Nostradamus: The Last Prophecy
First posted on 10 December 2008. Last updated on 07 September 2009.
Michel de Nostredame, or Nostradamus as he is more affectionately known, is a name synonymous with prophecies. Since the mid 16th century, many books have been written describing his feats, medical cures, astrological predications, and grand prophecies that are hidden in the form of quatrains (4 line verses) in his own writings. In recent times, numerous television documentaries and movies have also been produced about his supposed secrets and predictions. Now, Nostradamus: The Last Prophecy, attempts to take the exploration of this unique historic figure and reputed seer a step further—all in the form of an adventure game.
The title of the game, Nostradamus: The Last Prophecy, is itself quite prophetic and aptly named, in that the story in the game took place in 1566 between March 27 and March 31. In real life, Nostradamus died on July 2 1566, some 3 months later after the events of the game, thus making it truly his last prophecy. Moreover, history recorded that Nostradamus had remarried after the death of his wife and children from the plague and had six children from that marriage. Madeleine, the protagonist of this game, was Nostradamus' eldest child. Yet, Madeleine was supposed to be only 15 years old at the time of the game, much younger than how she was portrayed in the game.
The game takes place over a period of 5 days in real time. It begins when Queen Catherine de Medici (queen consort of King Henry II of France from 1547 to 1559) visits Nostradamus at his house in Salon de Provence during the period of the French Renaissance. A deadly curse has been put on the royal family after a number of unsolved murders, and the queen has decided to seek help from Nostradamus, her doctor and astrologer, to break the curse. Nostradamus has once predicted through a quatrain that 12 devastating events will occur to members of the royal family. The queen is a true believer in astrology and knows of Nostradamus' ability to find a logical solution and solve the mystery behind both the curse and the murders.
Being old and fragile, Nostradamus is now confined to his house, moving only from his bedroom to his study, spending most of his time in bed resting or sitting by an open fire. Unable to help the queen personally, he cannot seek help from his eldest son Cesar (and Madeleine's younger brother in real life), who is currently away and will not be back for some days. Madeleine volunteers to help to solve the case, with guidance from Nostradamus himself. Because women hold no rights or powers in society at the time, Queen Catherine de Medici cannot permit Madeleine to conduct this investigation on her own.
Thus, this begins the first ever cross-dressing game in an adventure game! After Madeleine successfully disguises herself as her brother Cesar, Nostradamus gives her a toolbox equipped with a magnifying glass, scalpel, tongs, scissors, quill, and compass. Over the next 30 or so hours, you will play the role of Madeleine, collecting 113 or so items that are used to help track down the murderer (or murderers), in order to break the curse on the royal family. To help with your quest, you will also have a folder to keep a diary, place recipes, take notes, view a map, and review over 71 pages of dialog for clues.
At times, Madeleine will discreetly change into her own clothes to benefit in the investigation, especially if the characters may see Cesar to be too intrusive. Some characters are more likened to Madeleine, while others are more likened to Cesar. It is as Cesar—the "son" of Nostradamus, a noted dignitary—that Madeleine does the official investigation. With her charm and sharp wits, Madeleine tackles each puzzle bestowed on her with remarkable precision and aplomb.
The game comes packaged in an attractive box containing 1 DVD and a 16 page manual. The manual includes an Epilepsy Warning, System Requirements, Installation and Uninstall Instructions, Menu Screens and Selections, Cursor Information, and Credits about the game. Initially released in 2007 only in its native French language, the English language version of the game is released in 2008 by MC2-Microids. The story is written by Marianne Tostivint and Olivier Train.
After installing the game, the Main Menu window appears. From there, you have a choice to change options for Subtitles (ideal for gamers who are hearing impaired, as the dialog is fully captioned), Rotations (where you can set the camera rotation speed), Object Information, Brightness, and Volume controls. There is no option to change screen resolution; instead, the game is played at whatever screen resolution your system is currently set at. The game runs smoothly without any major glitches.
The overall production of the game is impressive. A lot of thought and effort have obviously been put into researching historical facts on the characters, the living conditions, and the architecture of the times. The factual characters, including Nostradamus, Madeleine, and Queen Catherine de Medici, have distinct personalities that correctly represent the social class to which they belong. The fictional characters, such as Jean Aime Chavigny (Nostradamus’ secretary), Constance (the queen’s companion), and the scribe (a monk at the chateau), are all believable, with a suspicious disposition who soon become suspects. Having this said, the game may be better off if there are more characters under suspicion and being subjected to Madeleine's interrogations.
The English voiceovers for all the characters are excellent, as too are the movements, gestures, and the lip synchronization with speech. The background music is unique in that it is played on stringed and percussion instruments, with subtle modulations in tempo and pitch that changes throughout the game. At times, the music is accompanied by clearly identified soprano voices that give an operatic air to the theme of the game and perfectly complements the time period when the story takes place. The realistic sound effects are equally impressive, ranging from birds twittering, to crickets chirping, to the crackling of an open hearth fire, down to a cave-in below ground.
The architecture modeled in the game looks authentic to the period synonymous with the French Renaissance. The tools, décor, and receptacles used in the game are also accurate to that period. The 3D 360° camera enables Madeleine to walk in any direction she wishes and look for any object within the confines of a room or open air scene.
The major criticism about this game lies within the gameplay itself. The dialogs between Madeleine and other characters are generally very short, and the needed information from such exchanges is often revealed too quickly and not subtly. Moreover, the numbers of set scenes or locations available to be explored are rather limited. In fact, the entire game is played out at the residence of Nostradamus or at the Chateau where the queen is staying. There are several short visits to the blacksmith, but that is on the way to the chateau. All the objects that are needed to complete your quests can therefore be found in a very restricted area.
The puzzles in the game are a mixed bag of varying difficulty. The easy puzzles range from fulfilling recipes of making bread to potions to aphrodisiacs. The ingredients for these recipes can be found easily, and making some 8 recipes can become a little tedious and repetitious after a while. By contrast, the 17 puzzles on the astrological charts, the solar system apparatus, mirrors tiles, and decoding messages are all very challenging. These puzzles can be solved logically, though some can take quite a little longer than others. You, as Madeleine, can die in this game, so it is a good idea to save regularly. Towards the end of the game, there are a series of time based puzzles; if they are not solved within a short period of time, you will die either due to a cave-in or from poisoning. Personally, I do not enjoy solving such puzzles under pressure. The puzzles themselves are difficult enough, without the added time factor to cope with.
Progressively throughout your quest, you get points for locating objects and using them to solve the puzzles. You are then given a score (out of a possible 345) once you reach the end of the game. Points are deducted for not completing the tasks in time, for dying, and for not getting some puzzles correct on the first attempt.
In summing up, Nostradamus: The Last Prophecy is a solid game that fits well in its niche amongst the adventure gaming fraternity. The graphics, music, and sound effects are excellent, but the storyline and gameplay are weak and can use a little more tweaking. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoy playing this game and can recommend it to other gamers without hesitation or reservation. As a budget title, it is a game that offers good value and many hours of enjoyable play.