The Let's Play Archive

Winter Voices

by Klingon w Bowl Cut

Part 1: Introduction: Frida the Volva
[Main menu music]

There is a village lost at the frontier of the invisible, swallowed by a horizon of snow, fog, and mountains. A last point of rally before the void, and then nothing else; ice, wind. Miles of solitude distance this village from the last sketch of a road.

If it used to have a name, everyone has forgotten it. It is only by hazard that one reaches it. Erased from all maps by the passage of time and snow, it stretches, a long garden of grey stones, at the entrance of a small valley of naked trees and frozen cascades.

An old rifle, a weaver's loom. Here, no other form of technology has prevailed. Neither the steam trains nor the telegraph can arrive. Every day, hunters go to lose their way in the plains and forests. Every day, they return.

Sometimes, a house becomes available.

Leaning against the frozen brook, a little further out, a small house hangs over the west part of the village. A man is standing out front. Next to him, a little girl is sitting on a wooden chair. They are not speaking. From time to time, she glances at him, curious, in silence.

As you're approaching them, you recognize her.

She is you.

You must have been seven, maybe eight. It was, most likely, a day in October. The man who is standing next to you is your father.

He does not smile at you. Impassive, he stares straight ahead, with such clear blue eyes one would think they were white.

Your story begins here and now, on these motionless lips, under this cold stare which fixes the horizon and leaves no room for compromise. Under this stare that does not seem, and has never seemed, to grant you any significance.

Your story begins on a day in October. What do you have left, from this moment in time? The little girl fled, on a night of weariness. She disappeared in the fog, many years ago, and you have never talked about it since, and she was never seen again.

"Now that all that's out of the way, one little question remains: who are you? ...What's that? 'What about who I am?' That's not so important, and besides, explaining it now would just make your eyes glaze over. Mmmm... glazed eyeballs... Sorry, where was I? Oh yes. You.

"Right now, you are like a figure in a snowstorm. We know your shape, but little else. There is an infinity of possibility, but I will narrow it down and give you, let's say, three choices. After all, there are always choices. Choices in conversation, choices in battle, choices of meats.

"Are you Bengta the Huntress, the stern and self-sufficient ranger of these white northern lands? Her will is strong, and she is quite perceptive, but she has forgotten so much, and honestly... she is not very likable. Please don't tell her I said that, though. Anyway, when the monsters come, as they invariably do in these stories, she faces them alone, with pride and fortitude.

"Are you Sigrun the Weaver, whose mouth is always ready to smile and whose tongue is always ready with some quip, jest, or witticism? She is so kind, funny, and helpful, but many subtleties pass her by, such as why exactly it is the villagers are so cold to her. When problems arise, she relies on her friends, some of whom are... shall we say, more real than others.

"Are you Frida the Völva? She is a mysterious priestess-in-training who has devoted herself to exploring the depths of the mind... her own, and others. She is no naïve child, but even so, she has not yet begun to grasp the true power and pain such knowledge will bring her. Inner conflict is something she embraces and accepts, because she knows it will make her strong. And if she is to be a good shepherd to her people, strong is what she must be.

“As we await to see what shape this approaching snow shadow will take, this is what we see clearly before us:

The man... has not changed. Fifteen years later, lying in bed, worn out, he would still look out the window, his face turned towards the light. Even yesterday. On a day in November. You don't quite remember at which point he closed his eyes, but even afterwards, a long time afterwards, it seemed to you as if he was still looking.

As you stare out of the window in another room of the house, you hear a voice you almost recognize, but none of the words seem real yet.

[Okay, here's the “what's all this then” summary. I am LPing Winter Voices, a somewhat Nordic-flavored episodic RPG by French indie developer Inner Seas. If you've heard of it, chances are you've heard mixed reviews at best. The main reason for that is that the original team went bankrupt halfway through the project, and it was taken over later by a different group.*

*Actually, according to poster Lavatein:

Lavatein posted:

The project was actually bought at a bankruptcy auction by the lead writer and one of the founding members(?) of the original Inner Seas group. They worked solo to piece together the final episodes in their spare time from the half finished work that they bought.

Ouch. That had to have hurt. It's so indie though.*

Anyway, there are bugs, missteps, and misspellings galore, especially early on... but I have fallen in love with it. The game excels at presenting its melancholy, introspective mood, and it abounds with choices. Nearly everything your character says and does has multiple prompts to choose from, and there are many approaches to every conflict. The music is fantastic as well, and I'll include as much of it as possible in my posts.

Then there's the combat. It's isometric, turn-based stuff reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics and the like. Except the monsters are (probably) not real. They are memories, shadows, and inner demons, and you defeat them using a suite of abilities you select from your skill snowflake. Yes, it's not a tree, it's a snowflake, and each point of the flake represents a general method people use to deal with trauma, remorse, and emotional pain.

For example, there is the Flight ability, which allows you to literally run from your problems by giving you more movement points. You can also take Endurance: each time something hurts you, you gain resistance to further damage. And one of my favorites is Imaginary Friend, which generates another character on the battlefield with different bonuses depending on how you speak to them. Other examples of skills and their enhancements include Self-Mockery, Altruism, Super-Ego, and Self-Flagellation (not all methods of dealing with pain are healthy, though they can all help you win encounters).

It's big, too. Can't even fit the whole thing into one screenshot.

There are a whole bunch of them to choose from, so I probably won't open up each individual skill point expenditure to vote. Rather, I'm front-loading a lot of that process in the choice of protagonist: each of the three I came up with will be taking different skills. And, for that matter, different dialogue choices that are less consequential, because there are a lot. I also designed the characters' appearance and portrait, since I don't want to bog the LP down with post after post voting on hair colors and names. If that bugs a lot of people, I can easily change it though. Either way, I can promise that major choices, like which NPCs to recruit and which narrative routes to follow, I will definitely put up to a vote, have no fear.

Note: Parts I've added to the narrative are in italics, but even then, I've tried to keep things in the same general tone and character as the rest of the game. Brackets will usually be mechanics discussion.]

[Here's a sample character sheet, of Sigrun the Weaver, with explanations of attributes:]

Humor reduces the amount of damage you take, and also opens up the more light-hearted dialogue options. Since this is the Weaver class's primary attribute, she gets a bonus to it of +5 per level.

Willpower's main effect is determining your Energy, or “health.”

Memory increases the experience points you gain from battles, but also increases the damage enemies do to you.

Perspicacity determines how much Psyche, or “mana”, you start each battle with, and how much of it regenerates per round.

Charisma helps mitigate debuffs some enemies inflict on your movement or psyche points.

Intuition increases your Dodging ability and improves trap detection.

In addition, many Skills you pick up give your attributes additional effects. For example, a high Charisma makes a lot of healing abilities more effective.

As for the secondary attributes below...

Energy points are your health. Psyche points are your "mana" for casting "spells." Movement points are how many squares you can move per turn. If Fatigue drops too low, mostly based on story events, you have to sleep, and with sleep, come dreams. Mitigation is a damage multiplier based on your Memory attribute. I put a couple points in it, so enemies do 10% above base damage to Sigrun. If we played a Volva with the maximum rating in memory, it would be a whopping 80% more damage. Absorption is damage reduction. Dodging is a chance to avoid each attack that comes at you. Regeneration is the amount of Psyche Points you regain every turn. Dissipation Resist and Flaw Resist both protect against enemy debuffs. Sorry to ruin my pro cred a little, but I don't recall exactly which does what.]