First posted on 07 July 2010. Last updated on 07 July 2010.
1The original digital release that I played was missing the files for the cut scenes in the game (such as the introductory cut scene with Adam falling from the cathedral) that were present in the retail CD-ROM release. The game was still playable, but the story was largely lost. The digital release was updated in March 2009 to include the missing files.
Paris 1313 (also known as Paris 1313: The Mystery of Notre-Dame Cathedral) is part of a series of edutainment adventures developed in collaboration with France's Réunion des Musées Nationaux. Although it includes many notes about the city of Paris of that era, you can completely ignore these notes and play the game as a straight entertainment title.
Paris 1313 is an unusual sort of adventure, and it may not even be considered as an adventure at all. In some respects, it plays like a modern casual game, even though it predates the said genre. You are told a little bit of story, solve a puzzle, are told a little more story, and so on. Instead of finding hidden objects, however, you are challenged with traditional adventure puzzles.
That still sounds rather adventurous. Yet, what is missing is the connection between the puzzles. You are placed in front of each puzzle. There is no exploration, and there is no inventory. In a typical adventure game, you explore your surroundings and gather information or objects from a particular area to help you to solve puzzles in another. In this game, there is no continuity between the puzzles. You could, if the game had allowed it, play them in any order, and they would be as solvable as and make just as much story sense. The absence of exploration leaves the game without a strong device to pull you into the game world, which is usually a strength of this medium.
The game's story centers on Adam, a craftsman in the process of constructing the first mechanical clock, meant to free the king of France from a reliance upon the church bells. Adam is pushed off the top of the Notre-Dame Cathedral and, severely injured, taken away by the authorities. You play the parts of 3 different characters: Adam's brother Jacques, a fellow craftsman; Pierre, a young, minor noble who has witnessed Adam's calamity; and Rosemonde, a young actress and Jacques' fiancée who is another witness to Adam's fall. They, with Adam, are caught in between the court plotting of Jean, an inquisitor, and Guillaume, a politician who is Pierre's uncle.
The story is short but well done. There is a good central intrigue to motivate all the actions, and there are some nice subplots concerning the characters' relationships that develop as the narrative progresses. It is not an epic story, but, despite that, the characters present distinct, strong personalities. The central plot unfolds at a consistent pace, maintaining interest. It is too short to be notable for its twists and turns, but it is engaging and believable. At times, however, the telling is a little disjoint, getting ahead of itself by referring to details that have not yet been presented to the players.
As a side note, Notre Dame makes only a cameo appearance.
The game presentation is of a good quality for the time of its release. Movement is limited from node to node with fixed perspective (that is, no panoramic view). The background sceneries are well drawn. The characters are rendered in 3D but in low resolution. They are animated like puppets, with exaggerated, spastic movements common to games of that early era. The game uses both first-person and third-person perspectives in different puzzles. The graphics may not wow you with beauty, but they are perfectly functional. The English voice acting is well done, as is the little bit of music that exists in the game.
Originally released in French, the game's English localization1 is generally adequate, except for a single glaring absence of translation. A few documents are presented only in French. These documents are important because they describe the intrigue leading to the events of the game. You do not need them to complete all the puzzles in the game, since the gameplay is separate from the story, but they are important to the enjoyment of the story.
The game plays out over 9 chapters. At each chapter, you select each character in turn to solve a puzzle for that character for that chapter. The game's documentation suggests that the order selection is meaningful, but I have not found any evidence of it. You must complete at least 2 characters' puzzles on a level to advance to the next. There is a chapter that has 2 puzzles in sequence which employ all 3 characters in a group, and the final chapter has just 1 puzzle for 1 character. There are a total of 24 puzzles in the game.
The game allows for only 12 save positions. This is probably enough, but you can only save at the character selection level, not within a puzzle (the save will not include any progress you have made in the puzzle).
The individual puzzles are a mixed bag. Some are adventure based, while others are activity based. Some are decent stumblers, but some are clunky fillers. There is an overuse of trial and error mechanics, including mazes, dialog selections, and assembly puzzles. Each dialog is presented as a choice between 2 topics, usually 1 or 2 words. You can fail the puzzle if you guess wrong. You can always reenter the puzzle to try again, so it is just annoying but not fatal.
Since there is no game flow, the puzzles are not contextual to the gameplay. However, they fit well within the scenes where they are placed, so they do not feel abstract or isolated. There is a timed sequence where you climb a wall, which can become onerous after several failures. You also get to play archery, several times, in a decent simulator. There are riddles to solve. A particular puzzle involves joining halves of phrases, with the problem that incorrect joining sometimes makes more sense than the correct solution. You get to play a dice game, twice (but you do not have to win). The finale is a machine puzzle, where the primary challenge is figuring out how to get the interface to do what you intend. Overall, while the individual puzzles vary in quality, there is a wide variety and any adventure game fan will likely find a few of interest.
Players who are interested in the game's educational value can browse the built-in mini-paedia covering the locale and era. It is very well done, providing enough information to satisfy any idle curiosity you may have about the setting, but not so much that it becomes daunting to read. It is well organized, and the English text is well written.
The wide variety of puzzles in Paris 1313 does not make up for their uneven implementation, largely because they are too often overly simple or arbitrary. While the game may make for a good introduction into the adventure genre for fans of casual games, the simplistic gameplay structure and the lack of exploration will likely disappoint more seasoned fans of the genre.