Adventure Gamers Awards
I’ve always loved looking back into the past and seeing how others lived, which is one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed games by Kheops and their longtime partners Totem and Mzone studios. Like previous collaborations such as ECHO: Secrets of the Lost Cavern and Secrets of DaVinci: The Forbidden Manuscript, their latest offering, Nostradamus: The Last Prophecy, also takes you into the past. This time it’s to 16th century Provence, a French region caught in the middle of a war and beset by the plague. For players, it’s also a fascinating world of medicine, astrology and a particularly deadly prophecy, and this first-ever gaming foray into the life and times of Nostradamus results in an intriguing murder mystery.
Nostradamus begins as the former regent, Catherine de Médicis, pays a visit to her old doctor Michel de Nostre-Dame. While Catherine no longer reigns, she still wields incredible power, which makes her a natural target for enemies. Her immediate concern relates to a prophecy that purportedly was written by Nostradamus and details potential tragedies that will befall the royal family. Numerous deaths among those associated with the royal household have already begun and Catherine fears the prophecy is coming true, so she asks for Nostradamus’ help to try to stop the prophesied events. Old and frail, Nostradamus tells her he is feeling unwell and will send his son César instead, but knowing his son will not return home any time soon, he chooses to send his daughter Madeleine in his place. Being the 16th century, however, a woman astrologer is not welcome in such circles, so Madeleine must disguise herself as César at times to discover if the unfolding prophecy was really written by Nostradamus, and to find out who is ensuring that it gets fulfilled.
Whether in the role of Madeleine herself or disguised as César, players face a series of tasks that rely heavily on careful observation of surroundings and the writings and books owned by Nostradamus. Like most of Kheops’ games, there is a strong reliance on inventory here, though with an interesting twist. Early on in the game, Nostradamus gives you (as Madeleine) a kit containing numerous tools, including the likes of a scalpel, tongs, and mathematical compass that allow you to further examine and manipulate certain items in your inventory, areas in the game world, and even the in-game journal. It took me a while to get used to using this kit, which shows up automatically in your inventory each time you open it. I forgot it was available to me at first, which resulted in getting stuck a few times early on. Once I got in the habit of using it, however, I found it a nice touch that makes investigating and interacting with the environment not only more realistic but also more challenging, as you’ll need to choose the correct tool for each purpose (although I did occasionally use trial and error).
A full portrait of your character is also displayed on the inventory page, where you can change clothes to appear as either Madeleine or César. This is important in certain parts of the game, as who you choose to dress as can affect how others react to you and how events transpire. For the initial attiring of both Madeleine and César, the individual items need to be found and placed on the portrait, though subsequent wardrobe changes are streamlined into the use of a single inventory item.
The journal contains all the documents that are collected in the game, along with records of certain events that have transpired, Madeleine’s notes about what she needs to accomplish (a good place to go if you aren’t sure what you should do next), as well as a log of all conversations. A few puzzles in the game also take place in these journal pages, where you need to use some of the tools in the kit for closer inspection. I have always liked journals in games, as I have become a very lazy note taker, and its integration into some of the puzzles makes this one even more interesting.
The majority of puzzles involve a more traditional use of inventory, making items that are needed for Madeleine’s own use or other characters she encounters. There are also environmental puzzles, some of which involve the manipulation of Nostradamus’ scientific equipment, as well as logic puzzles involving astrology, where careful observation of Nostradamus’ workshop and office are important. There are even a few dialogue sequences that need to be correctly completed to proceed. To the certain chagrin of some, there is a sequence of puzzles at the end of the game that is timed. The time allotment is quite generous but I found myself using quite a bit of time on the first puzzle in the sequence, which made completing the remaining puzzles a bit stressful. Fortunately, all of the puzzles are completely integrated into the storyline, which makes them a lot of fun to solve.Continued on the next page...