Daedalic Entertainment has been prolific in producing point-and-click adventure games, but is one of its first titles, The Whispered World, still enjoyable and remarkable after all these years?
Clown Sadwick becomes part of a prophecy which says that he is going to destroy the world, so he makes his journey to the ill king of Corona to prove it wrong.
The story of a sad clown
Like in many Daedalic titles, its heroes are rarely happy or joyful characters, and Sadwick is certainly the pinnacle of the philosophy that troubled souls or sarcastic personalities make for more interesting storytelling. Unfortunately, just as with Deponia, Chaos on Deponia, and Goodbye Deponia, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one sympathizes with them. Despite being more likeable due to his circumstances, Sadwick’s constant whining can become repetitive as well as annoying. There are quite a few instances when the writing features laugh-out moments, but if one has a problem with the clown’s attitude, following his story can become a problem in and of itself.
The slow progression of the seemingly simple plot doesn’t help matters. Only with an ending that opens up different interpretations and that is quite touching does it turn out to be deeper and much more imaginative than up to the final moments. I’m not a big fan of spoilers, so I won’t go any further, but replaying the game with that special knowledge in mind made both Sadwick, the characters, and the story better to relate to and more interesting than before, something that can’t be said about most adventure games.
Another dreamy world
But even for a first playthrough there’s quite a lot to like about the world Sadwick lives in. It offers a fantastic sense of place with a dream-like atmosphere. Talking about individual parts of the story would take away the wonder one feels when new locations are discovered. While it’s not as epic as maybe The Longest Journey, it’s just as imaginative, even if the characters aren’t as memorable or fleshed out as in other classic point-and-click adventure games. It’s clear that Daedalic tries to imitate the weird-characters-style of LucasArts, but despite offering some witty writing, the dialogues are often too long. If only the characters would have been treated with the same attention to detail, then one would have become completely lost in this world.
Puzzling and head-scratching
Daedalic has always struggled with implementing logical puzzles in its games, and while these are usually well-integrated to move the story forward, fewer and especially less obscure ones would have made the whole experience much more enjoyable. Granted, there’s a good variety of inventory and dialogue-tree based puzzles, with a few imaginative solutions, especially when using the different forms of Spot who is a magical (non-talking) caterpillar-like creature that learns different shapes throughout the adventure in order. Using it to solve problems can be quite tricky, but the idea of switching between a fire, balloon, small balls, and other forms adds a lot of fun to the otherwise run-of-the-mill puzzles.
Pixel hunting, many downright silly solutions and some filler logic puzzles (that fortunately can be skipped) make progression frustrating, especially for beginners. But even seasoned gamers will find themselves wandering around screens trying to figure out what to do. Even if one knows what the main goals are, the way to achieve these is blocked by all sorts of trial-and-error moments without enough clues. It doesn’t help that there are some screens that feature labyrinthine doorways without the option to simply jump from one location to the next with a map. Of course there is one, but first exiting a screen with scrolling as slowly as Sadwick’s walking turns it all into a quite tedious experience.
Looks and sounds out of a dream
It’s a good thing that the presentation makes up for the game’s shortcomings, although it doesn’t come without its problems. Backgrounds and characters are lovingly drawn and show that Daedalic is almost unchallenged in the detailed hand-drawn style. Cutscenes also look very good and match some animated movies’ quality. Animation-wise it’s a two-sided affair. On the one hand, there are many great moments when characters move fluidly as if taken from a cartoon, e.g. when Sadwick embraces Spot, making this a heartfelt scene, or when he walks around with his cap flapping (not taking into account how much time it takes). On the other hand, NPCs simply repeat the same animations which becomes especially noticeable during long dialogues. No facial changes and lip-syncing being off, there isn’t much dynamic to speak of.
Sound design is also partly great and partly disappointing. The music is simply amazing with contemplative, dream-like orchestral pieces with an emphasis on flute playing as well as a few more uplifting or less serious tracks. They could be longer, though, because one soon notices they’re playing in a loop. Voice acting is problematic as well. The German voices are great, the English ones are pretty good, too, but both suffer from a few sound problems, i.e. sentences are cut off too early or transitions aren’t as smooth as they should be (due to bad editing of the sound files, according to the developer). There are also a few cases when the voice actors don’t seem to know in what situation they’re in, resulting in some off-key moments. However, the biggest complaint and (for some) deal-breaker is Sadwick’s whiny, high-pitched voice. One can get used to it, but in both language versions, it can become very annoying and off-putting.
No classic, but a memorable experience
The Whispered World is a special game in both a positive and negative way. It’s certainly not a classic, but it’s a perfect showcase of Daedalic’s artistic proficiency. It simply looks and sounds great, while the dream-like storytelling makes it easy to fall in love with. However, puzzles are often obscure to the point of making the player give up. The same holds true for Sadwick’s whining and NPCs that aren’t very memorable. Slow pacing and a sometimes too-melancholic-for-its-own-good atmosphere will put many players off. Still, if one perseveres and forgives its shortcomings, it’s a very unique title in the canon of (German) adventure games that comes recommended.
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