Mom always said, “Good things come to those who wait.” I know you meant well, Mom, but that’s not a saying I readily believe. Waiting is often excruciating, and the reward following the wait is often a letdown. This happens fairly often in the video game industry, where a highly anticipated game is in development for years, but the final product does not live up to expectations and is just not worth the wait.
Well, Mom, I’m ready to believe.
So what brought about this change of heart? An excellent graphic adventure called A Vampyre Story, that’s what. A Vampyre Story is the brainchild of ex-LucasArts mastermind Bill Tiller, who spearheaded such games as The Dig and The Curse of Monkey Island. A Vampyre Story has been in development since 2004 and has generated astronomical hype over the years. The long wait has been excruciating, but the end result is one of the most fun graphic adventures I’ve played in years.
I am NOT a vampire! It’s just a little curse, that’s all.
The story stars a French opera singer named Mona DeLafitte, who is being held prisoner in Castle Warg by the short, pale, and ugly vampire Baron Shrowdy von Keifer. Her most trusted friend in this wretched place is a wisecracking bat named Froderick who loves to bully the pathetic Shrowdy. One night, Shrowdy leaves the castle on a routine trip to procure some “special merlot” for Mona. See, Shrowdy never told Mona that he changed her into a vampire and that the merlot she loves so much is actually blood. Mona is very reluctant to accept her vampirism, even when she turns into a bat and goes flying around with Froderick. Anyway, Baron Shrowdy is killed by a pair of bumbling vampire hunters during his jaunt and Mona decides to use that opportunity to escape Draxsylvania, find a way back to Paris and resume her singing career. Escape from Draxsylvania will not be easy for Mona, because no matter how much she may try to deny it, she is now a vampire and coming to grips with one’s vampirism cannot be easy. If that isn’t enough, vampires are generally regarded with either fear or spite, so help will be difficult to come by. What are a reluctant vampire girl and her leathery, winged friend to do?
Mona will encounter many strange situations and meet many crazy characters during her adventure. For example, one wacky character she meets early on is Barb – a talking iron maiden (as in the medieval torture device) who is also the stenographer for the castle’s torture chamber. Yes, Barb tortures people and records their thoughts on the matter, but does so with the demeanor of a secretary with a very sunny disposition. The colorful characters encountered throughout the game often make for hilarious dialogue, and the witty banter between Mona and Froderick is always well played. The character interactions throughout the game are what really make the story shine, as they should in any good graphic adventure.
The story enjoys various kinds of humor. There is adorably dark humor. There are putrid puns and groan-worthy throwaway jokes. There is puerile humor about bodily functions. There is snicker-worthy sexual innuendo. There are silly pop culture references, and even references to classic LucasArts adventures. There are also times when characters break the fourth wall and make snide remarks about being in a graphic adventure. The common denominator is that all the humor presented in the game is guilty pleasure humor. There is no sophisticated, high-brow humor to be found here, and the one character who likes sophisticated humor is far from appreciated. A Vampyre Story prides itself on the kind of ludicrous nonsense that I really enjoy and avoids the gross-out gags I found repulsive in games like Stupid Invaders.
The only complaint I have with the story is that there isn’t enough of it. It only takes place over the course of one night and leaves off with a massive cliffhanger. The story was starting to get more interesting, the villain was starting to develop, and I was not ready for it to end so suddenly. Mona and Froderick’s adventure is far from over, and the credits indicate that a sequel is in the works. Hopefully the wait for the sequel will be less than four years.
Vampires for Dummkopfs: A Reference for the Newly Nosferatu
The interface is a classic point-and-click interface that’s simple, intuitive, and above all else, fun. The left mouse button moves Mona and brings up the menu that allows Mona to examine, manipulate, talk to, or fly toward an object or location in the environment. The right mouse button brings up the inventory. Combining items uses a tried and true drag-and-drop system. Mona, being a hoity toity lady in an evening gown, does not move very quickly, but pressing spacebar can zip her from place to place. Spacebar can also be used to skip cutscenes or speed up conversations. Pressing ESC brings up the main menu, where players can save, load, and play with the settings. The TAB key will be your best friend in this game. It illuminates all the hotspots in an area so there is no need for pinpoint pixel hunting. Given the sheer number of hotspots in any given area, a finger should always be ready by the TAB key.
