Dark Chronicles: The Soul Reaver is good for a one-time visit but not a repeat destination.
Developer: Crazy Turtle Games
Release date: 23 April, 2021
Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure (HOPA) games serve a niche audience. For those seeking a quick comfort play, something relaxing that engages your brain but not too hard, HOPA games can be an invaluable genre in their library. However, the very nature of HOPA games means that sometimes it can be challenging to find ones with good, high-quality stories that can meet that occasional needed escape as an old favorite rather than a one-time throwaway. So how does Dark Chronicles: The Soul Reaver stack up? Read on to find out.
The Steam store description for Dark Chronicles: The Soul Reaver describes a premise far more intriguing and mysterious than the experience actually delivered by the game. The game begins with two expositional cutscenes; first showing a girl Aurora dreaming of and then waking to her doom, followed by her brother (unnamed at this point) writing a letter to a friend (the character controlled by the player) asking for help since he’s been having vivid nightmares since his sister’s mysterious passing.
Unfortunately, the story is incredibly light on connecting and worldbuilding details even for the HOPA genre, meaning that sometimes I only deduced what was supposed to be happening in the story from the description provided in the Steam store page. As discussed later in the review, the art is probably the game’s strongest feature, but sometimes the art didn’t seem to match up with the time period alluded to by the story.
Gameplay and Mechanics
The gameplay and mechanics of Dark Chronicles: The Soul Reaver will be familiar to frequent players of HOPA games. Depending on the chosen or customized difficulty setting, there will be sparkling areas to show where the hidden object scenes are or a click penalty. The map has a fast travel feature to prevent needing to backtrack. Hidden object scenes vary between silhouette and text clues, and there are sometimes required interactions or mini-puzzles within hidden object scenes. The player has an inventory, and sometimes inventory items must be combined or used together. Although the gameplay and mechanics will be familiar to experienced HOPA players, every game has its slight variations, and this one’s variations aren’t particularly intuitive.
The game does have a couple of unique puzzles for the genre, including ones based on Minesweeper and Bejeweled. The Minesweeper-inspired puzzle was particularly challenging since this game didn’t necessarily provide a lot of instructions on how to solve it, so I ended up having to dredge my memory for how the classic game works. I think it would have been very useful if the player were able to somehow note the location for the spikes like a player can note the location of mines with flags in the original Minesweeper game. On the downside, there were a few puzzles that seemed to be trial and error rather than requiring logic or solving using clues, and I encountered at least one bug where the instructions for a puzzle didn’t load. Since it was a puzzle that is common to HOPA games, I was still able to figure out what to do, but that may not be the case for inexperienced HOPA players.
Art Style and Graphics
The art is probably the strongest feature of the game, with some of the hidden object scenes and backgrounds being quite exquisite. However, theming in the design of the user interface can make or break HOPA games. In this game’s case, there wasn’t anything notable to elevate it above the pack. While the art for the hidden object scenes is well-done, it’s nothing spectacular or memorable, and sometimes the fashion or details didn’t seem to mesh with the time period hinted at by the story.
Sound and Music
Dark Chronicles: The Soul Reaver has no voice acting, and the music tends to be subtle when it is present at all. For example, there was an outdoor scene that had only cricket sounds in the background. More frequently the background audio seems like it would belong on a Halloween sound effects track for a haunted house, complete with random screaming. When there is music, it is pleasing to the ear, but a stronger presence throughout probably would have helped the game’s ambience.
Dark Chronicles: The Soul Reaver is $5.99 at the time of review with an approximately 2 hour playthrough time and no achievements or collectibles to add replay value. Although this means it technically meets the movie ticket price-to-content ratio, this game is more of a one-time experience for seasoned HOPA players rather than one I would recommend to those interested in trying out the genre. The game is typical of many HOPA games released over the past 10 years and doesn’t really do anything innovative to stand out in 2021. While the title implies a possible sequel or series, I probably won’t be watching for it at this point.