The supporting cast is also comprised of well-developed personalities. Winnie the witch starts off as a cackling hag but is slowly fleshed out as a villain, her machinations driven by much more than simple greed. Several characters, like Joringel the caddish ghost in the tower, and Hans, a devoted ally, at first appear to be one-time interactions, but are eventually drawn neatly into the storyline as the game teases out why Winnie wants Anna’s telekinetic ability. Reynard, a crafty vegetarian fox, is another character that evolves nicely over time, though Ben the talking bear remains just as whiny from start to finish. Irreverent jester-girl Ernestine adds some much-needed levity into the increasingly grim proceedings, and provides a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, as do the two castle guards tasked with arresting Anna and Ben. The game also includes special appearances by fairy tale legends like Hansel, Cinderella and the Three Brown Bears as a tribute to its inspiration.
The story of Anna’s Quest is far more complex than it appears at the outset, linking together many characters and events in a domino effect of actions and reactions set off by one little girl’s determination to fight her destiny. The game is driven by its conversations, some lengthy and expository, some crisp and funny, and others made up of the banal yet necessary chatter of daily life between friends and acquaintances. The script is intelligent but unpretentious, and draws you slowly and surely into the mystery, each little reveal increasing your curiosity about the next. It creates some moments of genuine tension, like when Anna starts to feel compelled to give in to the irresistible lure of the Weisse Frauen, or when she is almost caught for stealing something. But just when things get too intense, it effortlessly lightens the tone with random silliness, like Anna’s confusion at the incongruous dish antenna on the roof of Winfriede’s tower, and her comical exasperation at the hijinks of her ornery companions. The best part about the script, however, is that it does not take sides. It refuses to create any one-sided battles, and works constantly to add layers to the characters to make them well-rounded personalities instead of insipid caricatures. It also uses Anna’s telekinetic power with great restraint, using it to only enable her to do things an adult could do normally.
The delicately outlined, pastel-shaded hand-drawn cartoon art is designed to resemble a children’s storybook. Wunderhorn in the twilight is particularly charming, with its medieval architecture, amber lamplight, church windows made of beautiful stained glass, and an attractive fountain in the town square. A house on the sparkling Glass Mountain, Hans’s treehouse science lab, and the inn are also nicely detailed. The character sketches are drawn with simple lines yet loaded with personality, like the brusque Winfriede, the elegant Jannike (queen of Wunderhorn), Reynard the fox, and even the creepy old hag in the mill. Anna’s pink frock and matching barrette are adorable, as are her spindly legs that serve her surprisingly well in her many escapes. The chapter interludes are styled as an album of animated pencil sketches of scenes from the story.
Like the art, the animation too is deceptively simple yet top-notch. The action-packed cutscenes are showcased with dramatic viewing angles, and even in-game animations like ghosts materialising, a red dragon swooping in, and people going about their business is smooth and realistic. Many little touches infuse life into the game world, like slugs feasting on leaves, moonlight wavering on the dark waters of the cursed lake, and will-o-wisps flitting about the night forest. There are a couple of graphical glitches, like Anna walking through a locked cell door, but these are rare exceptions.
The classical background music is understated and sound effects are used judiciously, which allows the voice acting to really shine through. Sophie Le Neveu does a tremendous job as Anna, perfectly expressing every emotion – fear, uncertainty, despair, hope, determination – felt by the brave little girl over hours of conversations. She also enriches Anna’s snarky wisecracks and witty repartees with her impressive comic timing. Another outstanding performance is the smart and assertive, yet deeply vulnerable, young Winfriede, who almost steals the show from Anna despite her limited role. Ben’s hammy stuttering, which takes up quite a bit of airtime, soon gets tiresome, but most of the other voices are well-matched to their characters.
Anna’s Quest is one of those rare games that gets all its elements just right. It has a rich, haunting story of courage and determination in the face of overwhelming odds; an intelligent lead who’s empowered enough to confront any challenge, yet at the same time genuinely vulnerable to the harsh realities of the world by the simple fact of being a child; excellent art and voice acting; and quests that flow seamlessly, packing just enough punch to keep you engaged without tripping you up. Seasoned gamers may find the going fairly easy, and the script requires you to pay attention through quite a lot of expository text to keep up with the extensive backstory, but if you are searching high and low for a good old-fashioned adventure with heart and heroism, this quest is for you.