Mona’s vampirism ties into the gameplay as well. For example, exploration of environments is not limited to where humans can travel on foot. Mona, being a vampire, can transform into a bat to get to places that humans would not be able to access, such as a narrow chimney, a well, or a raven’s roost atop a high parapet. This added dimension makes the environments more intricate and explorable. Eventually, Mona will also learn other vampiric abilities such as the vampire bite, which can be put to very good use. Vampiric limitations, such as aversion to holy symbols or not being able to enter a person’s residence unless invited in, are also used in some of the game’s puzzles.
The puzzles can be challenging and often require unconventional leaps of logic or multi-step procedures. A Vampyre Story is clearly designed for veteran graphic adventure fans. Those new to the genre will encounter frustration with the puzzles whereas veterans will grin from ear to ear at every crazy challenge. There are some brain-cracking challenges in the game, but nothing as brutal as the crane puzzle in Grim Fandango. Contextually, the puzzles generally fit well within the storyline, but a few have somewhat arbitrary or nonsensical elements in their procedures and solutions. Then again, that’s nothing new for the genre, and avid graphic adventure players already know to think outside of the box and pay attention to every last little detail. I would strongly advise players to keep a written log of all the tasks they have to undertake, because there are multiple and often chained tasks to perform, and the game itself does not contain any sort of log. If I had not done that, I would have lost track of everything I had to do.
It’s a coloring book with a picture of a newt in it.
The graphics, which consist of polygon characters atop prerendered backdrops, are not the most cutting edge or technically advanced, but are chock full of style. Whimsical gothic is how I would describe the visuals. The shades of lavender used prominently in the color palette along with the cartoonishly rendered environments impart an element of fun not typically associated with vampiric gothic style. The characters also look very unique and stylish, even if they don’t have high polygon counts. I cannot recall ever journeying with a protagonist who looked like Mona, with her heavy-lidded eyes and full-length evening gown. She looks adorable as a bat too, as evidenced in the first of many cinematic cutscenes throughout the game. This kind of exaggerated and original cartoony style is something fans have been clamoring for since the heyday of LucasArts graphic adventures, and A Vampyre Story has it in spades.
My only gripe with the graphics is that there are no subtitles during cinematic cutscenes, even though all dialogue during gameplay is subtitled. This would be a minor complaint, but one lengthy cutscene contains a laundry list of in-game tasks to be done, and text would have made this scene easier to follow.
With this type of graphics, the system specs are far from steep. I played it on a machine with lower specs than the recommended minimum, and for the most part, it played just fine, although loading times were noticable and I experienced occasional slowdown. Those with more powerful machines that meet or exceed the minimum or recommended specs will likely not have issues with either one. In addition, any bugs present in the European version of the game are absent in the US version. I did not encounter any in my playthrough.
What do rats know about opera?
Whimsical gothic is also how I would describe the music in this game. The orchestral instrumentation evokes the feeling of a gothic era, but the compositions themselves never lose the sense of fun that is so crucial for the game. The atmospheric music fits the intended scenes and environments beautifully, yet is often quite melodic, so it never gets lost in its own atmospherism. The music is wonderfully done in the game, and Pedro Macedo Camacho is a composer I would love to hear more from in the future. I hope he’s composing the music for A Vampyre Story 2.
All dialogue in the game is voiced, and the voice acting in the game is very good. The actors here are not the usual suspects heard in most anime and video games, but are all talented professionals who have honed their craft for years. Some of my favorites in the game are Jeremy Koerner (Froderick), Amy Rubinate (Barb the iron maiden), and Melissa Hutchison (Pyewacket the cat). I would sometimes talk to Pyewacket for no reason at all except to hear her lines about torturing rats. It was morbid yet totally adorable; perfect for a bewitched cat. All the actors deliver their lines superbly and sound like they are having fun playing their roles, no matter how minor, which is always a plus for me.
Hooray Froderick! Now I am free!
I guess Mom was right. Good things can come to those who wait. A Vampyre Story is a fantastic graphic adventure that evokes the spirit of those bygone LucasArts adventures while also adding its own unique flavor. It was 15-16 hours well spent, though the storyline ended sooner than I wanted it to. Welcome back, Mr. Tiller, and thank you for one of the most fun graphic adventures I’ve played in years. I look forward to A Vampyre Story 2 and Autumn Moon’s other future offerings.