A medieval murder mystery is painted on the canvas of history in ‘Pentiment’

Throughout the first few chapters of RepentanceI was struck by how utterly charming and light-hearted the game felt despite focusing on a grisly murder in a Bavarian monastery with the upcoming Reformation Wars looming. It is a game that has a lot of charm and warmth: its characteristic element is the fact that the entire game is presented in an art style reminiscent of illustrations and marginalia in illuminated manuscripts, and when the characters speak, they do so in stylized text. associated with various forms of ancient publications. The monks speak in ornate Gothic script, the town printer speaks in an old-fashioned typeface. You can pet all the animals in the city. It feels, in other words, like you’re about to take part in some historical romp, and the review I was sketching out in my head was going to be about that effervescent whim.

Then I came to a dubious resolution of the initial mystery, made some big decisions and some big costs paid by some characters I’d met, and finally got to the game’s first timeskip and felt the ground give way. however cute and witty Repentance It can be and often is, cruel twists of fate and bitter realities await you around every corner. All his characters know it, and once Repentance makes it clear that these same rules apply to your character and the main members of its cast, the charming period comedy gives way to an inquisitive and often sweeping historical drama whose sense of scope is made all the more acute by the fact that everything takes place in the same few places in a small Bavarian town.

speaking to penance director, Josh Sawyer (also Obsidian Design Director) in waypoint radius for a show later this week, summed up Repentance like medieval night in the woods satisfies The name of the rose. As the descriptions say in a nutshell, I really can’t do better: as you solve the mysteries that revolve around a declining Benedictine abbey, you’ll run throughout the city chatting with the cast of characters who live there as they live out their lives and come to be important. crossing. There are no significant puzzles to speak of, you mostly just run from one place to another and watch them trade speech bubbles. The main limitation you face is that there is usually some sort of deadline and you have to choose who you spend your free time with, which is how you learn key pieces of evidence and have meaningful relationship-altering exchanges. with the other people in town. Given how much re-stepping on old ground this involves, and how much of this game involves waiting for the game to finish typing text into those speech bubbles to the sound of brushes, pens, and printing presses, Repentance it’s a game that lives and dies by how much you like to look at it and read what it has to say.

Fortunately, it is a triumph of art and writing, each underscoring and reinforcing the other. It is visible from the very first moments of the game when you take your character, an ambitious young artist named Andreas Maler, through a normal day in the village of Tassing as he heads to work at Kiersau Abbey, where he is completing his masterpiece and learning his trade from the monks who work in his venerable but obsolete scriptorium. Squeezed by printing presses on the one hand and growing competition from professionals like Andreas wants to be, the abbey is an ancient institution in a world on the cusp of modernity. All of these themes are developed in lively, never forced expository dialogue and beautiful detail in the setting and in the costumes of the monks themselves. Withered monks in their ink-spattered robes and arthritic joints shuffle and shuffle across illustrations that Andreas can strut around at will. As his mentor, Piero, explains to Andreas the finer points of his fugue art, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Andreas will be the hero of a great story to come and that the future that the abbey will leave behind will belong to him. the. .

In a way it does, but Repentance is a game about the cycles of life that are as predictable and restrictive as the wheel of a book of hours that marks the scenes of the game. We meet Andreas in the flush of youthful confidence; we will meet him later amid adult disappointment and regret. Similarly, we’ll see the cozy life of the small town of Tassing turn vicious, where all the easy intimacy and camaraderie of the early parts of the game turn to bitterness and lingering resentment. You may think that your job will be to fix some of this, but over and over again people will remind you that much of this world cannot be fixed and that it is the job of most people to figure out how they can best cope with and come to terms with what is. that is coming

Ironically, I’m not really talking about the historical upheavals that hang over parts of this story like the sword of Damocles. I mean the ever-present danger and sadness of life in this day and age. No political drama unfolded that was as devastating as revisiting some characters I loved in the game’s early chapters to find the family ravaged by illness and death. A cheerful and bustling home is replaced by the haunted loneliness of a widower and a child playing alone. Another family suffers from malnutrition and the early stages of starvation due to crippling taxes from the abbey.

All these threads are linked. Personal triumphs and tragedies are tied to 16th-century Bavaria’s politics and changing religious climate. The beautiful abbey, its cast of eccentric monks and nuns, and its prized library are sustained by taxes that eventually starve your friends in town. Many of the people in town are aware of this, and yet they are also devout in their faith and their devotion to the town priest, taking solace in the fact that much of what they are going through is just part of the long march of the soul through the Valley of Tears to the Kingdom of Heaven. But even here Repentance he does not paint with too broad a brush, neither patronizing nor flattening his subjects. We see not only those for whom the Church is a tedious obligation, but also those for whom it poses a deadly threat. A tinker in the woods appears mid-game to offer some thoughts he’s gleaned from reading and reasoning over the years, presenting a deeply felt and utterly heretical faith, and one that is recognizably a slightly mystical precursor to Enlightenment deism.

This is the most mature and interesting take on “historical accuracy” we tend to have, complicating a picture many of us hold of the past without resorting to easy nods to modern sensibilities. Repentance he’s clearly informed by feminist history and theory, for example, but that means he takes seriously the obstacles to a single woman inheriting property or taking up a trade in this age. Nonconformity of all kinds exists, but it’s dangerous, and the game is very clear about why. Equally, Repentance it does not present a vision of medieval Bavaria hermetically isolated from the rest of the world, but it does not deny the distance and isolation of many of these communities. At first we meet an Ethiopian Catholic monk who is treated with a warm, but slightly awkward curiosity, like the townspeople. But Repentance he does not reduce this issue to the presence or absence of non-whites in the medieval European countryside. One point he repeatedly makes is that Europe Actually, it’s not even a concept that exists for most of the people you meet, for whom Venice or Tours seem as far away as the moon and Mars. How people define themselves is a political question, taking center stage as the game progresses and drawing attention to the ways in which modern nation concepts were themselves a fiction drawn on stories. of colonialism and cultural destruction.

These themes are handled well through a lot of good writing and dialogue, but they’re also close to the heart of the different mysteries you investigate as the game progresses. As the crimes and bodies accumulate over the years, all orchestrated by someone Andreas begins to think of as the “thread puller”, it becomes clear that whoever is doing all this is a secret historian. Someone who knows not only the forgotten mysteries surrounding Tassing’s original settlement and founding, but also the personal crimes and abuses that have been hidden within the community.

It is in this final and unifying mystery that Repentance It turns into one big horror story. Characters age, die, and leave Tassing, so the list of eligible suspects narrows until you come to the inescapable conclusion that it must be a character you’ve known for a long time. And yet, too, from clues about the Thread-Puller that you accumulate throughout the game, he’s someone you don’t know at all and whose secrets you’ve never even guessed. Someone who knows all the things from the past that history won’t admit.

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