"I see Eselmir and the Five Magical Gifts as akin to a movie based on a book."
Like many of you out there, I am a bookworm. The pleasure of having the downtime to lay on the couch nestled into an engrossing book is the most wonderful decompression outside of sleep, especially given how busy life can get. My affinity for books is what drew me to Eselmir and the Five Magical Gifts, a graphic adventure by Stelex. Eselmir is based on the Pirin fantasy trilogy of novels by an up-and-coming author named Sebastiano B. Brocchi who seems to be slowly building recognition in some parts of Europe. I wanted to get a sample of the Pirin books for my Amazon Kindle e-reader to have a glimpse into the lore; but alas, the trilogy (as of this writing) is only available in Italian. This minor setback altered my approach to Eselmir with the following mindset: "Will this game make me want the Pirin books in English?" After sinking 15 or so hours into the game, the answer is "Yes."
The first aspect of Eselmir and the Five Magical Gifts anyone will notice is the striking visuals. The graphics consist of lushly hand-drawn characters and environments created by Pirin's author. Yes, Brocchi not only wrote the novels but did his own illustrations (including the cover illustration) as well. I like that these vividly colored fantasy storybook graphics look magical yet tastefully subdued. Character and creature designs start out looking very uniform and familiar in the beginning and become more colorfully distinctive as the game progresses. This emphasizes the protagonist's world opening up beyond his sheltered walls. The stylishly choppy animations give the feel of living paintings or paper animation to lend that whole "book come to life" aesthetic. Although Eselmir may not be as graphically intensive as more modern games, those playing with older machines may experience noticeable load times when accessing the main/title menu during play.
The main/title menu features a vocal song with lyrics specifically about the game's world. The vocalist's voice has a very fitting timbre that reminds me a bit of European power metal bands like Finland's Sonata Arctica. Because I'm an avid listener of European metal bands, the singer's heavily accented English did not faze me at all, but others might find it jarring and prefer the song to be in the singer's native language. From my perspective, hearing the song in a foreign (to me) language would have sounded more fantastical and otherworldly. The music played throughout the game is mostly inspired by baroque-era music, though some tunes have a more modern twinge. One of my personal favorites was the mysterious-sounding piece that made the enigmatic Hourglass Tower location feel all the more perplexing. To make a long story short, the music in this game is quite good.
Players have a choice between either English or Italian text and voice overs. The English voice acting during major cutscenes is fine, but the Italian voices sound far smoother and I wish there was an option to have English text with the Italian voice overs. Drawing upon my limited linguistic knowledge of Romance languages, the English text appears faithful to the Italian original, though the dialogue often reads stiffly.
I can forgive some of the stiffness because protagonist Eselmir is a priest rather than a more typical warrior hero. Eselmir's devotion to Monusadah, the goddess of time, causes her to appear to him in a dreamlike vision and offer the opportunity to uncover the truth behind the legendary King Theoson's demise and his five mysterious hidden treasures. Of course, the deeper Eselmir delves into his mission from God, the deeper he finds himself tangled down the proverbial rabbit hole into a whole mess of world-spanning trouble. The setup is fairly archetypical fantasy, but with a somewhat more intellectual feel given Eselmir's status as an academician.
Like most graphic adventures, Eselmir and the Five Magical Gifts is a deliberately paced affair that rewards patience and persistence, especially when it comes to the plot. The first couple of chapters drag somewhat, but the story gets progressively better as it chugs along. I see Eselmir and the Five Magical Gifts as akin to a movie based on a book. Although I liked the story presented here, I felt that I was missing subtle aspects of the lore since I lack any familiarity with the Pirin books. Books naturally have more detailed prose than any of their movie (or other multimedia) counterparts. The movie may be fine, but there is always that nagging feeling that something is missing, even if you haven't read the book.
The gameplay is genre-standard point-and-click action involving finding sundry items and using them to solve contextual logic puzzles to proceed. Hotspots are not always immediately obvious, and some can be missed without pressing the spacebar on a screen to reveal them all. Item manipulation is fairly simple, and icons automatically show where items can be combined and used in the field. This eliminates excessive menu hopping and allows for a smoother play experience. The puzzles themselves are generally logical and contextually integrated; and the game's difficulty curves quite smoothly as it progresses. Unfortunately, my least favorite puzzle type (the cryptic food recipe) rears its ugly head. Cryptic recipe puzzles have always felt arbitrary and shoehorned in to me, and the one in Eselmir is no exception. There is a main/title menu option to allow the game to give generic hints, specific hints, or no hints at all in the protagonist's quest log, though the average adventurer probably won't need these crutches. I just wish there was an easier way to save on the fly without accessing the main menu, since the load times going in and out of said menu were a little much for me.
Eselmir and the Five Magical Gifts is a good start for graphic adventures in 2018. Perhaps if enough people check this game out, it may open the gates for the Pirin trilogy of novels to be localized. Familiarity with the books would have more viscerally connected me to the game's world, characters, and lore. Regardless, it is clear that much love was put into this project, and I'm sure players will pick up on that when they play Eselmir and the Five Magical Gifts.
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.