We have waited literally years for the English version of KING Art Games' The Book of Unwritten Tales. Now it's here, and YES, the heroics match the hype! A spoof/tribute to popular fantasy works, this game returns us to the heyday of 'questing' in an epic adventure over the course of 15-20 hours. The action shifts from the modest village of Seastone to a lost island to the mother of all villains’ dusty badlands domain, even as it forges an unexpected alliance of four unlikely heroes who must set aside their personal agendas and prejudices to work together for the greater good. Yet the tale is always simple enough to follow, focusing on characters and solving a dragon's loot worth of puzzles, regaling players with line after cheeky line delivered with impeccable wit along the way. The vibrant canvas of warmly-familiar locales is exquisite, the music frequently heaps on the nostalgia, hundreds of little animations and sound effects bring the surreal world to life, and all characters are endowed with unique and memorable personalities, investing you as deeply in their pedestrian concerns as in the big picture. There aren’t hours of clueless wandering masquerading as 'play time' either, as the quests flow seamlessly from one to the next, challenging but never frustrating. Though a slightly-abrupt finale sets up for a sequel instead of tightly closing the case, you’re nevertheless sure to be entertained for many hours by this attractive, funny game and its charming cast.
A prelude segment involving the elven Princess Ivo trying to rescue Yoda-esque gremlin Mortimer MacGuffin is designed as a gameplay tutorial, easing into the story without an overload of exposition. We get the point quickly: a book with the location of the Artefact of Divine Power – an amulet that gives its possessors all that they desire – and a special ring must be delivered to the Arch-Mage in Seastone. While Ivo manages the book, the responsibility of the ring falls on young gnome Wilbur Weathervane, who's interning as a bus-boy in a dwarven pub and nursing a secret ambition to become a mage. Wilbur's momentous trip to Seastone, his first to a human settlement, starts the adventure in earnest. After many quests that showcase his super-adaptability, he earns a Mage Diploma and finally crosses paths with Ivo, along with the awesome twosome of Nate and Critter, a shady airship pilot and his pet who are held hostage by heavy-duty orcish bounty hunter Ma'Zaz for assorted contract violations. Circumstantially thrust together, but also united as a team committed to the good fight, the fantastic four leave no doors shut and no stones unturned in the race to retrieve the amulet before the evil Shadow Army.
If that sounds familiar, it's because it is. The unwritten tale is oft-told but evergreen, and it's with joy, not disdain, that you embrace its concepts and characters. Nate is a rakish mix of Han Solo and Guybrush Threepwood – he talks like the former, dresses like the latter, and swaggers like both. At the outset, he is all about gold, not glory, but is persuaded to cooperate by the no-nonsense Ivo. Elegant and arrogant, she pointedly (and repeatedly) rebuffs Nate's chauvinistic advances, but is friendly and protective towards Wilbur, though she tempers her affection with brusqueness. The little gnome is the biggest surprise: wide-eyed yet practical (when he sees a floating houseplant, his first thought is how easy it'd be to clean around it), Wilbur steals the show with his innocence, loyalty and fierce determination in the face of tremendous odds, and brings on the big laughs with his literalness – his consternation at the 'hairy demon' in the backroom of a tavern is absolutely hilarious. As for Critter, it's a revelation how a perky purple plushie is a perfect replica of a seven foot tall cranky Wookiee. All are playable at times, and each protagonist has strengths and weaknesses that can create or resolve problems accordingly. Nate is strong and unapologetically unscrupulous (it's vicariously amusing to watch him con some cons), while straight-laced Wilbur can set traps, crawl into cramped places, and crack technical manuals. Ivo is sexy, but she prefers to utilize her intelligence and agility instead.
Fortunately, the developers didn’t sit back after casting their leads; each supporting character is fleshed out with backstories that explain their current circumstances and behaviour. Some excellent cameos include Munkus the assistant villain, Wilbur's ex-military ("Call me Colonel!") grandfather who preps him for his trip to Seastone, a rag-tag mummy in MacGuffin's study, a helpful supervillain titled the 'King of Thieves', a two-headed ogre with a literally split personality, a pansy paladin in pink, a judicious orcish Chieftain, a doped-out bull shaman named 'The Rainmaker', and Ma'Zaz, who has more game than Boba Fett himself. This motley crew sprinkles a unique charisma on the game and adds considerable emotional depth to it; you'll find yourself actually caring about some of them, and missing all of them sooner or later.
The adventure is spaced over five lengthy, multi-part chapters. Each screen has several hotspots, some necessary, others simply adding ambience. Each hotspot has a basic level of explanation and a second that’s more detailed. The space bar reveals all available hotspots, and exhausted objects become inactive after use. The inventory is accessed by rolling the mouse over the bottom edge of the screen. Items can be combined, and though you can’t always tell what combinations will work, a visual cursor cue easily eliminates many that will not, both in the inventory and the natural environments, avoiding many unnecessary clicks. Objects and areas are activated based on quests, making it important to revisit scenes to check for new leads, though that isn't as cumbersome as it sounds since your agenda is always reasonably clear. And whenever a chapter requires extensive exploration, a map is provided which allows teleportation between all active locations. Characters don't run, but except for the sauntering Nate, they move quickly enough to not hold up proceedings, and double-clicking exits fades immediately to the next area. The game clocks the hours played, provides unlimited save slots, and like its RPG inspirations, even has an auto-save that resumes from the point of your last activity in case of an unexpected end.
Usually the leads have to collect items by hook or crook, then use them elsewhere to solve problems. Objects can't be combined without explicit reason, however, even if you get the pairing correct by trial-and-error. The overall flow of the game is fairly linear, with one to three active objectives at any point, but the relentless flow of quests keeps you constantly busy – there is always something to do. The to-do lists, despite the oddity of the items involved, are extremely rational, which may make them appear less challenging than they actually are, because great care has been taken to not frustrate with mindlessly zany obstacles. A handful of discrete puzzles are attached to inventory- and dialogue-based quests as well. A Wheel of Fortune guessing game is especially intricate, given the way its colours must be deduced. A dancing minigame has you pounding the keyboard while Nate does the Macarena onscreen and may take a while to master, while a devilish potion-making puzzle is sure to create quite a stir. Some tasks require dialogue to be chosen correctly, which can be solved by guesswork, but are more fun to logically work out.
Midway through the game, the protagonists begin to be grouped into teams of two or three on occasion. You control the characters simultaneously on such occasions, switching between them by clicking their onscreen icons. This adds complexity to the gameplay, since you must now choose the character best suited to handle a particular situation. Partnered characters can give each other inventory items and advice, and the rotation of quests between them is clever and continuous, though most impressive are the moments when they come together as a team to perform a single dramatic task.Continued on the next page...