When I was in university (especially in 3rd year) I would occasionally play through a game you all might know, called Journey (I need to give my PS3 more love these days). I did that because it’s just a short beautiful experience and I could never get tired of the world. Now I remember back then I would think to myself “God, I need more games like this”. Now that I have completed Sceal, I recall to this and think “this is such an awesome game”. Of course, I wouldn’t go and say it’s on par with Journey, but I definitely say it’s a beautiful gem, which everyone should try. It just connects you to your inner child and I will now tell you exactly why.
Since it’s only fitting, let’s begin by talking about the story of Sceal. The game is basically a fairytale book. You control a spirit, which is stuck in Limbo with no memories. She encounters a raven, named Branna, who promises to guide her to the afterlife if she can find 3 of his feathers and learn more about her past. The whole story is told to us like a fairytale. You basically have a book in-game and as you progress through the story, the pages are filled up with it, finally making the complete book. Two things which impressed me here. The story itself was a touching little experience and the ending(s) left me a bit puzzled, but I will talk about that a bit later on. Anyways, the two things were: the fact that the story is told in a minimalist way. You don’t have an overbearing amount of crap written, it’s just little short sentences and to be honest, it reminds me of those children’s books, which, you know, have only 1 to 2 sentences per page and a picture on them (inner child all the way). The other thing is … it all rhymes. And that is awesome – it feels so good to read. I read that this was a feature added with a patch and I applaud you for that. Just warms me heart. The story itself is beaten down to 3 chapters and an epilogue, which kind of merges with chapter 3, because for the chapters themselves you know when a chapter ends by finding a feather and the screen fading to black and loading, etc, but on chapter 3 it kind of merges it with the epilogue and I think this is done because … ladies and gentlemen, the book doesn’t offer us 1, oh no, not even 2, but 3 whole endings. And you even get to choose, which ending to get.
To be completely fair I loved the endings, all 3 of them and I was kind of able to predict 2 of them, but they all puzzled me. I really want to talk more about them here, so … SPOILER ALERT!!!! Go play the game first, then read this section. The story itself is fine and all, but the endings puzzled me. Okay, so you find out about the village you live in, then you go in the forest and eat some poisonous berries and get sick and then a healer gives you some remedy. Now from here on, the ending can go 3 ways: as you might have guessed it, you either die, live or (this was the ending I couldn’t predict, so I was kind of curious how they played it out) you live but lose your memories. The way you choose is basically you either talk to you mother, your father or the healer and each gives you a different ending. The thing that puzzled me was, okay, I get the father ending when you die and everyone mourns you. But the other two – how the hell are you a spirit and you lived? I actually played the game 3 times in order to get the 3 endings and when I first did the father’s ending I was like “yeah, okay, makes sense”. But the other two, I was left confused. The when I got the healer’s ending where I lose my memories, but I lived, I kind of like went deeper into thought. I thought that maybe the endings were all connected. Like, you are well first and your mother is happy, but then it backfires and you lose your memories and then you die and your dad mourns you over your grave. But then I kind of saw that they all talk about the same night, so yeah maybe it wasn’t all 3 connected, but it just didn’t make sense to me. I was left to consider that the ending where you die is the kind of “true” ending, because it’s the only one which makes sense and … get this, it’s the only ending featured in the actual epilogue. Like with all ending you build into them to the actual ending and the two where you live are in chapter 3, but the one, where you die is in the epilogue. I don’t know, maybe I’m getting too analytical, but I’m a story person and I like to know what’s going on. But maybe it’s a good thing that they kept the mystery and left the player kind of ponder over it all. I also really like how the different endings are titled like winter, summer and autumn (yeah, f*ck spring, lol) and at very end before your soul departs to heaven you either turn into an angel (in the summer ending) or a banshee (in the winter ending) or remain a little ghost (in the autumn ending). Okay I think, I can end the spoiler here … *SPOILER ENDS … YOU CAN READ FURTHER DOWN NOW*
Now that we covered the story, let’s see how you actually progress through it, with gameplay. So, as I said, you control the little spirit of Iona (I think her name was … god, I played through the game 3 times and still am not sure of the name when I write it now … how stupid can I be) and you do that by dragging her heart around. Now as savage as that may seem when I say it like that, it’s actually quite beautiful. Like you have Iona floating about and a little green heart, which you click on with the mouse and drag it. She follows the heart along and that is how you explore. Gameplay consist of talking to key people (by the way, for those of you going for the Sceal achievement, I strongly recommend you talk to the crow very often) and floating around painting buildings. This is cool, okay. Because it feels like not only you’re reading the book, but creating it as well. Like it’s all grey and gloomy and when your spirit passes through it kind of colors it (and that is beside the stuff you actually have to paint). The color doesn’t stay, it’s just for when you pass through, but I think it’s a nifty little addition to the otherwise beautiful world. It kind of reminds me of Okami, but it was way more developed there.
A cool feature I like here is first of all the change which occurs to your spirit. For certain story points you turn into an angel to bring summer and a banshee to bring winter (people, who read the spoiler section can relate). I liked this feature, but I feel like, I would have liked to have more freedom with it. I know it’s story related, but I can’t help but wonder what happens if I can freely turn into those two and color the world with their colors … and also what could happen if they might influence my ending. It could add more mystery and variety to the story. As it is, the only difference is the ending itself, the chapters are all the same. It could be a cool feature for a future update, if it can be made to work. I also loved the day/night cycle in the game and how the whole scenery changes with that. Gonna cover more of that later.
