A Vampyre Story
First posted on 01 December 2008. Last updated on 10 January 2011.
The game is available at GamersGate.
Once upon a time, a young talented French opera singer named Mona De Lafitte has been kidnapped. Her abductor is none other than the vampiric Baron Shrowdy Von Kiefer, ruler of Castle Warg from the demonical land of Draxsylvania. Turning Mona into a vampire herself, then imprisoning her in a castle far away from her beloved city and trying to force her to marry him, the baron has turned the poor girl's life and dream into a nightmare. The only creature that has brought a ray of light and hope to Mona's dreary predicament is the mischievous bat named Froderick, with whom she has befriended after rescuing him from a brutal brawl. Being imprisoned inside the castle for an entire year, Mona and Froderick have sought for any opportunity for Mona to escape. The opportunity finally presents itself the day when a certain "staking" incident befalls Shrowdy while he is hunting for blood...
Such is how A Vampyre Story, the debut adventure title from Autumn Moon Entertainment, begins. The design team behind this game is led by well-known LucasArts alumni, Bill Tiller, who has worked for many years to create a game that promises to bring back the glorious heydays of the adventure genre. In contrast to the almost "family friendly" LucasArts games of old, yet fitting to the theme of a cruel vampire hunting for an innocent bride, A Vampyre Story takes on itself to delve into more "extreme" contents. The game contains swearing, tongue-in-cheek sexual innuendos, and gory descriptions about death and torture. However, all of them are introduced in the style of black humor and with a Halloween spirit, rather than a more somber undertone.
The main plot of A Vampyre Story unfolds in 2 distinct, fairly nonlinear chapters. The first is spent in the cursed Castle Warg, where Mona researches on the past of Shrowdy and his mother. The second begins at the village of Vlad's Landing and its outskirts, where the narrative focuses on Mona reluctantly embracing her vampiric nature. There is no definite conclusion to either plotlines though. This is because A Vampyre Story actually tells only the first half of Mona's story—the remaining half is to be told in an upcoming sequel already announced by the developer. The lack of finality is very apparent in the game. Even in the ending cut scene, an evil character invents a new mischief for the heroine that takes the story into an entirely different direction, leaving the player with yet another abrupt cliffhanger.
Despite the horror premise, the writing in A Vampyre Story is filled with humor. The jokes may not always reach the highest standard of comedy, particularly when compared to the standard once set by LucasArts, but they add a sense of a world that is fun to explore and showcase the great camaraderie between the 2 main characters. The funniest payoffs usually come from the many crazy interactions that the player can try out in the game. A good example is instructing Mona to fly as a bat into a wash basket to get a bath—Mona begins to loudly ponder on the said idea, followed by a witty conversation between all of the characters in the same location.
Another source of comedy is the juxtaposition of Mona's gentle (on the surface at least) and pampered character against some rather gory scenarios. Seeing how she makes up her mind whenever she is confronted with some extreme choices she has to make (for example, which side to help to exterminate in a merciless war between a bunch of smelly rats and a cute feline) is always great fun to watch. I wish, however, that Mona's own back story is given more time in the game, since she rarely mentions any specific details about her previous life or her passion for singing.
The control interface (which clearly draws its influence from The Curse of Monkey Island) relies on the player choosing between symbols of a hand, a mouth, an eye, and a bat, to enable all kinds of physical actions. Interestingly, instead of simply gathering and storing large items into an inventory, Mona collects the ideas of those items to try to use them later on other hotspots. This way, she will procure the actual object only at the time when the player will find some meaningful use for it. It is a very clever system and makes the actions taken by Mona more convincing—she does not need to steal countless, random objects to carry around pointlessly everywhere. Additionally, the player can collect abstract items such as memorized song titles, ideas of what Froderick can be used for, or even Mona's new vampiric powers.
When the focus is on solely progressing through the central storyline rather than a relaxed exploration of the environment, A Vampyre Story turns into a rather short game. Many of the quests are not remarkably enticing, largely because they boil down to little more than removing obstacles to Mona's way back to Paris. The puzzles have logical solutions, but they can all be solved very quickly by more seasoned adventure gamers. Yet, for gamers who are charmed by the game world and its inhabitants, there is an unbelievable amount of added commentaries and dialogs that can be triggered in the game. For example, the player can use Froderick on almost every object in the game to get some unique response. It is a game where the story can optionally take a back seat to free exploration.
Among the highlights for A Vampyre Story are the beautifully hand drawn background artworks. While the game's graphics carries an overall cartoony style, the colors and details are so convincing (especially in the outdoor sceneries) that they feel as impressions of real places. There is also a very neat parallax optical effect achieved through the use of several background planes positioned at differing depths that can be seen at different distances. Each of these planes can scroll sideways at different pace to reflect the player's viewing angle at the entire scene. The only complaint of the graphics is that the game is limited to 1024x768 in resolution and has no widescreen support.
Game characters and objects are all rendered as 3D models that readily contrast with the 2D painted backgrounds. The use of 3D models allows for some flexibility in setting up close-up shots and cinematic angles for the animations. Indeed, the game has a great amount of scripted animations—not only of the foreground but also many parts of the background (for example, smoke coming out of chimneys or falling snow). While some character motions seem a bit awkward, the majority looks very good, including detailed gesticulations and facial expressions. The cut scenes, while showing signs of compression artifacts, make for even more animated movie like cinematics.
Voiceovers in A Vampyre Story are also of a high quality. Not only Mona and Froderick have been given a lot of personality by their respective voice talents, the whole ensemble casts have done a great job bringing their characters to life. However, the dialog sometimes suffers from an abundance of ethnic accents and an overly modern vocabulary that is out of keeping with either the story's time period or the game's highly stylized visual. On the other hand, the musical score is fitting, even when it is sweet and sentimental in tone. It even includes a few nice vocal parts.
Unfortunately, the game is not devoid of a few ugly glitches, some of which can cause the game to crash. There are also at least 2 easy ways to get stuck in a dead end. In consequence, I recommended saving the game very often when playing.
Overall, A Vampyre Story succeeds in delivering a very solid gaming experience with a wealth of interactivity rarely seen in contemporary adventure games, coupled with some excellent production values. The game may not reach the same quality of writing and technical polish as past LucasArts adventure games that it so fondly references, and the lack of challenging puzzles as well as the rather short length of the game may disappoint some fans of the genre. In the end, however, A Vampyre Story will still leave many game fans satisfied by its old school charm and attractive presentation, and the upcoming sequel may only add more to the experience of playing a classic adventure.