The Three Musketeers: The Game


Review by · October 27, 2009

Video game adaptations of classic novels aren’t exactly in high demand. The release of such a game thus comes as both a surprise and a commercial risk. Fortunately, with indie developers like Dingo Games and their classic-to-RPG title The Three Musketeers: The Game, we get something more than a commodity. Thanks to the developers’ palpable love for the source material, The Three Musketeers manages to charm and delight, despite its numerous flaws.

If The Three Musketeers seems like a strange idea for an RPG, that’s because it is. Even so, the classic Dumas novel about the world’s most famous swashbuckling heroes provides for the entirety of the game’s main quest, told from the perspective of d’Artagnan, the player character. While this allows the developers to break RPG conventions in many ways, the story doesn’t lend itself well to the structure of a video game. The result is a somewhat flawed narrative, although it attends loyally to the source material. Perhaps too loyally for its own good.

What is entertaining to read about is not necessarily entertaining to play out in an RPG. Walking repeatedly from house to palace to house to inn, all in the same city, each location providing only a line or two of dialogue, and each cutscene only prodding d’Artagnan on to another transitive encounter is not entertaining to play. Unfortunately, each scene, no matter how brief, plays some role in the player’s understanding of the story at large. Thus, simply removing those scenes was not an option for the developers. At other points in the game, however, the developers did hasten the pace using comic strip scenes that worked very well. A few more of them might have cleaned up the plot…

…If that were the only problem. The actual telling of the story has significant flaws as well. First, the game leaves out important background information most likely found in the book. I’ve never read The Three Musketeers and I knew nothing of the tension between King Louis and Cardinal Richelieu. Furthermore, the characters never form defined personalities, although they come quite close. Character traits and motives are often explained awkwardly instead of shown to the player. Finally, many events feel rushed, with too little dialogue to fully explicate the situation. The result is an oddly paced adventure. Despite these issues, the game is written fairly well (with few errors and some period dialogue), and the story itself is one worth telling.

The Three Musketeers: The Game eschews common RPG structure, and as a result creates a unique experience, undoubtedly one of its major strengths. Instead of traveling from town to dungeon and back again as per most RPGs, the player simply goes wherever the story takes him. In fact, there are no dungeons; most of the game involves exploring the towns and countryside of 17th century France while progressing the story through cutscenes and dialogue. There are no bosses, few statistics, and no official party members. It’s just d’Artagnan and his idiosyncratic adventures. Fortunately for the easily unamused, d’Artagnan crosses swords with a number of nefarious scofflaws and highwaymen along the way.

Combat in The Three Musketeers mirrors that of many western RPGs: click on an enemy and d’Artagnan attacks automatically until either he or his opponent collapses. To prevent stagnation, the developers threw in a timed click mechanism, occasional allies, and firearms. At certain times during battle opponents are easier to damage, as indicated by a sweat icon. If the player clicks on the vulnerable foe before he regains his balance, d’Artagnan gets an automatic hit. If that’s not enough, during some battles, the three musketeers come to d’Artagnan’s aid. While much of the combat involves swordplay (they’re swashbucklers after all), guns are also available. They hit automatically, but can only be used after reloading, which requires idle time obviously not available in the heat of battle.

Without the timed click nuance, combat in The Three Musketeers would have been unbearably boring; even as it is, some battles turn dull, although the player must still pay attention for fear of perishing. The three musketeers are actually terrible combatants, and guns aren’t very effective either due to their lengthy cooldown times. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to blast someone at point blank range though, and most of the shorter encounters are quite entertaining. Combat is not the focus of this RPG anyway and there are very few mandatory battles, so boredom is not likely to become an issue. If the player happens to enjoy combat, he can take on one of the many “random” battles that turn up in town or on the road. These often involve non-hostile rapscallions that have just insulted a lady. How dare they! D’Artagnan doesn’t like that, and thus they become hostile, and later dead. And thus d’Artagnan levels up.

As d’Artagnan gains levels, his swordplay, gunplay, defense, and honor statistics increase, but these stats never make much of a difference. Since enemies seem to level up with him, a sense of progression is never established. Even when d’Artagnan equips a sword with massive bonuses, the final battles of the game still boil down to repetitive, lengthy affairs in which only a backpack full of healing ointments wins the fight. The one exception is honor, which makes a visible difference in NPC reactions as well as the ability to take on side quests.

For those who particularly enjoy The Three Musketeers: The Game, the developers included a fair number of side quests to complete as well as mini-games such as tennis and a dice game. Accepting side quests requires a certain level of honor and they’re often difficult to find, but the rewards can be well worth the challenge. The optional quests are a welcome addition that illustrates the developers’ care in crafting a meaningful RPG experience. There are also detailed, hand drawn maps, and a trail of footprints leading to quest objectives. This often proves useful, especially when no clear objectives are given. Other neat additions include the ability to continue play after the credits, mounts with varying speeds, a bevy of equipment, and Xbox 360-style achievements for the completionist. Such details show the effort put into the game, as do the original aesthetics.

In this RPG Maker-driven indie RPG market, original music and artwork can be tough to find, but The Three Musketeers borrows nothing but the story. The original artwork is quirkily unique and competent, if a bit limited. Every environment looks the same, even when d’Artagnan sails to England. Another type of grass or a few more furnishings would have made the world more believable. The comic strip cutscenes are completely hand-drawn and required a fair amount of work, and different clothing shows up on d’Artagnan’s character model. The soundtrack, though limited in scope, may be my favorite single aspect of the game. Each track is at once appropriate for 17th century France and melodic enough to entertain for the duration of the game.

The environments and soundtrack may be limited simply because of the game’s brevity. The main quest can be completed in less than five hours, although players can extend their stay in d’Artagnan’s boots with side quests and grinding for the best equipment (loot “levels up” too). The Three Musketeers’ brevity acts as a double-edged rapier here: the game never gets old, but some players might be left wanting more. More than likely, however, a lengthier experience would have exacerbated some of the game’s more significant flaws. Still, players shouldn’t be afraid to pay the admission for this trip through France, even if it is short.

Dingo Games put a lot of love into The Three Musketeers: The Game, made clear by their dedication to the source material, quirky and original artwork, great music, and a pervading charm overall. This is nearly a case of getting by on charm alone, but that’s not to say the gameplay isn’t worthwhile. This RPG may not boast a complex narrative or spectacular combat, but it does have charisma, and as a game made by only a couple Musketeer-loving, video game-playing creators, The Three Musketeers: The Game is good enough. And, it’s about time a developer makes something they want to play instead of pandering to the ugly masses. Let’s hope Dingo Games makes it big.

Overall Score 80
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Kyle E. Miller

Kyle E. Miller

Over his eight years with the site, Kyle would review more games than we could count. As a site with a definite JRPG slant, his take on WRPGs was invaluable. During his last years here, he rose as high as Managing Editor, before leaving to pursue his dreams.