Last Half of Darkness: Tomb of Zojir review
Normally, if someone were to ask me to voluntarily pick up a spider, I would probably tell them where they can stick it and run in the opposite direction. However, I was willing to make an exception this time, as it involves the latest game from WRF Studios, Last Half of Darkness: Tomb of Zojir, making me more inclined to deal with any lingering arachnophobia. Mind you, the spiders were fake and part of a creative collection of extras that came with the game, but it’s the adventure itself that motivated me to face my own heebie jeebies. It wouldn’t be the last time, either.
Taking place after the events of Beyond the Spirit’s Eye, the latest installment drops the player on what appears to be a deserted Isle of the Dead in search of the rumored treasure of Emperor Zojir, still safely locked away with him in his tomb. The emperor knew his treasure might be stolen, so before his death he asked his mage to protect it through the creation of bloodstones. These bloodstones are now scattered across the island, previously removed by unsuccessful thieves. The importance of reuniting these stones at Zojir’s tomb becomes clear after hearing of the curse that has taken over the island since their dispersal. Along with the stones, numerous puzzles further protect the entrance to the tomb, left unsolved by previous treasure-seekers.
While not a prerequisite for understanding Tomb of Zojir, the previous game ended with the player in possession of a book with directions to this Isle of the Dead, creating a clear connection for those who are following the series along. The opening scene reintroduces the player, often referred to as ‘The Stranger’, and you find yourself on a boat, traveling over dark waters until you finally end up in a sea cave, where the exploration and gameplay begin.
Like previous Last Half of Darkness games, your travels on the island are almost entirely solitary, viewed through a first-person perspective. There are many places to explore, including a deserted mansion and its grounds, a graveyard, a harbor, an abandoned city and eventually the tomb of Zojir itself. Navigating on the island is controlled through traditional point-and-click with node-to-node movement, and a directional cursor indicates available ways to move at any given time. Getting around is made a little easier with in-game maps that allow you to jump between major areas, but that doesn’t mean you can slack on the exploration. There are often multiple directions to go on any given screen and numerous spots you need to look at more closely. Even with the maps, I missed some smaller areas initially and got stuck on occasion, emphasizing the importance of scouring every part of the screen for different ways to go.
The island is, unsurprisingly, eerie and dark, with a lightning storm raging overhead throughout. The outdoor locations naturally have a somber color palette, but even the indoor scenes can be very dark. The sense of abandonment in the mansion is evident as broken furniture, moldy food in the kitchen and numerous cobwebs are prominent. The environments are depicted realistically, but they do appear a bit grainy, and even more so in the cutscenes, though these cinematics are infrequent. There are small ambient animations such as spiders crawling from their hiding places, as well as a few action and dialogue animations. Conversations are predictably few and far between, which perhaps is just as well, because they aren’t very well synched. Overall, the graphics are certainly not state of the art, as you’d expect from an independent offering, but they are more than adequate to set an unsettling mood that effectively drew me in.
The sound effects are quite well done, with such noises as thunder, a squeaking rat scurrying across the room, or flies buzzing in an abandoned kitchen adding to the spooky ambience of the environments. There is limited background music, so mostly the sounds are those of the natural environment, except in a few locations where an a capella voice chants lyrically. Together the sounds convey the suspenseful anxiety of not knowing what exactly is around the next corner, with the occasional scream or low growling sound interspersed for additional dread.
Although you are mostly alone on the island, there are some other inhabitants who make brief appearances, including a strange man in the mansion and a mysterious girl who appears occasionally (whose identity becomes clearer to you as you progress). Sometimes these side characters didn’t make a lot of sense to me, as I wasn‘t sure who they were at first and how they fit into the narrative. This was especially true of a revived mummy that makes an appearance to add details to the story, but I wasn‘t sure why it was chosen to do so. Granted, the island is supposedly cursed, which lends itself to the notion that there are supernatural beings about, but the mummy didn‘t quite work for me.
There isn’t a lot of dialogue in the game, but the few conversations are often vital to solving puzzles. While not a large part of the gameplay, I was a bit put off by the voice acting. Both the narration during the opening scene and the voices of some characters feature heavy reverberation. I imagine this was done to convey a haunting aspect of these characters, but it feels excessive and often makes the dialogue difficult to listen to. The game is fully subtitled and there is an option to adjust volume, but all audio is connected, so turning one down means turning everything down.
Although the game has an uneasy atmosphere, there’s nothing that should keep the faint at heart from playing. There are plenty of skeletons and creepy crawly critters along with the odd otherworldly creature, but the few startling moments aren’t excessive. On occasion, some characters appear out of nowhere, resulting in a ‘jump out of your seat’ fright. However, if you happen to leave the area where these take place and come back, the same sequence will often play again, taking the scare factor away and adding to the wait time until you can proceed. I did feel some reservations poking around the abandoned town at first, but once I got used to the frequency of scares, I felt a little more comfortable and just enjoyed exploring the different areas and figuring out what I needed to do next. I’m personally not a big 'horror' fan, so this game fit the bill of being occasionally chilling but not terrifying.
Most of the environments are open to you right from the beginning of the game, allowing the ability to explore elsewhere should you get stuck on a particular puzzle. There are a variety of challenges, including standalone logic types like balancing proper weights, plus inventory puzzles (occasionally combining items) and a couple of minigames that aren‘t exceedingly difficult, including one that requires sliding pieces to maneuver a ball from one side to another. None of the puzzles are timed or require good hand-eye coordination, so that’s one fear that can safely be put to rest. There are a couple of puzzles that can result in your death, but the game allows unlimited do-overs.
The puzzles are generally well-clued, though many of the clues are found in the printed journal and other materials that come with the game. Even the game disc is useful for something other than installation, as are those plastic spiders, as they are used to help solve a couple of puzzles. The majority of obstacles are well-integrated into the story, but I found it easy to lose track of what I had and hadn’t solved, which is a good reason to take notes. It’s a shame there’s no in-game journal to help keep track of key details, but it’s all up to the player.
Like many lonely exploration games, Tomb of Zojir’s story often takes a back seat to the gameplay. Part of that is due to so much of the backstory being detailed in the physical extras. There is some reading to do in-game, but it certainly isn’t as extensive as it often is in similar games. So while I quite enjoyed the atmosphere and the overall experience of making my way through the puzzles to the final task, the journey did feel a bit empty, as the elements of the story that are so rich in the external materials were easily forgotten as I played.
Currently available only from the developer's website, Tomb of Zojir isn’t a very difficult game or a particularly long offering, so many players should finish in under ten hours, though as always mileage can vary. Along the way, you also have the ability to collect gold coins which are scattered throughout the environments and serve as part of your final score. At the end of the game, you receive a code to redeem for a bonus game which needs to be claimed that same day. This is a casual game downloaded from the WRF Studios site called Secret of the Idol that basically involves matching tiles. Like other casual games of this type, it’s repetitive but a fun diversion and can be a bit addicting.
Overall, Tomb of Zojir is very similar to its predecessors, continuing the themes of eerie locales, mostly solitary explorations with well-clued and fun puzzles, and not much has changed in terms of puzzle difficulty, graphics, and voice acting. The story this time around does seem relegated more to the secondary materials, and the gameplay is unlikely to dazzle you at many points, but it still manages to provide a solid experience for fans of first-person adventures and the Last Half of Darkness series in particular. And it comes with spiders! I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s a good thing.