December 24, 2011

Review: Gifts of Phallius 3 - The Valkin War by GoblinBoy

The walkthrough is here.

Plot
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.
6/10

Characters
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.
6/10

Writing
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.
6.5/10

Gameplay
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.
7/10

Technical
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.
8/10

Final thoughts
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.
6.5/10

Overall score = 67%

13 comments:

  1. I have to agree with your review, it is a good game, compared to most AIF i played it wins hands down, but if i compare it to SD3 and Meteor i feel it... lacking? dont get me wrong but i like things to feel "real" (i did prefer SD3 to meteor due to the whole alien thing which kinda was a downer for me towards the end)

    Its a fun game is Gop3, but i much prefer a story centraled around a relationship, progressing with some one to see "whats next" was more exciting for me.

    I wouldnt want GB to ever stop making games! and its always good to try new things,every one likes different things (if they didnt the world would be dull)

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  2. I like this review, but it's a bit more negative then my initial thoughts. I found the game quite funny; especially the 4-th wall jokes. AIF plots are essentially 'porn-plots' and lack believability most of the time. Acknowledging that makes it more entertaining, but your mileage may varie on that. Humor is a personal thing...

    The biggest problem for this game was the lack of a NPC love object. The best characterization went to a female hobbit; and she should had the minimum of characterization required in a good game. Still... the sex-scenes where nice, the artwork was great. It was a better game then most, but it's not up tot he 'goblinboy-standard' he showed in SD3 or his game on that spaceship (can't remember the name)...

    Most of all, this game needed some choices. If you sleep with one girl, another might be angry for example. I haven't played all options yet, but it felt like a let-down that I couldn't play the twin-brother. Choosing to go all-evil would have been quite satisfying. And why couldn't twin-sister go evil at the end? (disclaimer; I've only played the game once; I won, but I expect I could have lost if I hadn't pampered my twin so much; I shouldn't have done that. The guy was an ass)

    Z223

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  3. Farek will turn to the dark side if you're mean enough to him, eg. if Dania and/or the king have sex with Vialla, if Dania helps him against the Valkin, if Alicia doesn't help him with the maids, and so on.

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  4. I agree, compared to SD3, Meteor or the other recent big AIF Game, British Fox & the Nationalist Conspiracy (made by a woman!?), this game was a bit dissapointing. Without the lesbian scenes i think i wouldn't play it a 2nd or 3rd time.

    Btw, is GB still planning to release a new/updated version of The Camping Trip? i hope so.

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  5. Re Camping Trip, this is what Goblinboy has said on aifarchive: "As for Camping Trip, I did start doing pictures for it. Had I restricted myself to just populating the existing picture hooks, I could have had it done ages ago. But no. Being GoblinBoy I have to be stupid about it and try to create pictures for *everything*. I did 20 or 30 or something, then thought I should probably get on with writing GoP3. Then got distracted by Meteor. Then Last Horizon. Then back to GoP3 again. And I already have the next game underway... Will I every finish the pictures for Camping Trip? Who knows. Maybe I should just do the picture hook ones and leave it at that..."

    To be perfectly honest, I'd much rather see Goblinboy do new stuff (like Meteor) than just keep rehashing his old games (like GoP3).

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  6. The thing is, pictures are apparently a "black hole" for GB. So if you want to see them for a finished game -- and I agree it "would be nice" to have them for Camping Trip, and why not for SD2? -- he'll get involved with those for ages, and not work on his next game. If he's close to done for CT, then I'd think he could finish them. If not, then not. The game's fine without them. The modded version with imported pics from SD3 is fine as well.

    I pretty much see that he felt GoP3 had to be written, and I'm glad he did it and got it out of his system. If there's a 4, I hope he takes it in a new direction, rather than adhering too closely to what has happened in the past. But as with any possible sequel to the School Dreams series (like the one I outlined, though I'm sure many others have thought about how they might do it, and I'd be certain that GB has), it's only worth doing if it's really a new story, rather than just "more sex with the characters you know." AIF doesn't benefit from predictable encounters. Unrealistic, yes. But not untrue.