The only thing I disliked about gameplay – the crossroads … O.M.G. IT’S SO EFFIN HARD TO NAVIGATE THOSE. Jesus Christ, like, it may seem easy as a concept, but in reality it sucks. Every time I had to make a turn, I had to do this ridiculous back and forth at the crossroads until she finally decides to turn. It did give me instructions that I have to follow the path to do it … well I tried that – nope, tried dragging the heart – nope, tried interacting with the sign post – nope, tried voodoo magic – nope, nope and nope. This was probably the only thing that frustrated me in the whole game and given the fact that you can explore all you want and sometimes you have to, it can be off-putting. Please … just do something about this.
World – the world and visuals of Sceal are just amazing. It’s so peaceful. Now, remember when I said that the game connects to your inner child and I gave one example earlier? This is the second part. The game itself not only feels like a fairytale child book but also looks like one. Right from the start, the main menu looks like a book, then in-game you have a book and as you are navigating through the world, it looks like those 3D books, where you open a page and stuff pops out and then open another page and more stuff pop out. But it’s absolutely amazing. Besides that you have the actual storybook where you store your story progression. As for color, everything is like a painting with watercolor art style. Like I mentioned, as your ghost flies along, it colors the world and when it’s a certain part of the story, it’s more sunny and warm when you are an angel and more dark and gloomy as a banshee. The only thing I would have liked to see more is the winter. It’s there, but it doesn’t feel like a winter, it feels more like a late autumn. I would have loved to see snow as I pass by and even, make it snowing – not raining, which by the way was another cool feature. Not only did day and night change and the respectful palette with that (you know the yellows, reds, oranges, greens, etc for day and blues, whites, purples and pinks for night), but also it can start raining. I didn’t really follow if there was a pattern or not and I think it was randomly generated. If it is, then good job for that, if not then good job again, cuz I really didn’t notice. But yeah, my only complaint is about the winter … make it more wintery please.
The music. Okay, I don’t really need to even talk about it. Please, give me OST release … OMG, the music is just amazing. It’s almost like a lullaby in Irish. Oh god, the tunes were amazing, the vocals were beautiful, you get calm and happy tunes and sad and dark tunes for respective story moments, you even have a different sound for each part of the story, so you are never listening to the same piece twice. I have just one complain about the music. I don’t know if this was intended or not, but a lot of times the music plays and then when the song ends there is a good 10 seconds of silence and it starts back again. I think that kind of breaks the immersion a bit (especially at the end when they are supposed to be singing and then the song just stops, but the emote stays, like they are still singing). I think it would be best if the music was a perfect loop. Don’t interrupt it, just start it all over immediately, you know, just make it look indefinitely. Let’s face it, we won’t probably hear each song more than twice, because the game passes by so quickly.
Speaking of quickly … Sceal is such a short game. By the time I had started it and immersed in it, it was already over and I was like “wait wut?! That’s it!!!??!”. To sum it up – I have 2 hours of game time with Sceal. A good 30 minutes go to me being AFK, then the rest hour and a half are distributed to 3 playthroughs. So I managed to complete the game 3 times in an hour and a half. Now don’t get me wrong, the game is great for its value, but devs, you can’t just do that. Make an awesome game so short. I want more. But it’s definitely worth it as a nice little relaxing enjoyment (let’s face it, I’d probably go crazy if I had to tackle more of those wonky crossroads).
Before the final verdict, I want to mention some technical issues I encountered. First of all, when I started the game in full screen and tried to minimize it, it broke. Second of all, it took me like 3-4 attempts to start the actual game, because it would always “not respond” me on the loading screen after the main menu. I did manage to get it going though, without further interruptions, but that felt weird to me. Anyway, not really enough to hinder experience. Also, what the eff is with the lack of options? The game doesn’t have options. I was searching for that because I wanted to turn down the music a bit, because I always keep my laptop’s volume maxed up and it was really loud. No sound and any options for that matter in-game. You do get slight options at launch, but nothing for the sound. You just pick resolution and whether it’s windowed or not.
Verdict time. I would definitely recommend Sceal. It’s a nice little game, play it, because it is a very peaceful and unique experience. The only things holding it back are the fact that it’s very short and some minor improvements that can be made (like I said with the winter and the controls in crossroads and implementing the angel and banshee more to influence the endings, because that way, it might create a more progressive choice system). I feel kind of baffled for the verdict. I kind of wish to give it an 8, but my gut tells me to give it a 7. Maybe a 7.5/10? I don’t know. But anyway, it’s amazing as it is, for its value. Definitely scores a solid 7/10 as it is now, counting the technical issues, despite the fact that I overcame them quite easily and hopefully that was just me (but if not, might be something to look into top priority). I can see much potential for this game and even adding more chapters to the story itself, because the endings, still did puzzle me to the very end and maybe if we get more plot, we might understand on a deeper level and yeah, just it gives more value to the actual game itself. Great game, buy it, peace.