Adventure Gamers Awards
Not unlike another world-linking puzzle-adventure that was surely an inspiration, Pahelika: Revelations is the second game in a series centred around a magical book. In the sequel to Secret Legends, the returning main character, now given the name Sudesh, travels to various otherworldly locations with the help of the Pahelika tome retrieved in the first game, and must now stop an evil wizard from wreaking havoc. The story is self-contained enough that new players can pick up the gist quite quickly, although it does get a little perplexing as you progress. But story is certainly not the focus here, as it's obvious from the start that this a game primarily for puzzle lovers, and surprisingly a much less casual one than it appears on the surface.
The game starts with Sudesh exploring his storeroom hoping to uncover the secrets of a magical artefact connected with the legends told to him by his grandfather. A series of preliminary puzzles offer a tutorial explaining the basic game mechanics, though they are pretty simple and don't really need any explanation. After that you find yourself transported to a magician's tower, part of a magical realm that has begun to cross over into the real world. It’s here where the story really begins, as it soon becomes clear that Sudesh must retrieve a series of runes in order stop the evil wizard Krur Jalaal.
While the premise is reasonable enough, the finer details of the story are a serious weak point. Often it's unclear what's going on or why something is happening, and a lot of the exposition is revealed only in the less-than-fantastic cutscenes. The cinematics are presented as static comic strips, the camera panning and zooming for a sense of movement, with a voiceover attempting to fill in some confusing story gaps. In-game, however, it often feels like you’re hopping from location to location with little explanation as to why you’ve ended up where you are. The goal may become more evident as you progress, but the mythology remains frustratingly abstract. Fortunately, there are several books lying around that add some background, which are usually quite short and quick to read, often offering clues essential for solving puzzles as well.
There are several other characters who briefly appear in Revelations, but Krur Jalaal himself is only seen at the end of the game. Other people Sudesh encounters include a monk, a little girl and a man on a park bench, none of whom are much deeper than their descriptions imply, being present more for the sake of obtaining objects than for story. Conversation is carried out through simple dialogue trees, and sometimes there is more than one direction to steer the discussion in, though there’s ultimately only one outcome for each.
Thankfully, there's more personality in the locations themselves. You’ll revisit the wizard's tower featured in the first game, initially in a state of disrepair, but there's lots to be explored once you’ve fixed the magical portals using spells and potions. Other destinations include an ancient library and monastery, a barred up suburban home that houses a workshop and an elaborate safe in the basement, as well as an academy for wizards. Each environment is nicely detailed with all kinds of magical paraphernalia and ancient architecture in the magical realm, while the real world settings feature more mundane objects and buildings. In both worlds, even non-essential items yield text box descriptions when investigated.
You’ll also discover a very engaging set of puzzles that offer plenty of varied gameplay and are generally very fun to solve. There are inventory puzzles, a grid of wire elements to be arranged to complete a circuit, and codes to decipher from clues hidden in the environment. One especially enjoyable sequence involves having to work out the secrets of a heavily secured house, starting with a metal door to unlock with the right combination, followed by a series of similar mechanical puzzles. The game’s Indian origins may be a hindrance to western audiences, however. One puzzle in particular would have been easier with knowledge of the Indian number system, a fact I only found out afterwards after stumbling onto the solution through trial and error. There are a few challenges where the logic seems frustratingly absent or require an action that is fairly abstract, but on the whole the many tasks should appeal to those who enjoy mechanical puzzles and more casual fare such as fitting puzzle pieces together.
Another entertaining element is the ability to cast spells. This involves finding the spells in the first place, then preparing them in order to do things like raise and lower objects, remove enchantments and make invisible things appear. These spells can only be used on specific objects in specific locations, but it’s an interesting addition to the gameplay. Some steps needed to create them feel a little drawn out, such as having to collect items to prepare the parchment before you can write on it, and similar steps have to be taken to complete other non-magical objectives at times, like creating a mirrored panel. Usually the fantasy settings feature magic-based puzzles more heavily, whereas you’ll find mostly mechanical puzzles when you return to the real world, but both contain a healthy mix of codes to crack, riddles to solve and other problems along those lines.
The game also caters to inventory puzzle fans, and items can be used not only within the environment but combined with each other as well. Oddly, there is a limit to the number of objects you can carry in inventory at any one time, requiring you to find a waste basket and dispose of any excess items. This doesn't result in the elimination of anything necessary, as it's possible to retrieve them later, but it still seems like an unnecessary restriction. Fortunately, for puzzles that require actions to be repeated, such as spell creation, it's possible to pick up multiple objects that appear under the same inventory icon with a number indicating how many you’ve acquired.
Apart from being presented in a 4:3 ratio with no option to change the resolution (which isn't an issue with the main game, but makes the cutscenes look blurry on a high resolution monitor), there are no complaints in the graphics department. Admittedly they're nothing flashy, but the locations are realistically rendered and do create a fantastical atmosphere in the magical world, which feels mysterious and encourages you to discover its secrets. The hand-drawn cinematics don't really bear a resemblance to the rest of the game, but this is just a minor niggle and they can be skipped. Each environment has its own style of music, and the more dramatic moments are punctuated by some well scored orchestral pieces. Sound effects also add appropriate ambience, but the only voice work is from the narrator, whose performance is fairly average, describing events in a nondescript American accent as if being read from a story book (and occasionally doing the voice of the Pahelika itself).
Presented from a first-person perspective, navigation is straightforward, with arrows appearing at the edge of the screen indicating directions Sudesh can move, and the cursor changing to signal areas that can be inspected more closely. If the game becomes too challenging, there is an option to select a "casual" mode from the menu at any time, which changes the clues slightly, provides subtle hints along the way, and makes some of the puzzles themselves easier. The casual mode can be activated or deactivated at any point in the game, which is a welcome option at times, as the difficulty isn’t reduced so much that it takes away from the enjoyment of solving any particular puzzle. It's worth pointing out that the game autosaves on exit, which is unfortunate as it would have been nice to replay certain parts without having to trudge through the whole game again. It's not possible to die, but it is possible to fail some challenges, at which point you will return to the beginning of the segment, though these instances are few and far between.
Currently available exclusively at the developer's website, Pahelika: Revelations offers a generous 8–12 hours of gameplay, and while I lost interest in the story fairly early on, the puzzles held my attention until the end, providing a nice sense of accomplishment by being challenging in an enjoyable way. For anyone who gets really stuck, a detailed strategy guide is available from the official site as well, which may also help to clarify the finer points of the overly complicated premise. Such knowledge may be useful in future, since the underwhelming ending leaves the door open for another sequel. Overall, this game is much less casual than I was expecting, so it might prove a bit too difficult for anyone hoping for an easy ride, but puzzle fans should find plenty to like here. It’s really more of a puzzling diversion than a fully engaging adventure experience, but it’s a reasonably enjoyable experience if you prefer puzzles over storytelling.