    I, too, would rather see a new game. A really "new" game. With each new work, he seems to innovate programming tricks, and I think that's something he perhaps doesn't get enough credit for (not in terms of awards, which he gets, but in terms of others using his innovations).

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  7. In my opinion GB's best games are 2 of his shorter ones. The Casabian Virus, one of his firsts games, and then the best one, In Darkness. If he would make games like this just bigger/longer, it would be great. He focuses to much on pics right now.
    And then the final big sex-scene was, compared to the ones in Meteor or SD3, was very disappointing. Not half es much interactivity or variations.
    Well, i hope & think his next game will be better.

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  8. So, I've finally finished it. I think I liked it a little more than EL, but it's my least favorite of his last few major games (not counting Last Horizon).

    The pictures were high-quality, and he shows consistent improvement in this area.

    I thought there were a lot of good mini-stories. I didn't feel the entire narrative hung together all that well. I still know almost nothing about why anyone is doing anything, and even characters with alleged story-long arcs seem to lack motivation. I felt this most strongly with Farek, whose emo-and-maybe-evil arc just sort of sat there unexplained, but really it's a problem with all the characters. And this is a new problem, because I felt like I understood most of the motivations in the SD series, Meteor, LH, and even the previous GoP games.

    The only "motivation" here seems to be lots of sex. Lots and lots of sex. That's fine as far as it goes, but most of the time I felt like I was looking at two (or three, or...) characters and wondering not what to do with them, but what the trick was to get them to have sex, because it was obvious that they were going to. I think that GB's long-evolved style, in which the game is not a game with sex, but instead sex is the game, became a little too dismissive of everything else in this one.

    As with SD3 and Meteor I very much appreciated the enforced replayability, though as with those games I think that it would be difficult, absent the AIF community and other fora, to know that there were things worth looking for in replays. It would be very easy to finish this game, even “win” it, without knowing what else was possible. All that said, unlike Meteor and especially SD3, a lot of the replayability was just “sex with someone different,” which is less interesting than the truly plot-based alternatives. I fear that, here, the problem was that there wasn’t a particularly rich narrative that could support the potential alternatives.

    I did like that there was jeopardy (having complained about this with Keeley), and that it was both physical and sexual (e.g. taking too long to accomplish certain things). I thought the writing, motivations aside, was quite good overall. The game was, of course, extremely clean and slick from a mechanical standpoint. Some typos, yes, but I only encountered one actual bug.

    (continued)

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  9. I wasn’t all that into some of the content. Bestiality isn’t my thing, even casual, and it’s not possible to finish the game without at least a little of the latter; in previous GB games, it was fully optional. Almost all GB’s games have featured incest of some sort, and I’m not one that’s particularly squicked by that as long as everyone’s of age, but frankly there was way too much in this story, especially if played too the fullest. I hope that including so much of both in this game has gotten this content out of his system, though my similar fear for Puusoy’s games has resulted in an escalation of the content I don’t care for. Well, that’s my own personal issue, I guess.

    The final "orgy" was a let-down when it should have been a stunner, but I think that's inevitable when you've already written a terrific 2/3/4/fivesome (SD3) and a fully-interactive up-to-fivesome (Meteor). I'd recommend that if he (justifiably) finds the idea of coding all that again to be too much to contemplate, then don't try to do it at all. There’s no reason the final sequence couldn’t have been sequential, with the characters in different rooms. I keenly felt the lack of sex scenes for the Princess, who didn’t even get that much in the final scene (even if one plays it for the maximum interaction), and I thought that was one true flaw in the game; POV-switching aside, she’s the central character, and she deserved more. (Even with what she got, there was shortchanging; certainly a lot more could have been made of the blowjobs, especially given how “ridiculous” the conceit is.)

    In the end, I thought it was a game that would have gotten a lot more praise from a different author. Victim of success, and all that. I very much enjoyed playing it once, and got a minor kick out of playing the alternative paths, but I have very little desire to go back to it, and even less desire to see the sequel...unless he takes it in an unexpected direction. I'd vote for something dark, because I do think In Darkness is his best-written work, even though SD3 is still his best game.

    -- thundergod

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  10. I think the reaction to GoP3 in this thread and the review above is indicative of how much AIF has changed in the past five years (and specifically how much Goblinboy has changed it).

