"Ripples...is absolutely brimming with plot revelations that are sure to leave fans of the series buzzing."
If recent history is any indication, episodic game series often reach their nadir at around the halfway mark. The midpoint of the series tends to act as the bridge between the buildup of the first half and the climax and resolution of the final installments, and distinct lulls in both narrative and gameplay occur as a result. Ripples, The Council's third and antepenultimate episode, bucks such genre trappings and is absolutely brimming with plot revelations that are sure to leave fans of the series buzzing.
The pillars supporting the foundation of The Council's narrative are its methodical unveiling of opaque character motivations, the truth behind Lord Mortimer's conference, and a player's individual threshold for suspension of disbelief. The multiple revelations in Ripples put those pillars to the test, and to say that its biggest twist may irrevocably split the fan base is not an understatement.
Episode Three begins immediately following the cliffhanger at the end of its predecessor, though the exact predicament in which protagonist Louis de Richet finds himself and the order in which information (including the episode's big plot twist) is revealed to him depend on the choices the player has made thus far. The consequence of this was that I had to make a significant choice without all essential information in one playthrough (though I didn't know it at the time), and the additional information was enough to sway me to make a different choice in another. In this way, The Council continues to deliver on its promise that choices (mostly) matter in Lord Mortimer's manor, and those choices certainly have an impact on how the player experiences the game.
As I noted in my review of the series' second episode, however, those choices don't seem to affect the main plot as much as they affect Louis' role in major events. In one particularly noteworthy instance where Louis is caught in the middle of a standoff between two characters, I thought for sure that the contrasting choices I made in different playthroughs would dramatically alter the event. They did not, unfortunately, and the difference between partnering with one of those characters and shunning them in previous episodes mattered little. It's a glaringly obvious missed opportunity to emphasize the importance of Louis' choices as they pertain to relationships, though there's still plenty of chances to showcase the impact of taking sides in the series' final episodes.
For those that have been on the fence about the series but are keeping tabs on each episode, it may be surprising that Ripples' biggest reveal is not related to the purpose of Lord Mortimer's conference. Indeed, the reason he's gathered the 18th-century Western world's most influential personalities falls predictably in line with the series' Illuminati-esque setup. The big twist does relate to the series overarching backdrop, but saying any more would risk spoiling it. To Big Bad Wolf's credit, there were certainly hints sprinkled throughout the manor and the narrative which I never would have connected together. These hints are obvious in hindsight, but I haven't decided if this is an indication of just how ludicrous the twist is or how well it was hidden in plain sight.
In terms of gameplay, the Social Influence system and character interactions remain as interesting and engaging as ever. The skill-based RPG elements that are so innovative for the genre have become essentially inconsequential, though, as by this point the ability to easily acquire each skill despite your selected class has rendered the class system moot. The ease of acquiring and enhancing skills, as well as the sheer number of items that can be found throughout the manor, removes any semblance of challenge outside of the game's hardest choices and puzzles. I wholeheartedly disliked the puzzles in Episode Two, but I thoroughly enjoyed the one main puzzle present in Ripples. The aforementioned standoff was also a tense and enjoyable moment, though the outcome of my choice has yet to be revealed.
There is little to report in terms of changes in audio and visual quality. The environments continue to look great despite there being little variety from one episode to another, and the music continues to set the mood effectively with its mix of period pieces and goofy whodunit-style melodies. The delivery of voiced dialogue is more noticeably awkward this time, and there are more instances where voices don't match captions. The most blatant mismatches occurred during dialogue sequences related to the puzzle in the latter half of the episode. Awkward graphical glitches also persist, most notably in a handful of cases where characters spoke but their mouths didn't move. There also still isn't an option to skip dialogue and text, which is entirely confounding at this point.
The Council's third episode will undoubtedly be controversial among the fan base due to the nature of its plot twist. I don't think it's hyperbolic to state that it may push those who've had trouble embracing the series' unique take on history to finally put it down for good. If you've had no trouble accepting George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte as members of a clandestine collective bent on shaping world events, though, chances are you'll be fairly open to what Ripples has in store for you. My initial reaction was that the series may have just gone off the rails, but I've come to accept that The Council requires a healthy suspension of disbelief to extract maximum enjoyment. Beyond the myriad of revelations and confrontations, Ripples forces the player to make what may be the most important choice of the series to date. I really don't know what to expect next from The Council, and that just may be its most alluring quality.
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.