Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a little girl named Anna and her Grandpa on a farm at the edge of the deep dark woods. She was a happy child, smart and helpful, and she loved her Grandpa very much. And though she wondered why he always warned her to stay out of the woods, she was a good girl and never broke the rule. But everything changed the day Grandpa fell ill, and Anna was left with no choice but to venture into those ominous woods, all alone, to find him a cure. Sure enough, as soon as she entered the forest she was waylaid by the wicked witch Winfriede and locked up in a haunted high tower. Winfriede had vile plans for Anna and did terrible experiments on her, but to no avail… or so it seemed, until the tortures unleashed Anna’s secret power to move things with her thoughts. Now Anna must engineer her own escape from Winnie’s clutches, unaware that her flight will set unraveling a decades-old saga of shattered dreams, magic and mayhem.
The first episode of Anna’s Quest was released by designer Dane Krams back in 2012, and was well-received for its spirited heroine, dark humour and attractive art. Daedalic Entertainment subsequently collaborated with Krams to finish the full game all at once, and the result is quite fantastic. Anna’s Quest is a well-written and beautifully illustrated adventure with a poignant story that comes full circle in a bittersweet finale. It has superb production quality and over twelve hours of fun, fluid gameplay. It is amazing to watch the intelligent yet achingly naïve Anna, brought up in a cocoon of love and trust by her Grandpa, shed her endearing innocence and learn to trust her instincts as she navigates the real world of good folks and evil ones. Her journey, as she hurtles from one risky situation to another in an unknown world of enemies and allies – humans, animals, and mythical monsters like dragons and trolls – is a rollercoaster of emotions, and a fabulous cameo by young Winnie is sure to haunt you long after the game is over. Though there are some lengthy expositions on the backstory and the tasks are quite easy, the potent storytelling, high production quality and entertaining gameplay together make Anna’s Quest a truly epic one.
The adventure is divided into six chapters based on location. Anna’s ordeal starts in her room in the high tower, where Winfriede has kept her captive under CCTV surveillance while subjecting her to literally mind-blowing experiments in an effort to harness her latent telekinetic ability. The witch eventually succeeds in triggering the special power, but this ironically works to Anna’s advantage instead, as it gives her the wherewithal to do certain things that were too difficult for her as a regular child, like reach high places or move things otherwise too heavy for her. Cheered on by a whiny teddy bear and a sort-of-friendly ghost held captive along with her, Anna uses her wits and newfound ability to escape the tower and reach the town of Wunderhorn, where the adventure begins in earnest.
The picturesque Wunderhorn is where Anna expects to find the wizard who presumably has the cure for her Grandpa’s illness. Here the playing area expands into multiple locations like a cozy inn, a charming little church, an antique store run by an obnoxious snob, an abandoned mill where another old hag is squatting, and a cursed lake which hides the ghastly Weisse Frauen (a triad of killer sirens) and some of the darkest secrets of the town. Anna also gets to visit the Devil’s domain, a hellish locale of bubbling lava and mounds of paperwork run by bureaucratic trolls, as well as the lavish royal castle. There is also a brief but memorable flashback to young Winnie’s life as a student of the local school of magic.
The point-and-click mechanics are very basic. Right-clicking the mouse lets you inspect an item, while left-clicking does the single default action, such as to take or use it. The inventory stays off-screen, and is opened by scrolling the mouse wheel. In the early chapters, Anna has many objects in her stock, but over time this dwindles to only a handful at a time, making the largely inventory-based quests dependent more on gathering the items from complicated situations than finding creative ways to use them. Anna does not collect items without reason, but does mention when something may be of use in another situation. She also is very reluctant to steal or resort to trickery, which makes collecting even generic tools quite the task. For a game based on magic, most of the objects are mundane, like scissors and crayons and books and photos. The space bar serves as a hotspot locator, but useful items are usually easily discernible. Areas are made accessible or cordoned off as the story progresses, which reduces backtracking, and some chapters also have built-in shortcuts for local teleportation. While Anna is free to explore all available locations and do some of the tasks in random order, progress is generally linear, with nicely interlinked quests that lead intuitively from one to the next without requiring the aid of a journal, or even hints.
Each chapter has multiple objectives that all have several mini-quests. While the tasks are not individually difficult, when strung together they do need time and logical thought to solve in the right order. Anna is sent on numerous errands by her friends and foes, with duties ranging from finding someone’s lost father to evicting some goons illegally occupying a house. Her own to-do list is just as extensive: she must escape assorted jails, collect ingredients for spells and potions, and gatecrash an event planned by Winfriede, alongside sundry gems like extracting a hairball from a sink and conjuring up a ghost. There are some standalone puzzles as well, and these are a mixed bag, involving trial-and-error, educated guessing, and occasionally calculated chess-like movements. A minigame to send a pigeon off with mail, and another to adjust hanging bear cages using a set of levers are fun, but a swordplay sequence without any evident logic is just annoying. Helpfully, minigames that you don’t like can be skipped. There are also a couple of fairly easy timed sequences.
While the steady flow of tasks keeps you entertained enough, Krams’s narrative and characterisation are the real game-changers. The pretty, candy-coloured storybook art is an illusory foil for a grim story that tackles harsh realities like ruined childhoods, ungrateful people, cruel authority figures and relentless bureaucracy with unflinching directness. There are no leniencies for the weak or the meek in this world, and often you are left to watch, distressed, as Anna is misled or cheated simply because she is too young to know better. In fact, a key asset of the game is that the characters are believable. Anna and the other children act according to their ages, with just the right amount of competence; they are smart and resourceful, but never unduly so. The game also does not take the facile good-versus-evil route to help you pick sides: characters are all tinged with grey – even tiny, pristine Anna, a self-confessed goody-two-shoes. The moments when she is compelled to make unpleasant choices in dire circumstances, knowing full well the damage to be caused by her actions, make you feel genuine regret at times – and even undue hope, because you expect a game that looks and sounds like a fairy tale to have some easy outs.Continued on the next page...