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
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
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
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
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
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
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