I've been watching out for this game for some time. The screenshot teasers have been so enticing that when the preview game arrived I couldn't wait to install it and begin playing. So far I haven't been disappointed and the actual game graphics are every bit as good as the screenshots suggested.
The story opens with your character, Lydia, making her way to Dragonvale Magic Academy to start her first day at school. She is met by the magnificent Mustavo, a merchant, who then proceeds to give Lydia (and you) a mini tutorial so that you can quickly get used to the interface. Lydia then arrives at the awe-inspiring school with soaring towers and massive doors hoping to meet her friend, Celeste. But the doors are locked and Celeste is nowhere to be found. In fact there is no-one around, no Celeste, no other students, and no teachers either. There is nothing else for it, Lydia must explore the school and try to work out what has happened to everybody. The first task is to find a way inside and knocking on the doors doesn't help. Solving a simple puzzle does the trick and Lydia begins her exploration.
Pretty soon she stumbles across a room with strange wooden lockers and hears a voice demanding to be let out. That done she meets a dragon called Zak, only he looks like a wolf but is really a scaredy cat. He is afraid of heights, afraid of the basement and afraid of the woods. Hmm, perhaps there is something he's not telling you. Zak becomes Lydia's companion as she investigates the mystery and he provides some background to what happened, and some occasional help.
The school is huge and you will need to explore every nook and cranny to learn all you can. Once you find the keepsake that you gave to Celeste a flashback will begin filling in the background to the story.
Keepsake is a third person perspective, mouse-controlled adventure game which switches to a first person perspective for close-ups of certain locations and when puzzles need to be solved. Navigation is easy, just point and click on screen and Lydia will move quickly to that spot. The cursor changes to indicate the actions that can be performed such as gears for opening doors or pulling levers, a magnifying glass for close-ups, or a speech bubble for talking to other characters such as Mustavo whom you will meet again as you explore the grounds or the mysterious Guardians who will pose a challenge for you. If you right click an arrow will point to Lydia which may be useful for when the camera angle changes such as when you enter a new location and you may not immediately see where she is. So far I haven't had a problem in finding her but you never know.
There are items to find and pick up but Keepsake is not strictly speaking an inventory-based game. If you have keys in your inventory and Lydia is faced with a locked door she will automatically try them, you don't need to use the keys on the door. Thus far many of the puzzles involve getting machinery to work or doors to open. These are logic puzzles that have been given a context within the game world. They start off easily enough but increase in difficulty as you progress.
There is also an excellent hint system that you can access without leaving the game. This works on two levels. For instance, you have explored the school and the grounds, solved a few puzzles and now you're not sure what to do next. Simple, click on the hint icon and the game will remind you of the task at hand and may even show where you need to go next.
The other level relates to the puzzles themselves which have graduated hints. The first hint generally explains what you are trying to do, and subsequent hints give more instructions. If you still can't solve the puzzle then finally you can have the game solve it for you. This will certainly remove the frustration for some players as the puzzles do move into the tricky side of the scales. Another benefit of this system is that you may come across a puzzle and fiddle with it for a bit without getting anywhere. Usually you don't know if you should keep trying or go and do something else. The hint system in Keepsake will tell you if there is something more you need to do first so you can safely leave that puzzle and come back later.
Overall the hint system is excellent although, if you can't determine the logic of a puzzle by experimenting, you do need to read the hints carefully to get the idea as they are quite detailed. But the best thing is the automatic solve that will allow all players to enjoy the game regardless of the level of experience. No one need be frustrated by puzzles that are too tough. Those who need help only have to ask the game instead of searching for a walkthrough. Those who prefer to solve puzzles unaided need only willpower to ignore the hint system.
The voices for Lydia and Zak are very good but Mustavo is completely over the top and his speech is initially off-putting but I suppose you will get used to it.
I have played Keepsake for six or seven hours and only scratched the surface but my first impressions are very favourable indeed. Exploration is a sheer pleasure and Dragonvale Magic Academy is a fascinating place to get lost in. The story is intriguing too, and I am learning more and more as I explore the vast school and its surrounds. Lydia is a brave and confident young woman and Zak provides some lighter moments. The fantasy setting is beautifully created and visually the game is a treat.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2006.
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