game. However, after the first chapter she just sits in the temple, periodically sucking Phallius' cock whenever the player wants to change characters. The Captain and the King are virtually interchangeable. It's a good thing they look different, because you'd be hard-pressed to tell them apart based on their dialogue or actions. Much the same applies to Dania and Alicia. Because of that, and the fact that the game constantly forces you to switch between the various PCs, I never built up any sort of connection with any of them. The overall effect was to make me feel more like an observer than a participant in the game.
Overall, GoP3 lacks a character who's comparable to Becky, Anna, Jenny or Alison from GoblinBoy's previous games. The most memorable NPCs are probably Farek, Myria and to a lesser extent Vialla. What they all have in common is that they appear in multiple scenes, so they receive more characterisation than the other NPCs. Farek is a little like Alison from SD3 in that their sensibilities are out of step with everyone else's. In Alison's case it was because she wasn't a massive slut like her sister. In Farek's case it's because he desires a monogamous relationship with the woman he loves. Myria stands out for much the same reason. However, despite her initial characterisation as an ice maiden, Vialla ends up being much like any other female NPC in the game, happily losing her virginity to Dania or the king if they happen to ask.
When he's trying to tempt Farek to the dark side, one of the things that Goraz says is "they [Dania and the king] - like all humans - are only interested in themselves, and pleasure. Neither of them cared what impact their actions would have on you". Personally, I find it hard to argue with that, and it's a good summation of why I found the majority of the characters to be shallow and unlikeable. The relationships between the characters are almost entirely superficial, motivated only by physical pleasure. The only exceptions are the pairings of Farek and Vialla (although that seems rather one sided), and Myria and Mildew. Yes, comedy relief character Mildew Saggins is capable of forming a more mature emotional relationship than any of the PCs. Given how strong the characters were in Meteor that's something of a disappointment.
The writing in GoP3 is fairly typical of GoblinBoy's recent output. Apart from the sex scenes, the descriptive text is rather brief. It's not as minimalist as it was in his earliest work, but it doesn't add a great deal to the game either. The writing is dependent on the graphics in many cases as well. There are scenes and responses that would seem abnormally short if it wasn't for the presence of a picture or two.
The dialogue, which I thought was a major strength of Meteor, has been dialled back considerably. There are almost no menu-based conversations, instead we're back to ask/tell. That wouldn't be so bad, except that in most cases it's only the NPC who says anything. That cuts off a source of characterisation for the PCs, and is part of why I found them to be so bland and interchangeable.
The major point of difference with the writing of SD3 or Meteor is that GoP3 is much more obviously intended to be a humorous game. The fourth wall is broken numerous times, the characters refer to the fact that they're in a game, and so on. It's a highly subjective area, but I don't think that humour is GoblinBoy's strong suit. Unlike Pervert Action Crisis, for example, I can't think of any lines in GoP3 that raised a smile for me.
The effect of GoP3 not taking itself seriously is going differ depending on the player. In my case, I was struggling to truly get into GoP3 and the constant breaking of the fourth wall made that even more difficult and distanced me from the game even further. In particular, the NPCs' responses to being asked about 'game' only emphasises that they're two-dimensional cut-outs rather than believable characters. In my opinion, AIF works by willing suspension of disbelief. The plot may be silly or implausible, but it works because the player wants to believe it. That's much more difficult when the game itself is constantly reminding the player that it's not real.
As with most of GoblinBoy's games, GoP3 features very few traditional or explicit puzzles. The only one that involves interacting with the environment in any way takes place at the very beginning of the game. Otherwise, most of the game's scenes are accessed by asking the NPCs about various topics, such as sex, or simply by propositioning them. As I mentioned above, the effect was that I never felt as though I'd done anything significant to earn a particular scene, and as a consequence I didn't place much value on any of them.
There are also a couple of 'puzzles', specifically anything that involves combat with the Valkin, where the results are governed by random chance. As I've said before, I think that luck should have as small an impact on a game as possible. In this case, my response was to repeat the action and undo if I didn't get a good result, which I don't think constitutes good gameplay.
I'd have to do a proper count to be certain, but my impression is that a majority of the sex scenes were non-interactive cut scenes. That's partly forgivable, in that so many of them were group scenes with no great importance to the game as a whole, but it had the effect of further decreasing my sense of involvement in the game and if it wasn't for the presence of so many illustrations I might have felt cheated by the lack of interactivity.
The sex scenes themselves were largely a blur to me a day after playing the game. I think that's because there are so many of them packed into a comparatively small space. Because of this crowding, few of the scenes have anything that makes them stand out, either in and of themselves, or because of how they're set up. In fact, due to how frequently the player's point of view shifts, very few of the scenes receive any build up at all. If an NPC is 'interactive' the PC will be fucking them within five minutes of meeting them, and will likely never see or refer to them after that. The only scene that is built up over multiple chapters takes place between two NPCs (Farek and Vialla).
