The Dreamers Guild’s classic adventure game Inherit the Earth shows that talking animals and a fantasy world can still feel real and close to human drama.
Inherit the Earth: Quest for the Orb (PC)
(USA 1994, developer: The Dreamers Guild (now defunct), publishers: New World Computing (now defunct)/The Wyrmkeep Entertainment Co., platforms: PC, Amiga)
Rif of the Fox Tribe is accused of having stolen the Orb of Storms, an ancient relic of the Humans, so together with two warriors he has to prove his innocence.
A land without humans, but human-like animals
Talking animals carrying a story isn’t a particularly new concept, as so many cartoon TV shows or animated movies have presented them as heroes or villains before. However, despite looking like just another fantasy/fairy tale or fable, Inherit the Earth is more than the sum of its parts, as the simple theft story soon turns into an engaging tale about political intrigue and even touches sci-fi themes. The backstory of how animals inherited the earth and what happened to humans is only hinted at, but it works quite well to pique the player’s interest, as one finds all sorts of relics from the human past the animals either used for their own culture and accumulated knowledge or which are simply too alien for them.
However, the game never goes much deeper into this, and even the main storyline that tackles more serious subject matter like war and different cultures doesn’t go much further, either. The reason for this might be a troubled development history, as the original concept was that this game would be the first title of a trilogy with a more mature tone and that the publisher wanted a more child-friendly game. This ultimately results in some inconsistent storytelling, with a rushed ending and a somehow inappropriate reference to a sequel that never happened.
Even if the main storyline isn’t perfect and it takes too long to develop at first, the setting and characters are engaging enough. Exploring the world, one finds different tribes with their own characteristics that are all too human, e.g. the boar warriors, noble elks, or studious librarian rats. The group dynamic between fox Rif, elk Eeah, and boar Okk also works quite well, as each has something to say about a specific scene, location or person. However, one usually has to click on the individual characters to trigger these well-written dialogues, as except for some cutscenes, the two warriors just tag along without one noticing. They’re also not the deepest characters, as one only learns a small part of their personal histories, so despite plenty of opportunities to flesh them out, they aren’t very memorable. This also holds true for the other NPCs, as the conversations don’t outstay their welcome with too much explanation, but they won’t stay in one’s memory for too long, including the main villain who simply doesn’t get much screen time and is introduced too late in the game.
RPG-lite adventure without fighting and leveling up
The game almost feels like an RPG with its quest-like puzzles, which obviously means fetch quests, but also walking around a lot. While the puzzles are refreshingly logical for a classic adventure game and don’t require many objects to combine, finding them is another matter, as the locations are rather big and it’s easy to overlook important items. Terribly long walks on an over-world map that is reminiscent of classic RPGs and even more tedious wandering around through towns and other labyrinthine places sadly slow down progression and prevent an enjoyable experience for casual gamers.
Due to a very narrow isometric perspective, it’s already difficult to see one’s surroundings. Without a map showcasing where important buildings are and just too many houses and rooms that all look identical and are often empty, one spends too much time going in and out of these places, without any direction or idea where to look, as even the other NPCs aren’t of much help. Another problem are mazes that don’t add anything to the atmosphere, but just extend playtime and are frustrating, especially in one case where a lizard is chasing the protagonist. Fortunately, one can’t die in the game and there aren’t any dead ends, but it happens far too frequently that one runs around the same place for finding an exit, a character or item to progress the story.
Colorful background visuals and audio
The backgrounds and characters are detailed enough despite their low resolution, which is mainly due to the great pixel artwork. Especially the character portraits are lovely to look at, while animations aren’t too bad, either. Voice acting is surprisingly great with only a few instances when the spoken lines don’t seem to fit the scene and some characters aren’t very convincing, e.g. the reading-only-text-without-emotions ferrets and unfortunately the main hero, too. But overall the rest of the cast does a pretty good job. The same is true for the atmospheric soundtrack that uses a nice mix of medieval and more ambient instrumental pieces that perfectly capture the fantasy world’s atmosphere.
The beginning end of a promising journey
Inherit the Earth is one of those adventure games that time seems to have forgotten. This is a shame, because it still remains a unique and entertaining title despite its narrative inconsistencies and gameplay problems. There is a lot of potential in the background story and the whole animal world, while puzzles aren’t too difficult, either. If only there was less walking and fewer mazes, then this would be a must-play title. As it is, the game can be enjoyed by both adults and children alike due to its storybook presentation, minus the difficulty spikes.
Hopefully, with the help of the Patreon initiative, the planned sequel Inherit the Earth: Sand and Shadows will finally materialize and rectify all this. If you’re interested, you can also check out this official website
where the story is already continued in a webseries.
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