Les Misérables


Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Chris Tolworthy & Enter the Story

Released:  December 2008

PC Requirements:  

20 MB free RAM 
1 GHz CPU (1.6 GHz recommended)
200 MB free hard disk space (for the first game, additional games will add about 120 MB each)
16 bit color or higher.
No special graphics card is needed.




by Becky


Enter the Story: Les Misérables is a newer, stranger, and deeper iteration of the classic story by Victor Hugo. It isn’t quite as demanding as reading the unabridged novel, but it comes close, while adding some elements that are provocative and original.

Les Misérables is the initial effort in a larger project conceived by the enterprising mind of Chris Tolworthy, who transforms classic works of literature into adventure games, using elements that are mostly open source or in the public domain. Other games that are planned for the series include Dante’s Divine Comedy, Apeiron: The Infinite Game and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

At first glance, the project seems almost impossibly complex and ridiculously far-reaching. How could any one individual imagine drawing the diverse graphical, musical and textual elements of Western culture together and have them make sense in the context of an adventure game? Somehow, though, Mr. Tolworthy makes it work, at least in this opening attempt.

Phantom Faces at the Window

Enter the Story: Les Misérables opens with an unusual introduction, leading to just about the last scene I expected to find at the opening of a game. You play the game as a spirit named Peri, who is given specific tasks which will eventually change the course of events among the people of nineteenth century France – a time when many lives are still “nasty, brutish and short.”

Only one of the numerous characters in the game is fully aware of Peri’s presence. Otherwise Peri interacts with the characters and their surroundings by implanting ideas in each person’s mind -- by causing him or her to recall something from the past, to “see” an object, or to understand something new about another character. Figuring out which character should acquire the new idea -- and then using the game’s environments to correctly insert the idea into that character’s mind -- comprises the bulk of the gameplay. (Amusingly, if you’re way off, a character will pause to remark: “Suddenly the phrase ‘gardener’s hut’ entered my mind. I must be daydreaming!”)

So throughout the game you will be picking up clues from dialogs, and remembering (or at least having some idea of how to locate) hundreds of objects or people. These associational challenges sometimes come from within the story, sometimes from contemporaneous historical events, and other times from extra elements that have been added to the story. Most are quite creative; a couple are wickedly difficult because they involve hidden triggers and/or a pixel hunt.

Fortunately, the game contains an excellent hint system in case you are struggling. The gameplay remains surprisingly fresh, though I think the game would have benefited from a few more varied puzzle challenges along the way.

Most of the story proceeds at a leisurely pace, punctuated by moments of sustained drama -- particularly the sequences when the police are closing in around the game’s protagonist, Jean Valjean, and the fateful battle at the barricades. The dramatic tension arises from the story and situation – there are no action or timed sequences in the game.

Lights are Misty

Les Misérables’ unusual atmosphere is due in part to the stylized graphical environments, which start out as paintings, etchings, prints or photographs – many from the nineteenth century – that are then tinted with hints of color using an Impressionist watercolor effect. The effect shows the world from the standpoint of a spirit like Peri, who no longer sees with physical eyes. Some of the environments are filled with bright light, others are muted and hazy with colors melting into one another. Overall, you think that you are inside a series of paintings, each with quirky artistic expression. Occasionally, I actually recognized an interior or a graphical element from a master painter. Stepping momentarily into the familiar this way was fun and welcoming. You can pan slightly to the right or the left in many of the scenes, and you’ll see occasional animations – for instance, black smoke rising from the barricades.

No other game looks or plays like Les Misérables. It also covers themes I’ve never seen addressed in a game before: the pros and cons of revolutionary fervor, Christianity, moral ambiguity, and tradition versus change. The game depicts the crushing results of poverty. Yes, the novel Les Misérables does these things too, but the visual portrayals of abandoned children in the streets are more heartrending. The heroes and villains face dilemmas that test their characters and challenge them beyond the range of right or wrong choices. I’m not sure this is intentional, but by the end you get a sense of French national character that may even have carried over into the present day.

One More Day to Revolution

The main characters are based on those in the book. None of the characters are voiced. Visually, the characters resemble minimalist paper cutouts. Intriguingly, just a few drawn lines can portray different figures with distinctive qualities. However, some of the characters appear so “roughed in” without shading or detail, that it’s hard to get a sense of their personalities. Since the characters are not voiced and their expressions rarely change, the gamer must read a lot into them using their outward appearance and dialog.

Dialogs and thoughts are extensive and well written. You are actually “in the characters’ heads” longer than if you were reading the novel. (In rare instances, the dialogs contain an “aside” that’s a purposely anachronistic – and often humorous -- comment on modern day issues.)

After you’ve talked to people several times, clicking on them brings up a character description straight from Victor Hugo (translated). But these are beings who also have minds of their own outside the book’s confines. You’ll discover what they think about music or how they feel about Napoleon.

