I have to admit, I’ve been waiting in delirious anticipation for Keepsake ever since first discovering the official website several months ago. The graphics looked delicious and Wicked Studios tantalized you with just enough info to leave you wanting more. Clearly, there was a mystery to be solved, and waiting for the game’s arrival only created more interest for me in just what that mystery might be.
You are Lydia, a young woman destined for studies at the prestigious Dragonvale Academy. Not only is Lydia eager to study magic and become a wizard, but there is another more person reason she’s looking forward to starting school today. Her best friend from childhood Celeste, is attending the school as well. After a long separation the chance to see her friend again is very exciting and Lydia is more than ready for her new life to begin. Unfortunately, as she soon discovers, things have changed at Dragonvale, and not in a good way.
Instead of being greeted by Celeste upon her arrival, Lydia finds that she’s alone. And alone on a large, lush campus such as this means “alone”! After wandering a bit she finds Mustavio, a gypsy-like gentleman who sells his wares to the students, and eventually a dragon-in-wolf’s clothing named Zak who tags along with her. Through their explorations they find that the school is entirely empty, abandoned. And the reasons why will take them throughout a gorgeous castle and sunny fertile forests as they try to discover what’s happened to the students and staff of Dragonvale.
The story as hinted at above, is an emotional one. You imagine yourself as Lydia, a bundle of first-day-of-school nerves, filled with excitement at seeing her old friend, only to be both let down and intrigued by the mystery of the empty academy. Having to jump into action gives us a reason to move Lydia around the game; this is more than simple pointing and clicking through beautiful pictures with no goal in sight. That being said, although the story sounds good in theory, it didn't truly grab me emotionally, and so I'd have to give that section of the game a B+.
I was stunned by the graphics in this game. Literally. The academy is in a mind-bogglingly large castle, set in the backdrop of a lush forest, and both are created with loving detail. The castle soars into the sky, the leaves glitter in the sunlight, and the interiors are drawn with delicious detail. There is one point in the game where Lydia stands outside of the castle on a very high level, and the purple towers shooting towards the sky are just eye-watering they’re so wonderful. This kind of art makes me long to run to the nearest school and take up digital art; if I could create a game this beautiful I’d do it in a heartbeat! This part, I have to give an A++!
The sounds in Keepsake are a sort of mixed bag. The music, the puzzle sounds, etc. are all fairly good; not intrusive nor annoying, just nice background sounds. But I was disappointed with the character voices. Lydia’s in particular was simply “okay”, nothing to write home about, while Mustavio’s was (for me) completely annoying. Zak’s is fine…he sounds like a teenage guy and that works pretty well. But often I stuck to the subtitles and turned the speakers off because Lydia’s voice sometimes got on my nerves.
Another thing that I noticed was sometimes the dialogues would start seemingly for no reason. For example, Zak and Lydia are walking in a certain area of the castle and for no apparent reason, Zak decides to start telling her about what a “familiar” is. I think that certain dialogues are triggered by certain areas in the game, but sometimes they didn’t seem to go with the room I was in or the part of the game I was currently working on. For that reason along with others, I’d give the sounds section a B.
Some of the puzzles, such as the very first one you must solve in order to enter the school, are not too hard and can be a lot of fun. I really enjoyed that one and there were others along the way that held just enough degree of difficulty to keep me interested in solving them, but were not so difficult I wanted to throw my monitor across the room. There were some though that I absolutely had to look at a walkthrough in order to complete. My method is usually to try it on my own until I’m desperate, and then if I can’t solve it, peek at the walkthrough. The good thing is that not all of the puzzles are this hard. They are sprinkled in among others that are medium-difficult so that you don’t spend the entire game feeling chained to the puzzle-solving when you’d rather be exploring the beautiful environment. Both fun and frustrating (in a good way!), I’d give the puzzles in Keepsake an A.
There were a lot of things to enjoy in Keepsake, especially the freedom to explore. Granted some areas were off-limits until Lydia reached a certain part of the story, solved certain puzzle, etc. But for the most part, you could roam around a lot, and that’s important for me. I don’t like to feel hemmed in when I’m playing a game, and having the ability to wander at will was a huge plus. Another thing I enjoyed was having a companion along my journey. In general, I prefer for my character to be by his or herself while exploring and I thought at first that having Zak along might not be my cup of tea. In this game though, it can be such lonely environment that having him along was actually comforting. Plus, he’d been there much longer than Lydia and in was helpful to have along! I felt engaged and entertained while playing Keepsake and that’s important to me. Sometimes games can leave you feeling as if you’re a mere bystander while the real action is going on elsewhere. In this game, I felt a part of the action, and that increased my enjoyment of it. I would have to give this part an A.
Keepsake comes on 3 discs, but you don’t need a disc in your drive in order to play the game. Once it’s installed you can play it right from the hard drive; something I enjoyed a lot. When you save the game, there are no extra save slots, so you will end up saving over your game again and again. I wish that there had been extra save slots, but there was something about the saving that I really did like: you can hit “save and quit” and are sent immediately back to your desktop. I could go from playing Keepsake to surfing the internet in about two seconds, and for me, that was a feature that I could really appreciate!
As for the ending? Well, I won’t ruin it by going into great detail. But I’ll say that it was sad and that after all of my searching, seeking, and wandering as Lydia, I was disappointed. Like Lydia, I wanted a happy ending, but just as in life, sometimes those are not to be. Still, the ending was satisfying in its way, and the journey was more than enjoyable. So…how would I rate Keepsake overall? I’d have to give this pretty new classic a solid A.
OS: Windows® ME/2000/XP
CPU: 1 GHz Intel® Pentium® 3 processor or AMD® Athlon™ processor
RAM: 256 MB (512 MB on Windows® XP)
Video: 32 MB 3D accelerated video card (NVIDIA GeForce™ or ATI)
CD-ROM: 4x (or PC DVD-ROM drive)
Sound: 100% DirectX® Compliant (EAX Recommended)
DirectX: DirectX® 9.0
Hard Disk Space: 1.4 GB
Other: Mouse, Keyboard and Speakers
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
― George Eliot