Chains of Satinav Cover

And chained to the barge of time. Yes I've been playing The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav. Adventure games are compact, self-contained and usually don't have a frantic pace. This makes them easy gaming for those with only the odd hour here and there. Satinav might seem an odd choice. I didn’t get on with Deponia, from the same developer, and I have little interest in The Dark Eye. I eyed Satinav on release and passed it over. So it was more a random chance that I decided, what the hey and picked it up last week. It looked like a classic guy meets fairy girl, shenanigans result. I was right, but not in the way I expected.
Let's get a few things out of the way before we get to the meat. Satinav is an adventure game of the pointing and clicking kind. The genre stretches back to Sierra’s King’s Quest about a knight saving the kingdom by retrieving treasures and doubtless before then to the old text adventures of Zork. Adventure games have an incredible gameplay innovation. Rather than have you depopulate the countryside with a sword they make you walk around talking to people, collecting items and solving puzzles. Sure the logic puzzles of adventure games have often come under criticism for ranging from ‘put water in bucket’ to trying to make a sentence with no vowels, but the point is they try something outside hit rat with sword. Of course this innovation is no longer new. Time has marched on for adventure games in terms of graphical presentation, gameplay and even narrative.
Gypsy Caravan

So Satinav’s graphics. The backgrounds are beautiful. You’ll have noticed this. Any review will have noticed this. They make excellent use of the colour palette. Details are present without visual clutter. The beginning is a medieval city where animals and humans intermingle in the bustle of life. The middle consists of natural areas with sparse settlement, where humans are mere guests of the landscape. The ending delves into impossible architectures and dark geography that taunts the mind. There’s a good range to them. However the backgrounds are held back by one thing. The characters. Main characters get 3d models that animate against the background rather than with it. While there’s a good range of animation, casting a fishing net has you actually throw a net, the movement is superimposed over the lush background. It rather spoils it. Then there are the conversations. Considering there’s so much conversation the character dialogue movement is limited and the close-ups are pointless. The game does better when it just has characters converse in the scene.

So Satinav’s gameplay. Discworld Noir had multiple inventories. The regular inventory, the notebook where you wrote down clues and later on the scents inventory. Machinarium allowed you to stretch and squish your robot. Every game adds its own spin. Satinav has spells, though not many. You can break small objects with a spell and later, repair them with another. It’s a little twist that the developers don’t overplay. Apart from that, adventure games are mostly remembered in terms of their worst and best puzzles. I did enjoy the sequence where you have to outwit a basilisk monster whose gaze turns thing to stone. By contrast I could not figure out how to open the gate in the swamp and got very annoyed at the combinations needed. Despite all that I’m not usually in it for the puzzles. Most can be solved by merely trying everything with everything else. No, what I follow an adventure game for is the story.

Remember King’s Quest? I don’t really, besides it being some fantasy story about fighting evil. What caught me off-guard is that Satinav is exactly that. Geron, a cursed young bird-catcher, is sent off to find a fairy in the face of a brewing crow storm. He finds Nuri, the fairy on the cover and discovers he has to stop evil from arising. The rest of the game is leading Nuri around trying to escape or combat this evil. The traditional narrative took me off-guard, I’m not sure why. I kept waiting for a twist, for the good vs evil to be upended. There’s a little bit of moralising from the bad guy at the end but certainly not enough to warrant his crimes.
Geron and Nuri

Geron is your typical down on his luck protagonist. He undertakes a vast journey for the sake of Nuri and I was never quite sure why. Sure I can understand altruism but the lengths he goes to just seem dense considering Nuri. I had a problem with Deponia in that the main character chases after a girl in a coma claiming he’s in love with her. Satinav isn’t quite as bad, Nuri’s awake. She is however your typical clueless fairy, never giving more than a cursory thought to the past or future. Geron doesn’t seem to enjoy her attitude in the slightest so why there’s a spark between these two is a mystery.

Romance aside; the characters are reasonably well drawn. The main pair undertake a journey that leads into foreign lands and eventually another world altogether. This journey doesn’t leave much time to develop other characters. Those who do re-appear fare the best. I enjoyed the conversations with the fairy scholar plus he looks like David Bowie. He provides much of the allusions to Satinav and the game’s allegory of fighting fate.

And why not talk about fate? In-universe Satinav is supposedly chained to the Barge of Time, a punishment by the gods for his trying to steal the barge and direct time to where he willed. Satinav is either a titan or a demon and the implication is if he couldn’t fight fate, how can you? How this ties into the game is that early in Geron’s life a seer predicted that he would bring doom. Prophecies don’t lie when made in The Dark Eye. Thus Geron is destined to get us all killed. The superstitious folk of Andergast show nothing but contempt for Geron as a result. Seems like a bad idea to me but I’m not a peasant so whatever. Throughout the game in addition to struggling to help Nuri Geron is struggling against fate. I won’t spoil the ending but it wrapped up this point excellently and showed that indeed you can’t fight fate but neither can you know what it is.

And to speak of the ending. I haven’t seen a bittersweet ending in a while. I did see it coming thanks to the telegraphing but I wasn’t sure they’d actually go through with it. Kudos on that.

Satinav starts out bright, it goes dark in the later stages but it never deviates from the optimistic style of storytelling. It can be an uneven journey let down by awkward romance and sometimes weak characters but the ending is worth getting there.

1 Comment


  • Heroh Slim Shady  
    Hm! Well. ah.
    Shuffles feet
    I guess I won't be getting it?......... What a letdown.

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