You can skip some of the reading by clicking on the characters only once or twice in each location. You lose some of the depth of the game if you do this, but gameplay speeds up considerably. You can also click through the dialogs and adjust the speed at which the text is presented to increase reading speed. (Note: most -- though not all -- dialogs can be repeated by cycling through everything a character says at a particular point in the game. If you return later in the story, though, the character will likely have something different to say.)

After the game ends, many of the people are still there, happy to talk about Providence versus fate, modernity versus the Divine Right of kings, or whether a cannon ought to be placed in the courtyard of the Louvre. The fellow in the tavern who’s always reading a newspaper comments on the news of game’s final events! The gameworld persists even after the story has ended.

A Faraway Song

Music is one of the game’s strengths. This is especially important because the game contains no voiceovers, and only a few ambient sounds. There is a tremendous range and variety of background music -- from ethereal choral sounds to a jaunty Parisian tune to dramatic orchestral backgrounds and contemplative music played by guitar or flute. My favorites were “Vals triste” and “Vals de la nostalgia” by Paco Santiago. Music can be selected and replayed as you desire from the Credits menu. I would sometimes leave the game running and just listen to the music.

This Fine Collection

Les Misérables features a point-and-click interface, and uses mostly first person perspective. I say mostly because I didn’t realize that Jean Valjean could walk from one scene into the next until about two thirds of the way through the game – there weren’t any instructions in the game’s brief Help screens. (Note: to do this, right-click on Valjean and on the directional arrow, and most of the time he will follow the arrow.) Because Peri has to manipulate a character’s mind to get information about the gameworld, interaction involves right-clicking on a character and then on the object to hear the character’s opinion/description. This seems a trifle awkward (simply left-clicking on the object would be more direct), but I did get used to it. Occasionally I encountered a location with no people in it, and wondered how to find out about the objects without switching back and forth to use a character to describe things. I found that eventually people appeared in every scene so that objects could be easily examined.

The gameworld is unusually large, containing multiple locations in Paris, as well as small parts of five other French cities. Back-and-forthing through all these environments is facilitated by a Map (the “M” key) which contains a helpful “favorite locations” function. The gameplay is also assisted by a Recent People/Subjects screen (the “R” key) which retrieves recently clicked-on characters and object names, and allows you to associate them with greater ease. This screen would have been even more helpful if there had been a “favorite characters” function, as I frequently clicked on so many items that important character names were accidentally bumped off the screen. When this happened, I had to revisit the place where the character was located (sometimes it was hard to remember exactly where I’d left him) and right-click to restore him to the Recent People/Subjects screen.

Thankfully, the game allows you to create an unlimited number of saves. I experienced only one very minor glitch during the game – when preparing to load a previously saved game, the music stutters for a few seconds.

I played the game in full screen mode on a wide screen monitor. This combination appears to cause the font for the item descriptions and dialogs to become annoyingly pixelated. When I played the game in a window (this can be enabled through the setup file) the fonts were no longer pixelated, but the playable area took up only about half of my screen.

Our Paths will Cross Again

Mr. Tolworthy has announced that other games will be added to the ambitious Enter the Story series. The next game, due in July 2009, is based on Dante’s Divine Comedy – not just the celebrated Inferno realm, but also Purgatorio and Paradiso. He has indicated that the stories will be somehow connected as part of an ongoing backstory. How this will be realized is unclear, although Les Misérables already has a directional arrow in the “Thick Forest” area that points to the upcoming Divine Comedy story/gameworld. Some day we might even be able to learn the poet Virgil’s opinion of Inspector Javert, and vice versa.

Quick List for Enter the Story: Les Misérables

An intricate, lengthy interactive story based on the Victor Hugo classic. Thought provoking plot with moral complexity. Graphics are stylized with a watercolor effect. Characters are cartoon-like with basic contours. Point-and-click, mostly first person perspective. No voiceovers. Varied, wonderful music.

An unusual group of puzzles that use hints from the dialogs and story events to create associations between objects and people. Some associations require creativity and/or searching the large gameworld. An effective hint system. No sliding tile puzzles, one maze-like sewer, no sound or color based puzzles, no timed puzzles. You cannot die. No problems with installation. One minor sound glitch. Unlimited save slots.

Aimed at gamers who like to read classic literature and enjoy games that make them dig deep beneath the surface and ponder life’s ambiguities. Enter the Story: Les Misérables also ought to be played by anyone who has ever said: “The adventure genre lacks innovation” or “Games can’t be art.”

Final Grade:

As an adventure game: B+

As an interactive story: A 

Enter the Story: Les Misérables is an Independent production that can be purchased here. The $14.99 price purchases Les Misérables, plus the next two games in the series.

Section headings are from the musical “Les Misérables,” lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil.

My Computer Specs:

Windows XP Professional

Pentium 2.80 GHz

2.00 GB RAM

Direct X 9.0c

512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX

SB X-Fi Audio

April, 2009

design copyright© 2009 GameBoomers Group

 GB Reviews Index