Seven Games of the Soul / Faust
There aren't too many computer games around that challenge us to think, really think about the perceived nature of 'good' and 'evil'. For the most part we are quite comfortable with clearly defined 'baddies' who deserve all they get. We are content to sit in judgement and administer 'justice' or 'revenge' as the case may be, simply because the issues are presented simplistically. Simplicity can be satisfying and entertaining especially when we don't want to think too deeply, but occasionally it can also be satisfying, and even a little disturbing, to move out of our comfort zone and grapple with more complex issues.
Seven Games of the Soul is a game that enables us to do just that. At times it is quite confronting and as such it may not be to everyone's taste. Some of the scenarios have a grotesque, nightmarish feel about them, designed to have you squirming in your seat, so expect to be shocked and shaken up a little.
Inspired by Goethe's classic work, the Faust in this story is one Marcellus Faust, an old man from Mississippi who is not required to sign a pact with the 'Devil'. Rather he is called upon by Mephistopheles to investigate the lives of certain residents of 'Dreamland' and to help determine if their 'souls' should go "up or down", so to speak. Yet the final decision may not turn out as you might expect.
Dreamland - there is a bitter irony in the name of this old, abandoned amusement park for some of the residents whom Mephistopheles had tempted or tried to tempt. Dreams of escaping from personal torment, dreams of power over others, dreams of simply being loved make easy pickings for the smooth-talking Mephisto. But, as you (Faust) explore the park and learn about the intertwined lives of its inhabitants the complexities begin to surface and 'black and white' rapidly blurs to grey. Certainly there is jealousy, greed and lust to be found, but also 'nobler' human traits such as love, compassion and acts of kindness.
Seven Games of the Soul is a first-person perspective adventure game that is played out over seven episodes. Each episode allows you to focus on one of the seven main characters and at the same time learn something about the other inhabitants of the park through 'different' eyes. Dreamland was once owned by Theodore More who also features in some episodes and 'talks' to you in certain sequences. As you explore and solve problems you may trigger a cut scene that reveals something of a character's motives or illustrates something of the relationships between the characters. Along the way Mephistopheles will pop up at appropriate times to make a point or fill you in on some background detail. I must admit I do like the way in which Arxel Tribe has managed to capture in Mephistopheles some of the roguish charm of Goethe's creation. And this is due to some clever dialogue that is admirably delivered.
The locations that you can explore in each episode are not extensive, yet there are lots of things to find and do. Because time can move on during the course of play, usually after you have completed an important task, often it is necessary to re-explore areas previously searched to discover new items. You are notified of a time change so watch out for it in the bottom left portion of the screen. Remember this and it will serve you well although I fell foul of this particular feature when I stumbled into the middle of a treasure hunt. The riddle I found moved me forwards but I had to search everywhere again to find where it began.
This little break in continuity, however, didn't worry me too much. It just demanded a slight stretch of the imagination and that is what I'd been doing for lots of the time anyway because the puzzles range in difficulty from fairly easy to plain devious. In this game clues aren't just waiting around in the open for you to stumble on them, they are often hidden in flashbacks or in seemingly innocuous props. In a surreal sense the puzzles allow you to tease out each character's story as you partially relive an episode of their life.
During the times I was stuck I just searched more thoroughly and thought about how the items in my inventory might be used. There is a rather strange hint system that becomes available after the second episode when an item you help create, an imp in a bottle called a Homunculus, doubles as a useable inventory item and a source of hints. Pressing the space bar brings up the hint screen (prompt) where you can click on the word 'Homunculus' for a hint. If you click on the imp in the bottle you will be transported to a simple 'shoot-the-cardboard-rabbits' sequence which revives your imp and may allow you to squeeze another hint out of it. I must stress that all this is optional and I only did it to see what happens.
The point and click interface is fairly intuitive with your cursor becoming footsteps for walking, glasses for examining in close-up, a grasping hand for taking things, etc. A right click displays your inventory at the top of the screen and gives you access to the menu for saving and loading plus other options such as checking your progress, previewing characters, music and more. This menu also gives access to the game controls where you can adjust volume and enable subtitles. A log-in screen at the start of the game allows several players to play with their individual save-games to prevent mix ups and over-writing.
Movement is smooth and you can turn 360 degrees and look up and down simply by moving the mouse. This kind of movement can cause motion sickness in some players, I know, but this one is fairly well-behaved and provides good control which should make it not too difficult to stomach (excuse the pun).
Visually, Seven Games of the Soul is an absolute treat. Each area is meticulously detailed and the triggered flashbacks certainly add dramatic effect. The music, consisting of looping, location-specific jazz, blues and classical numbers is aptly chosen and oozes atmosphere. The game has an interesting and intelligent plot, a great lead character in Mephistopheles and seven absorbing, puzzle-filled acts, although not everything works perfectly. There are a couple of questionable scenes and one small bug that involves image-mapping that will have you chasing around a bathroom for an exit and a drawer to open. Fortunately, this glitch isn't a show-stopper, but you'll need to search that room carefully and watch for your cursor to change.
I must say that this game fascinated me. I enjoyed both the challenge and the way it allowed me to connect with the characters and their lives ... showing them not as freaks but as all too human. I wouldn't recommend it for beginners and certainly not for children, but it's well worth consideration by experienced players who are looking for something different and would appreciate a dose of dark humour packaged in a surreal dream world.
Seven Games of the Soul had its first release over a year ago now under the name of Faust and has been recently re-released by DreamCatcher largely for the North American market and people like me who missed it the first time around.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2001.
All rights reserved.
System Requirements: (minimum)
Win 98/95, DirectX 6 compatible P200 MMX, 32 MB RAM, 2 MB VRAM, 16 bit color, 12x CD ROM.