    When it came out in 2006, GoP2 picked up a then record 12 Erins (the only categories it was nominated for but didn't win being Best Humour, and Best Male NPC, and Camping Trip picked up the latter). GoP3 is very similar to GoP2: great graphics (for the time), lots of sex, linear episodic plot, and so on. But because it came out just over five years later, the consensus is good, but not great.

    Part of that is that I think GoP3 is possibly Goblinboy's least original work. I don't think In Darkness was wholly successful, but I do think it was massively ambitious in what it tried to do compared to the conventions of AIF. The extent of GoP3's ambition seems to be to do exactly what GoP2 did, only better.

    I've played through GoP3 twice now. Once for the review, once for the walkthrough. I've started playing through it again in order to round out the walkthrough, but I'm finding it very hard going.

    I think Farek is probably the most interesting of the NPC's. As thundergod says, his character arc feels very unfinished, although I think that his emo-ness comes from being tainted by Goraz at his conception. The effect of the taint is to make him react like a normal human being, which just emphasises how exaggerated the world of Ereos is. I can't help but wonder what GoP3 would have been like if Farek had been the PC. He has much stronger motivations that the princess does, since he wants to prove himself to both his family and his ladylove.

    Anyhow, I've rambled on for long enough. Time to get back to playing Skyrim.

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  11. I agree with most of that.

    My enthusiasm for In Darkness is primarily due to it being one of the very, very rare AIF games in which the sex is almost incidental to the plot. I mean, yes, the "climax" requires sex to bring it about, but the sex is not the plot, having sex is not the plot, trying to have sex is not the plot, and trying to figure out how or with whom one might have sex is not the plot. The story could work just as well, the game could work just as well (as a game, not as AIF), were the sex completely undescribed but only referred to. It could be a Law & Order episode (probably has been). And it's a good, tight, concise, realistic story (failing only in that we don't see enough to justify why the infidelity happens and have to assume/intuit it), which most AIF isn't.

    The quality of SD3...even Camping Trip (and we're only talking about GB games here; there are plenty of others that should be talked about)...is that there's a story that, while sex moves it along, is coequal to the sex. That balance doesn't exist in GoP3, which is entirely devoted to the sex and puts all the plot in the background and/or backstory.

    (This is, indeed, much more carping than a good game deserves, but I think GB has earned the closer analysis. Much as I thought w/r/t tlaero and phreaky, though we see how that turned out.)

    What I'd like to see, actually, is for GoP4 (because it's fairly clear that he's going to write that one day, assuming he continues) to be very different. Darker. Much darker (though that's less likely given a "good" outcome of GoP3). More concise, even if the game is just as long and the sexual options just as sprawling...just make it about something clear and worth playing for other than the sex itself.

    What I think would have improved GoP3 is a true reward for playing a character. Is there one? The reward for the Princess, theoretically the key character, is tepid at best, and done to rather than by her. Farek's reward exists, but the game just begs you to take it away from him (twice) before letting him have it as a consolation prize. I really don't care about Dania, the Captain, Alica, or the King; they've already gotten what they wanted, and as with Keeley's recent adventures I'm not overly interested in more-of-the-same unless there's some real character-damaging jeopardy involved, which there isn't for the most part. I cared more about Myria or Morchek, frankly.

    You know what else might have made this game better? Making it the female romp we keep talking about. The Princess could have collected the Gift while progressively screwing her way across the kingdom to...I dunno, impress Phallius or something (really, I've given this whole milliseconds of thought). It would fit the universe, it would have given her something to do and a reward for doing it (one presumes), all the other characters could have kept their roles (though more incidental rather than leads), but there would actually be a task/reward structure that the current game lacks.

    The "reward" is, instead, that the player gets to see/read a lot of sex. That is, I think, the wrong perspective from which to write a good AIF game.

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  12. I actually agree with most of what you've said about In Darkness. The difference is that for me the fact that the infidelity happens merely because the plot requires it to happen (or at least for no reason we see on camera) invalidates it as a story.