GoP3 also suffers from the same problem as Meteor in that nearly all of the sex scenes are depicted in the same tone. If the player likes a constant diet of porn sex, that's fine. But if they want some variety, such as romance, sweetness, innocence, or so on, then they're out of luck. Given that deflowering virgins is a recurrent theme of the game, it's a bit disappointing that they all go from virgin to slut in under thirty seconds.
Another recurrent feature of the game is the extent to which the female characters are objectified. The sex scenes that occur when playing as a female PC are almost all characterised as being for the benefit of men, either as a bribe, a reward, or as titillation for the male player. It lacks the nasty edge that SD2 had, but the fact that the female characters basically have no other purpose than to have sex left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable. For instance, Queen Alicia wants to reward the guards who protected her when she was searching for mandrake root. So she has sex with all of them. Princess Dania wants to negotiate an alliance with the centaurs. So she has sex with their ambassador. Twyla the harpy wants to delay the king and his soldiers. So she has sex with all of them. The prime duty of Queen Alicia's maids is to improve morale by having sex with soldiers. The princess has to repeatedly suck Phallius's cock. In the bonus minigame you can hear the soldiers casually discussing having sex with each other's daughters. Taken individually, none of those examples are *that* bad. However, there were just so many of them that the cumulative effect left me with a bad taste in my mouth. It also emphasises just how meaningless sex is in Ereos.
As with many of GoblinBoy's other games, GoP3 climaxes with a group sex scene, this time involving seven characters. However, five of those characters are PCs, which means that they're never sold to the player as either characters or desirable lust objects. Consequently I came to the final scene having never developed an interest in any of them. Without that build up, the graphics are more or less forced to carry the scene, which they do reasonably successfully. Another factor that undercut my enjoyment of the finale is that, rather than being a reward for successfully completing the game, the player is supposed to be working out how to concentrate the Gift in one person (possibly without committing incest along the way). It's a bit like playing the Towers of Hanoi, which isn't particularly erotic.
The major strength of GoP3 is that it's a GoblinBoy game, with all that that entails. I can't remember encountering a single significant bug while playing the game, which is pretty impressive given its overall size and complexity. However, as with Meteor and SD3, GoP3's technical perfection is marred by a large number of typos and spelling mistakes
The major accomplishment of GoP3 in a technical sense is the ability to switch between the various NPCs. That's something that has been done in other games, including GoP2, but in those cases each PC's plotline was almost entirely self-contained. In GoP3 there's a much greater amount of crossover between the plotlines. One PC can encounter an NPC that another PC has already interacted with and see the effects of that interaction.
However, I'm unconvinced that having five major PCs actually improves the game in any significant way. In fact, if I had to pick one design choice that I disagreed with it would be the number of PCs. The effect of having five separate PCs is to make the game broad but shallow. If there had been one, or perhaps two, PCs it would have allowed much more opportunity to develop the characters and the relationships between them. The sex scenes could have received much greater build up as well, producing a sense of anticipation in the player that I found to be lacking. The other effect of having five PC's is to limit how much the player can identify with any of them, making the player more of an observer than an active participant in the story.
I was almost reluctant to play GoP3 because of how I felt about the ending of GoP2. I had similar feelings about SD3 because of how much I disliked SD2. The difference is that SD3 blew me away with its depth and how much fun it was to play, and GoP3… didn't. It's not that I think that GoP3 is a bad game, but it's not the compulsively replayable masterpiece that SD3 and Meteor were.
The lingering impression I have of GoP3 is that it's what GoP2 would have been like if GoblinBoy had had the same technical skills that he does now. In fact it plays almost like a pastiche of his previous games. All of the stereotypical features are present, the large number of sex scenes, the theme of turning virgins into sluts, the perfunctory non-sexual description, and so on. But somehow it lacks the je ne sais quoi that ties it all together.
In SD3 and Meteor, the spine around which the game revolved was the PC's relationship with Becky and Anna respectively. That central core is absent in GoP3 and the result is what I'd describe as a soulless romp. I found myself going from one sex scene to the next without taking any great interest in what happened in the intervening space, or in the characters for that matter. Essentially, GoP3 takes most of the elements that I didn't like about GoP2 (with the exception of the ending) and amplifies them, without adding any of the things that I thought made SD3 and Meteor such fantastic games.
None of which is to say that GoP3 won't be enjoyed by the vast majority of players. In fact, if I didn't have SD3 and Meteor to compare it to I'd probably be describing GoP3 as an unmatched technical achievement, even if it wasn't a game I particularly liked (coincidentally, that was how I felt about GoP2 back in 2006). Where GoP3 failed in my particular case was in making me care about the characters, and consequently the sex scenes. I hope very much that GoblinBoy's next game is original rather than a sequel or a spin-off. His abilities as a writer and a programmer have improved tremendously since he burst on to the scene in 2006, but I feel that's much less obvious when his skills are attached to characters and concepts that he came up with five years ago.
Overall score = 67%