Review for Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit
Tag of Joy’s Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit is a lovingly built shrine to the gaming titans that preceded it: primarily Sierra’s Gabriel Knight series and Revolution Software’s Broken Sword series. Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit’s beautiful graphics, sound, and intuitively simple point-and-click interface are mortared together by an expertly written story with fully realized characters straight out of the legends of Lithuania. Though timed sequences and a hard-to-hear audio puzzle can make some parts unbalanced in their difficulty, I have played every Broken Sword game, and this enjoyable adventure rivals any that George and Nico ever embarked upon.
Using an intuitively simple point-and-click interface where right-clicking on a hotspot means inspecting the hotspot, and left-clicking means interacting with it, you control Milda Kovas, an avid online gamer. Pressing the space bar reveals all the hotshots on the screen. When you need to use an item, click on the bag icon at the upper-right corner of the screen and drag the selected item over to where you want to use it. A detailed explanation of the controls is available in the menu.
Milda enters the story while customizing her avatar, which will affect her appearance throughout the game. Your choices for Milda's hair and shield are only customizable at the beginning, but Milda will find it necessary to change her clothing many times during her adventure in order to perpetuate a ruse. At other times you may personalize her wardrobe simply to suit your own preferences.
Satisfied with her avatar, Milda excitedly prepares to log on to a new game for the first time. Before she can try it, she receives a call from her artist friend Dana, reminding her of their meeting with a prospective gallery owner who is interested in purchasing Dana’s paintings. Their conversation will allow you the chance to choose Milda’s profession. Your decision will affect how Milda solves certain puzzles during her adventure. Your alternatives are: computer programmer, photographer, and psychologist's assistant. Your choice cannot be changed for the rest of the game. The different professions encourage players to play again to explore alternate solutions to puzzles. Your conversation will also reveal whether or not Milda wears a tattoo, but this preference seems to be purely cosmetic. I enjoyed these character customization options because they made Milda seem more real to me and helped me care about what happened to her.
Some sad news truncates their conversation as Milda receives a letter informing her that her grandfather, Rokas Kovas, has died. Milda has inherited his house in Lithuania and must travel there within three weeks to claim it. She decides to postpone her decision until after her meeting with Dana.
The rendezvous at Chicago’s Cloud Gate is my favorite scene in the game. The graphics and music are beautiful. The dialog between Milda and Dana is purposeful and rich with backstory and meaning. It successfully conveys that Milda and Dana care greatly for each other. Expert voice acting reinforces the chemistry between the characters. Milda informs Dana of her news and Dana promises her that if she’ll convince Albert, a pretentious art critic, to purchase some of her paintings, then Dana will use part of her advance to buy Milda’s ticket to Lithuania. Milda accomplishes this by doing Albert a favor and tricking an arrogant trumpet player into striking a sour note so that he’ll stop playing, allowing Albert to concentrate on evaluating the paintings. (This reminded me of the way Gabriel Knight dealt with mimes and motorcycle cops.) Once Albert agrees to give Dana the money, the two friends retire to Milda’s apartment to prepare for her trip.
Packing is accomplished by selecting items from a list on Milda’s phone. After picking what she requires, Milda realizes she needs a place to stay. Dana urges her to text her Lithuanian friend Joris. If asked, Dana and Joris always remind Milda of what she should be doing during her adventure, which is helpful because she neglects to write things down. After you select the right words to convince Joris to host her during her trip, she has a difficult conversation with her mother. Picking the correct conversation topics helps Milda gain information that will be useful in the future. All of Milda’s tasks thus far are those anyone would normally undertake while preparing for a trip, which heightens the feeling of immersion.
The story picks up when Milda arrives in Lithuania. It grabbed me then and didn’t let go. Milda’s first stop is her grandfather’s house, where peculiar things have been occurring and she uncovers a captivating enigma. After puzzle-solving and a conversation with a shadowy antagonist, she works with Joris to unravel parts of the mystery. This catapults Milda to the center of the globe-trotting search for a valuable artifact. Her journey will take her to Belarus, Italy, and back to Lithuania, and she discovers surprising truths about her family and undergoes some unexpected encounters. I enjoyed almost every minute of it.
A few sequences in Milda’s adventure could have been executed better. During one puzzle, Milda must listen to and then repeat a chant. This was frustrating, as it wasn’t easy to hear the original chant; I eventually succeeded through sheer luck. Two other sequences involved dexterity, and in both of these situations getting the timing just right seemed next to impossible. Here once again, I finally succeeded through luck rather than skill. I tried repeatedly to get these challenges right and ended up being frustrated for quite a while until finally progressing. The ending was quite curious as well. I was presented with a choice that seemed likely to have a huge impact on the finale, but my decision didn’t appear to affect the ending in any meaningful way. Even so, I found the overall experience immensely satisfying and I’m glad I spent fourteen hours playing Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit.
Despite its few foibles, Crowns and Pawns: Kingdom of Deceit is an excellent addition to any adventure gamer's collection. Its thoughtful story, well-written dialog and voice acting, beautiful graphics and sound, and accessible interface make this game a must-play for adventure fans.