This rough gem won’t appeal to everyone but if you like thoughtful RPGs with plenty of subtext, it’s well worth its price.
The appealing thing about indie games – alongside their typically low prices – is that their small budgets encourage experimentation, rather than the traditional gaming clichés. In Winter Voices, you play a young woman who lives in a snow-bound village. Your father has just died. In many RPGs this would be the cue for our heroine to pick up her sword and cut a bloody swathe through the countryside in search of revenge. This isn’t that kind of RPG.
Instead, the main focus of your quest is to come to terms with the psychological impact of your father’s death. As you wander around the village, you become increasingly aware that you don’t fit in. Many of the townsfolk are openly hostile, while others tell you that your past is not all that it appears to be. Rather than bloodthirsty orcs and trolls, you’ll have to face the painful and poisoned memories that haunt you as you learn more about your past. These manifest literally, as shadows and spectres that you have to survive in combat sequences.
The turn-based combat system is superficially similar to many other RPGs’. You and your enemies are shown on a grid and can carry out a limited number of moves or actions in each turn. In Winter Voices, your goal is usually to either simply survive or make it across the grid without being overwhelmed by the threatening manifestations of psychological trauma.
Making matters harder is the lack of any traditional attacks in your combat arsenal. Instead, you get a mix of defensive moves, spells to raise your stats and rituals that create allies that protect you and distract your enemies. You start with only a handful of these skills, allowing you detect hidden traps or shove enemies away from you, but you can choose more as you level up, opening a huge skill tree.
Combat can be slow and tedious, particularly when you have to wait for a large number of enemies to make their moves. However, a few sequences are inspired, blending strategic and puzzle-solving elements. We particularly liked a battle that called on us to block the path of energy bolts that refuelled attacking enemies.
Winter Voices is a beautiful game on many levels. The graphics and music are evocative, as is the voice acting of the game’s narrator. The prose is flowery and occasionally overwrought, but generally succeeds in conjuring a sense of otherworldliness. It was translated from French, though, which explains a few awkward and grammatically incorrect phrases. There’s also no voice acting for anyone except the narrator.
We were deeply engaged by the story and depth of the first instalment. Our only concern is that later episodes won’t be able to provide us with enough new challenges to keep the game fresh. The first part costs just £3.49 and further episodes will be similarly priced. Still, it’s well worth the cost if you’re a traditional RPG fan who’d like to explore a path less well travelled.