Herald: Book I & II review - page 2

The Good:
  • Incredibly immersive slice of life at sea
  • Diverse characters brilliantly represent a microcosm of global society
  • Inviting, colourful visuals
  • Deftly tackles weighty topics
  • Dialogue choices feel meaningful
The Bad:
  • Gameplay presents no real challenge
  • Voice acting is occasionally off and some animation is stilted
The Good:
  • Incredibly immersive slice of life at sea
  • Diverse characters brilliantly represent a microcosm of global society
  • Inviting, colourful visuals
  • Deftly tackles weighty topics
  • Dialogue choices feel meaningful
The Bad:
  • Gameplay presents no real challenge
  • Voice acting is occasionally off and some animation is stilted
Our Verdict:

More choice-driven visual novel than pure adventure, the first half Herald‘s four parts is admirable in many ways, with memorable characters and a slow-burning story that sucks you in and successfully tackles heavy topics without losing its charm.

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While the pace is often leisurely, I was never bored. That said, if you’re after complexity in gameplay, you won’t find it here. You are always told where you need to go or what you need to do – go fetch some documents, go deliver this food, and so on. Providing you click on all the hotspots indicated by the smart cursor, you won’t get stuck, and if you forget your objective you can always refer to Devan’s journal, which lists your current task. The only difficulty, if it can even be called that, is finding your way around the ship, but you have an in-game map you can open to orient yourself. I enjoy a challenge but don’t require one for enjoyment, so the simplicity didn’t bother me. Instead, I took pleasure in the characters and the conversations.

It’s the dialogues you’ll spend a lot of time exploring, and what a joy they are. Every single person on board is unique, including the secondary characters, and each has their own personality and history. Cornelis Hendriksz is the captain, a controlling and ignorant man but equally able to listen to reason once in a while. Tabatha Veazie, the senator’s well-mannered niece, is unfazed by status and strikes up a friendship with Devan. Cabel Haywood, the boatswain, is brash and combative, though dive deeper and you’ll find out why. They’re all three-dimensional, neither solely good nor bad. I wasn’t born in the 19th century, obviously, but the writing has a charming formality that sounded authentic to me.

The script is complemented by generally impressive voice acting throughout, spanning a wide range of accents. Devan is especially noteworthy, with an air of sophistication but also a certain devious twinkle. Louis Morton, the senator, is brought to life with snooty perfection, and boatswain Cabel’s twang is simultaneously unsettling and enticing. However, while there are no bad performances to single out, there are occasions when the vocals falter slightly. It’s probably down to direction, but sometimes the pronunciation of words or the flow of a sentence is a little off. It’s ultimately a minor quibble considering the overall quality, but it is noticeable at times.

One of my favourite aspects of playing Herald was that I genuinely felt immersed in the setting thanks to the howling of the wind, the creaking of the wood, and light shining through portholes, among other ambient touches. Around you the crew is busy hoisting sail or playing dice. The attention to detail adds to the atmosphere and helps foster belief that you’ve been cast back in time on the open seas. Better yet, you can click loads of things in the environment to have Devan comment on them. These are always interesting or humorous, offering titbits about life on board the Herald (sand is a common ingredient in the chef’s stew, since he can’t be bothered to peel the potatoes) or the people within it (a laundry basket reveals that the senator requests a new napkin after every bite).

This is all presented in colourful, inviting storybook visuals that deceptively belie the often-serious narrative. Over the course of roughly three hours of play time for these first two chapters, a couple of days pass within the game. This means you get to see the deck of the ship at different times of day and in various weather conditions, like being bathed in the warm glow of a setting sun or feeling oppressed by the overcast grey clouds of an incoming storm. It all looks fabulous. So too do the interiors, ranging from the captain’s regal cabin decked in finery to the tiny crew’s quarters with bunkbeds lining the walls.

When you talk to people, they emote slightly in the 3D environment, like a stroke of the beard or wipe of the brow. At the same time, a quality illustration of the character you’re speaking to takes up a large portion of the right-side of the screen, with only their face changing to reflect mood, such as a cheeky smile or a look of shock in their eyes. Animations are generally quite limited and sometimes look a bit stilted outside of conversation, but I never found it particularly distracting. While it would have been nice to see more variety in the hand-drawn artwork, especially some body movement, what we do get is good enough.

Although players will get closure on some of the things encountered so far, there’s still much more to discover, especially after a cliffhanger that you won’t see coming. For a while it looked as though we’d never see the final two chapters in the story, but Wispfire recently announced they’d secured funding to continue development. I sincerely hope they succeed in finishing, as I'm ready to venture back inside that world and am eager to find out more about Devan, the crew and all the mysteries aboard the eponymous vessel. There isn’t much in the way of challenge, but if you’re looking for a gently-paced, absorbing story that welcomes player agency and doesn’t shy away from deeper, socially relevant themes, then climb aboard Herald now, with the promise of more still to come.


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What our readers think of Herald: Book I & II


Posted by millenia on Apr 2, 2017

Engaging story


The setting itself is already a very interesting aspect of Herald. An alternative history story about the colonial times, handling issues of race and class. Herald is a casual game mixing point & click play style with a visual novel storytelling,...

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