Enter The Story: Les Misérables
First posted on 27 November 2009. Last updated on 15 August 2011.
With Enter The Story, Chris Tolworthy aims to, in his own words, "make a world where you can climb inside classic stories and just explore and explore forever". The idea is to make games based on works of classic literature, repackaging them in an interactive and immersive format. The first game in the series is Enter The Story: Les Misérables (also known as Les Misérables: The Game of The Book), based on the beloved French novel by Victor Hugo. While the game's appeal is limited, Tolworthy's project is both intriguing and promising. Fans of great literature (especially of Hugo) will take a liking to the game's unique adaptation, but most gamers may be turned away by the game's crude graphics and lackluster gameplay.
Hugo's Les Miserables is a cherished masterpiece of French literature for good reason. It is a massive story with unforgettable characters and pristine pacing. The main character is a well-meaning and wrongly vilified ex-convict named Jean Valjean, a tragic and torn man who struggles to be just in an unjust world. The story is set in revolutionary France, just after Napoleon loses at Waterloo. There is great turmoil in Paris and the countryside, and Valjean and his other associates are caught in the middle. The game does a good job immersing the player in this setting, allowing the player not only to follow Hugo's story but also to see what other characters in the story are thinking. This is a key feature of the game, and it is quite enlightening to explore what members of different classes of society think about a particular person or read their conversations about current events.
The player's character is a young lady named Peri who has recently died. She has been assigned by the spirit of Hugo to support Valjean and help him meet his destiny. As a guardian angel, Peri can only indirectly affect the action below by causing characters to think of certain thoughts. The gameplay consists mostly of clicking on a character, then clicking on an object or another character. It is often quite illustrative to see what different characters think of each other, but most of the time the player is simply reminding characters about tasks they need to do. Sometimes the object in question is very far away on a different part of the map. For instance, at a particular point in the game, the player must remind Valjean about some rags in a galley; this way he remembers what to say to a witness to prove his identity. The ship is many miles away from the courtroom, but Peri can travel anywhere instantly. The setup is intuitive for the most part. There are also many locations to explore, and a handy map is provided that lets the player instantly zoom to the location they want, even storing a list of favorite locations for even faster access. Most of the scenes are too wide to fit entirely on screen, so the camera must be panned to the left or right to see the whole screen.
The graphics are by far the weakest part of the game. They consist mostly of crude, hand drawn sketches of scenes and characters. There are sparse animations to liven up the scenes, but the rough visuals dramatically lower the overall appeal. There are graphical glitches as well. Occasionally, a character will inexplicably walk behind a wall or other obstacle, making the character difficult to be clicked on. At other times, the objects that the player must click on are simply not drawn on the screen; instead, the player must scroll the mouse carefully over areas in search of the invisible object needed to advance the game. While the game has no spoken dialog, it has plenty of music and sound effects that are appropriate and effective.
The game benefits from heavy use of the novel's own dialog in developing the characters and showing their highly emotional reactions to events. I feel great sympathy for Valjean and want to see him succeed. I also like how Valjean's nemesis, Inspector Javert, is also portrayed as a flawed but sympathetic character. Like the novel, the game shows that the line between good and evil is seldom clear. Any gamer who plays this game will likely want to read the novel afterwards.
However, the "puzzles" in the game often seem forced, as though they have been added just to keep the player occupied between expositions and conversations between characters. Often, it is unclear exactly what the player needs to do to advance the story, but thankfully the spirit of Hugo is willing to nudge the player in the right direction. This is a much needed feature, as sometimes it is just not clear what needs to be clicked, since the object or person in question can be anywhere in Paris or even its outskirts and neighboring towns and villages. A particularly irritating puzzle involves finding a letter that has been hidden somewhere in or outside a restaurant (this is not a fun puzzle at all). Familiarity with the novel is quite helpful, though probably not essential. Still, I am sure that gamers who have previously read and enjoyed the novel will appreciate this game much better than those who have not.
All in all, this is not a faulty game, and it is certainly an impressive achievement considering the developer's limited resources. It is an ideal game for fans of French literature and fans who want a more interactive way to experience Hugo's famous novel. On the other hand, many adventure game fans will be disappointed by the crude graphics and unimaginative, often trivial gameplay.