    Something that's just occurred to me is that you could argue that GoP3 is the best example thus far of AIF as literal porn. By that I mean that it feels (to me anyway) like the characters in GoP3 are performing specifically for the player, rather than the player being a participant through their control of the PC and the characters acting according to their own motivations. Sex is such an everyday ocurrence in Ereos that few of the scenes need to provide a compelling rationale for their existance. They just happen. It's made even more explicit by what the NPCs say when asked about 'game', which makes it clear that they're merely actors.

    Does that make any sense?

    Anyhow, as you say, GoP3 is a prime example of one of my pet bugbears when it comes to AIF: characters having weak/non-existent motivations. One of the requirements for a good protagonist in my opinion is that they should be uniquely motivated to overcome the challenges posed by the story (which feeds into the 'reward' they receive for doing so).

    In GoP3 the motivation of the PCs is to end the war by imprisoning Goraz, but there's nothing unique about that. You also have to overlook the fact that in eighteen years no one thought to try petitioning Phallius for aid (or forming an alliance with the warrior women for that matter; in fact in terms of plot it doesn't feel like eighteen years have passed at all). Once the princess has done so, the other PCs are all "oh okay, let's try that", which doesn't exactly smack of compelling motivation.

    Potentially a more interesting motivation for Farek and the Princess could have been their desire to correct the mistake of their parents. But then that 'mistake' only happened because the plot required it to, so perhaps that wasn't a good idea.

    YMMV, as always.

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  13. Re: In Darkness, I see the outlines of the infidelity in the story we play, I just think that GB so clearly saw the backstory in his head that he forgot to put enough of it in the text. The argument I'd make against what I just wrote, though (and thus against what you wrote) is that to telegraph the infidelity is to cut the story off in its infancy. There really has to be a surprise in the final "reveal." The way in which I disagree with you is that I think GB left clues to the ending in the text of the penultimate scene. I'd agree that a "better" game would have littered clues throughout while still regaining sufficient ambiguity, but now we're really asking an awful lot of an AIF author in a MiniComp game.

    You are absolutely right that GoP is porn more than it is AIF. I actually don't need to consider the "fourth wall" stuff to conclude this; it's all contained in the game whether or not there are the "well, as an actress..." asides. And actually, as porn it works reasonably well, though in every individual aspect -- visual, textual -- there's much that works better. Viewed as straight porn with pictures and text that just happens to be semi-interactive, I actually think more of the game than I do if I consider it contextualized by AIF. This parallels my feelings about PAC, which I thought worked much better if I didn't consider it AIF as much as a sort of AIF-influenced dating sim (having not played many of the Japanese games on which it was based).

    I don't need deep, complex motivations in this game. I mean, they'd have been preferable (and I think Farek could have supplied them more easily than other characters), but I'm OK with a simple motivation as long as it 1) makes sense, and 2) has an arc to it. "The Princess must [sex thing] to save the kingdom" is a perfectly fine plot. But a game of this magnitude, from this author, deserves a little, uh, fleshing out.

    I feel like we've now discussed two straight games in which the main character was the weakest link due to a lack of identity or agency. If neither author had shown an ability to do otherwise, I'd just shrug and move on. But that's not the case. And honestly, the one thing they both have in common is a female protagonist that ends up much more passive than the setting should indicate. We've already covered the problems with Keeley, so no reason to revisit that again.

    GB has never been shy about writing from a female perspective, even from a strong female perspective (or at least a female with strong and clearly expressed motivations). So the Princess here is more than a little bit confusing for me. Dania, in GoP2, is reasonably strong at the outset and just gets stronger (the character, that is). The Princess never does anything that's her own idea other than steal a horse. As with Keeley, despite the story ostensibly being about her actions, it's really about everything and everyone but those actions and that character.

    The more I think about it, the more I think that if the Princess had been a stronger, more active character -- and more of an actual character to begin with, rather than a plot prop -- I'd have felt much less conflicted about the rest of the plot-dressing. Or undressing. Whichever. Just...I dunno, give some of the other characters' content to the Princess.

    This, of course, is the same complaint I have about Keeley. In both cases, the operative aspects of the game are superlative. In neither case is there something fundamentally wrong with the gameplay. But in both cases, the play seems so arbitrary and purposeless due to a failure to supply the main character with actual personhood.

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