"RiftRealms is one of those rare minigames that could potentially be extracted from the main game, expanded upon, and sold as its own independent entity."
The Last Sacrament is the second full episode in Woodsy Studio's Echoes of the Fey series, continuing the adventures of devil-may-care human private eye Sofya Rykov and her temperate Leshin partner Heremon Ir-Caldy. Sofya was once a prison guard during the war between humans and Leshin (do not call them elves) who barely survived a catastrophic event called The Immolation, chronicled in free game Echoes of the Fey Episode 0: The Immolation. During The Immolation, Sofya freed several Leshin prisoners, was branded a traitor to The Empire, and fled into exile with Heremon— a Leshin medic who was one of her prisoners.
Several years later, Sofya and Heremon settled in the town of Vodotsk where they run a private investigation office, with one of their early cases chronicled in the free novella Echoes of the Fey: The Prophet's Arm. In Echoes of the Fey Episode 1: The Fox's Trail, a seemingly simple missing person case turned into something far more twisted than Sofya or Heremon could have imagined. Closing the door on that barnburner of a case still left a whole heap of insidious complications on the doorstep.
Last Sacrament builds upon the foundations set up by The Fox's Trail where an uncertain future, a tenuous present, and a troubled past haunt Sofya. The story begins with an introductory flashback of Sofya as a mischievous young noble who enjoys misadventures with a crafty girl her age named Katerina (or Kat for short). Cut to the present, and who should appear on Sofya's doorstep but Kat. She aims to present a plan that will rebuild some of the modern amenities lost to Vodotsk during the war and its aftermath, but are her intentions for Vodotsk noble or a political power grab? Kat is, after all, a daughter of the Emperor, whom the people of Vodotsk despise.
Kat, therefore, beseeches Sofya for asylum, because Sofya is the only person who's truly genuine with her. But how deep does their friendship run? They haven't seen each other since they were children, and the adults in their lives playing political "King of the Mountain" placed a massive rift between them. And this is not even getting into the gorilla-sized monkey wrench thrown into the works during Sofya's second day on the job. Last Sacrament is a far headier and more complex adventure than any Sofya's faced before. There is clear and present danger to Sofya's life from the outset, but skeletons from her checkered past also threaten to escape the closet and ruin her.
Enhancing the worldbuilding in this installment is a newly added codex. When something regarding the lore comes up, an indicator blinks that it was placed in the in-game codex to be read for more information. This is something I would have liked in The Fox's Trail, so I'm glad it's here. The codex offers much needed backstory on characters, places, culture, all of that. The only downside to the codex in the menu is that the skinny white scrollbar for reading text is difficult to see atop the white background, and I would have preferred a higher contrast black scrollbar.
As with The Fox's Trail, The Last Sacrament is a visual novel with sidescrolling exploratory elements. As such, the gameplay is pretty straightforward, though the default button mapping for keyboard controls is slightly quirky, and there was no way for me to remap them to my tastes. On the other hand, The Last Sacrament has a menu option to increase the font size in dialogue text boxes. This greatly pleases me, since this game, like any visual novel, requires a lot of reading and re-reading to explore the myriad storyline branches that unravel different layers to the overall plot.
A key element in both plot and gameplay proceedings is Sofya's unpredictable magic. Following The Immolation, she discovered that she could wield bursts of high-level magic exclusive to Leshin. The only powers Sofya can control are basic ice magic and glamour spells that hide her worst scars. In The Fox's Trail, Sofya discovered the ability to readily change into a cat. Unfortunately, due to the instability of her magic, she can't seem to do that anymore. However, in Last Sacrament she's suddenly granted a different power: a form of clairvoyance linked to a game called RiftRealms.
So, what is RiftRealms? Well, it's a creative and thoughtfully-designed mini-game that plays like a tabletop RPG akin to Dungeons & Dragons. Sofya and Kat used to play this imaginative game as children, and it requires strategy, patience, and luck. Throughout The Last Sacrament, players will build a RiftRealms character to their liking while navigating game boards filled with traps, treasure, and enemies. A roll of the dice determines the outcome of battles and events.
Sofya plays RiftRealms with various characters serving as dungeon masters; her experience differs depending on who her dungeon master is. Benevolent characters will offer a gentler experience, whereas more ruthless characters will make her session an absolute nightmare. Because of this, the difficulty of RiftRealms spikes and dips throughout the game rather than curving smoothly. In my first playthrough, I found myself woefully underprepared for the final campaign, but fared better in my second playthrough. My only other caveats with it are that the interface used to navigate the game board is not immediately intuitive, the numbers on the digital dice are blurry, and there is no way to save in the middle of a RiftRealms campaign, some of which can be lengthy. Regardless of any misgivings, RiftRealms is one of those rare minigames that could potentially be extracted from the main game, expanded upon, and sold as its own independent entity.
The Last Sacrament's graphics utilize the Unreal Engine, placing the expressively animated 2D sprites or portraits atop 3D polygon backdrops as opposed to the hand drawn 2D backdrops of The Fox's Trail. The polygonal background graphics don't have the hand-drawn detailing present in The Fox's Trail and present occasional slowdown on older computers, but they display far more depth of dimension and make environments feel less flat. Fully 3D polygonal graphics are used in RiftRealms campaigns, and while those graphics may not be spectacular from a technical standpoint, they are nifty from a design perspective.
Voice acting is present in this game, but the voiceovers are only partial. Key cutscenes are fully voiced, but most dialogue just has enhancement clips like grunts or catch phrases. The actors bring out the characters' distinctive personalities, but there are occasions when their delivery sounds more like a dramatic read than flowing conversation. I give credit to the actors for not only pronouncing the lengthy and difficult Russian-inspired names of people and places, but doing so with inter-actor consistency.
The Last Sacrament builds upon the prior material in the right ways by fleshing out the already intriguing worldbuilding, lore, and characters presented in the Echoes of the Fey mythos. With engaging characters, gripping storylines that contain hefty choices, evocative music, and challenging gameplay that goes above and beyond the visual novel norm, Echoes of the Fey is a visual novel series that genre fans should definitely check out.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.