The Frostrune review
Grimnir’s The Frostrune is a game that draws inspiration from Norse mythology and history. As the introductory sequence informs us, the story takes place in the summer of 965 CE off the coast of Norway. You play as Liv, a 13-year-old girl who is the sole survivor of a shipwreck. You are cast away on a deserted island, which you soon find out is plagued by an ominous presence. Your mission is to unravel the mystery of the island and get rid of the unwanted spirits so as to deem the land habitable once again. In order to do so, you have to explore the different locales and solve puzzles with the help of ghosts. If the synopsis sounds chilling, it is certainly so, making The Frostrune a great choice of name. The game itself is an uncomplicated adventure with clear intentions that shows how simplicity combined with conviction can create wonders.
Available in multiple languages besides English, The Frostrune is a first-person slideshow adventure with standard point-and-click gameplay. The menu and inventory are basic and there is an automatic save mode that thankfully works properly, saving every step of the way. The points of interaction on each screen and the number of scenes in total are limited, so a playthrough will only last between 2-4 hours. I personally see this simplicity as an advantage, because cramming the environment with objects can eventually be more distracting for the player than enriching for the game world. Instead, The Frostrune manages to create an enjoyable balance between interaction and storytelling.
There is also an award-unlocking system depending on your in-game actions. I am not sure this actually translates into something tangible, since like in all basic adventures there is a certain sequence of actions you must follow and complete in order to reach the end of the game. In other words, there are no routes one may choose not to take, so maybe in reality there is no actual reason for the awards. That being said, I found it a fun, albeit redundant, detail that made me feel more engaged with the game, compensating for the intense loneliness such games often elicit.
And loneliness in this game you will endure aplenty. You are, after all, the only living being on an unknown island after having just lost your family to the sea. The surrounding environment, although not openly hostile, does remain closed-off to you. Here you are an alien who needs to adapt to this new place by investigating more than meets the eye. The experience plays well with this aura of otherworldliness. The only characters you meet are spectral, either spirits belonging to Viking lore or the ghosts of dead soldiers and men. Most of them help you with your quest against the bad demon of the frost, which has cursed this land and must eventually be defeated, by providing you with clues and important items. In return, you have to help them find eternal peace, which is how the puzzles are interwoven in the gameplay.
The Frostrune incorporates its ethereal atmosphere not only in its design but also in its gameplay. Indeed, after some time, with the help of one of the spirits you come to unlock a mode that enables you to see the spirit world. Actually, a huge part of the game demands that you use this ‘sixth sense’ or ‘spirit’ mode in the right place, at the right time, and in the right manner. For example, an object may seem totally ordinary with normal eyesight and only with the spirit mode on can you eventually interact with the object so as to move the game forward.
More than that, the spirit mode affects the audio as well as the visuals. Sounds become more intense, a crackling noise is continuously heard, and everything appears to happen as if in slow motion; really the whole atmosphere of the game changes. It truly is an incorporeal experience, like playing not one but two similar and at the same time different games – or rather exploring two separate but connected game worlds. This is an exceptional achievement very nicely done with a transition that appears effortless, smooth, and seamless; not unlike waking up from a dream or putting on and removing 3D glasses. There are certain places you can go only with the spirit mode on, during which time you lose your sense of touch, meaning that you cannot pick up or combine any items and you have no access to your inventory, an aspect that further develops this unearthliness.
In general, the game creates an excellent atmosphere that perfectly matches its theme and premise, with both sound and music masterfully done. The sounds of the sea, of waves, of water streams, and the chirping and tweeting of birds are so well incorporated with the eerie silence of an uninhabited place that you really feel like you are stranded on a deserted island. The score has a certain epic, medieval essence to it, while the songs resonate well with the incorporeality that is an important aspect of the experience. I also liked how they are integrated into the gameplay, since at least two puzzles have to do with correctly arranging a choir composition.
Another interesting point is that the voice-overs are not in English. I understand that some people may find subtitles frustrating, but as far as I am concerned, hearing characters of another culture talk and converse in English completely shatters my immersion. Thankfully, The Frostrune manages to sustain its uniqueness in that aspect without sacrificing player comprehension. All the written texts are grammatically and syntactically correct. What somewhat bothered me was the absence of lip movement when the spirits spoke, but perhaps as ghosts they can communicate telepathically. If nothing else, it is better to have no mouth movement than to be faced with synchronization problems, so maybe this was a wise choice on the designers’ part.
It should be noted that the main character does not have a voice. This helps in two ways. Firstly, it saves the integrity of the story, since many a time bad voice acting can result in the player feeling disconnected from events taking place. Secondly, it facilitates the attachment of the player to their unseen avatar, since it is easier to project ourselves in her shoes when there are no discerning features. This is why the introductory sequence is so short and the game, being in first-person perspective, does not give many details about its protagonist. We only know her name and her age. That being said, The Frostrune never loses its distinctive allure or falls into a generic formula that many adventure titles follow. It retains its connection to its mythos throughout, always reminding you that your experience is grounded on Viking lore and legend.
Further contributing to this effect is the environmental design, which is based on authentic representation of Norse scenery and Viking culture. The ships resemble those that have been found through the ages and are now preserved in museums, and the same holds true for the armor and weapons of the dead soldiers you come across. The hand-painted game art is purposefully laconic, giving more prominence to the depiction of the natural landscape than anything else. The few huts, instruments, and other scarce memorabilia of human civilization have a crude appearance that flawlessly matches the time period, while the scenery remains beautiful to the point that it makes you want to really be there. This creates a particular nostalgia for an era that was less complicated and builds its conflict on the universal need of new beginnings and dominating our environment.
Gameplay-wise, The Frostrune offers some quite demanding puzzles. They start off easier but they gradually become more difficult as the story progresses, which is understandable and expected. They are not all original in conception; seasoned players will have come across similar puzzles in other games, such as pressing engravings in the right order, and after some time they become somewhat repetitive. For example, most objectives follow the same mechanics: clear the frost out of certain objects or locations by solving puzzles, the clues to which are available elsewhere. Still, they pose great mind stimulation for players that want more than beautiful settings. There is a hint system provided that describes very thoroughly what needs to be done step-by-step, so if you do not want solutions to be spoiled stay away from that button.
To conclude, The Frostrune is an admirable adventure game that should leave most players satisfied. It may not be spectacular, but nor does it leave much to be desired. It uses and combines its elements ingeniously, has a neat backdrop story, fitting atmosphere, and no technical issues. Suitable both for experienced players and newbies due to its simple controls and progressive difficulty, it has an original premise based on real lore, concise goals, beautiful art, challenging puzzles, and cultural localization that helps it stand out among other adventure titles. The obstacles start to feel a little too similar, but the only other drawback for some may be that it is a short game so the experience of this world is limited. However, its duration harmonically matches its aim, and anything more would feel verbose and empty of content and purpose. Personally, I recommend it without second thought.