The blues, the blood, the grime of a city in rhyme: these are the things that most stand out when diving deep into I fell from Grace. This indie adventure from Swedish developer Deep Taiga tells a very personal tale of human tragedy and perseverance, confronting players with the ethical dilemma of just how far they’d go to save a loved one when weighed against the cost of their own humanity. And yet it goes beyond one troubled protagonist, gradually peeling back layer upon layer of other stories within its deteriorating modern urban environment. The game’s branching narrative offers great replayability to flesh out the many sub-plots and interesting personalities, and your choices will greatly affect the path you take through each experience, ultimately culminating in one of several different endings – not all of them of them “happily ever after” by any means. And did I mention the poetry?
The story begins with Henry’s struggle to find a cure for his dying wife, Grace. The couple lives in a big house in the better part of town, but they have trouble paying the bills. Henry’s performance at the prestigious Lieberman research lab doesn’t seem to be good enough for a promotion, while most of his colleagues from the old block have already moved to the pristine new offices. One evening, a mysterious old lady warns him of something ominous in riddles, something about saving his wife. The next morning, Henry receives a package of ‘mysterious pills’ in his mailbox, along with a letter written in an unintelligible script. Is this pill the solution to his wife’s incurable disease, or is it something else entirely? This event changes the course of everything for both Henry and Grace, and from here on, hard decisions will need to be made. Gradually, Henry is pushed further and further, occasionally tempted to pursue extreme measures as he tries to get circumstances to work on his favor. I’m talking about killing, smuggling, stealing – really anything that could put him behind bars.
My first few minutes of play were mostly spent sightseeing, strolling the rainy downtown area, rummaging through Henry’s office and talking to every available character I met on the way, trying to map the neighborhood while searching for clues, if any. I wasn’t always sure of what to do in the beginning, but the pixel art environments and the soft, broody jazz music in the background lured me deeper and deeper into the lives of this city’s inhabitants. Before I knew it, I was fully buried in the mess Henry had made – and that was only the tip of the iceberg. The deeper I dug, the more questions I had about the many mysteries I encountered.
One of the things that really surprised me was how big the world is in this side-scrolling adventure. Apart from the main branching narrative, the crumbling city turns out to weave a complex tale of its own. We see shops that never make any sales, an empty library, and drug dealers and drunks crowding the street corners, while uptown is the mega-medical facility where Henry works, towering over these bleak streets. The bitter social contrast is one of the themes repeatedly brought out throughout this journey, especially when Henry is faced with choices that may or may not change his life forever. Trust me: helping Henry pick the best decision and keep him on the right track is not easy.
There are various places to go and things to do in a day for Henry, spanning three main locations: his home, his office, and downtown. He uses his car to travel between them, and while waiting to arrive, a loading screen displays the controls, both for keyboard and gamepad. Since I used the keyboard, I walked around using the arrow keys (and eventually ran everywhere while pressing shift after realizing I could) and checked on my inventory using tab. Whenever you move through a scene, labels for any interactive objects pop up, so you can stop to see what you can do with them by using the E key. Henry will say what he thinks of the object, and if it’s up for grabs, a pair of options will be provided: Take Item or Leave Item. Every item is different: some may affect the narrative (like the creepy skull at the cult shop), some are needed to progress, and some seem to be useless (though, since I haven’t unlocked all the achievements and endings, even these may ultimately be meant for something).
Communicating with other characters gets a little bit more complicated, as Henry will be challenged spontaneously to reply either nicely or rudely. There’s a visible time bar quickly ticking down, so you’re required to think fast and make a decision. The options are left a little vague, like “Be tough” or “Try to plea,” so you can’t quite guess what Henry will actually say and thus be sure of how the person will respond. The ambiguous nature of certain options can lead to unintended consequences. On my first playthrough, I chose something that seemed natural for Henry to do, and he ended up killing a stranger with an iron pipe in a shady alley. It was my first try, so I just moved on and watched out for future bad decisions. However, if you really regret a choice, you can load a previous save and rewrite Henry’s fate, though there’s only one slot available. It would be easier to find the best route possible by recording your progress at several points to load at crucial times, but in this game you have to make do with just the one slot, which makes every single decision more important.
The most distinctive aspect of I fell from Grace is that everyone communicates in rhymes, although without any voice acting. What was really exciting for me is the fact that even while rhyming, each and every character still has their own distinctive way of speaking. The green-haired punk downtown sounds dangerous, Mrs. Jones the flirty neighbour is… well, flirty, and even Grace who is bed-ridden most of the time has her own voice that fluctuates between optimistic and defeated as the story moves forward. It’s interesting how the rhymes and the limitations on words actually tell us tales with richer meaning – and more often than not, are funnier. There’s one part where a character speaks ‘normally’ and Henry comments – in rhyme, of course – how the person has a funny way of talking. Not only do these kinds of conversations nicely flesh out personalities, the poetry is important because it’s a guide and often offers hints on how to proceed.Continued on the next page...