The Count of Lucanor – What We Think:
Everyone dreams about a better life. Whether we fantasize about wealth or happiness, we strive to get closer and closer to that ideal. For many of us, it’s more about the journey than the destination. It’s about the choices we make along the way. The Count Lucanor by Baroque Decay is grim tale about a boy who has dreams of wealth, and decides to one day go out and get it.
You play as a ten-year-old boy named Hans (clearly a tribute to fairly tale author Hans Christian Anderson, who himself was inspired by Tales of Count Lucanor) who dreams of a bigger, better life than the one he’s currently inhabiting. He lives in a small house with his mother, sans his father, who has gone off to to be a soldier.
It just so happens that the game starts on Hans’s birthday, and it becomes clear that most of his unhappiness comes from the fact that they are financially poor when his mother informs him that she can’t afford a birthday gift for him. Hans storms off and tells her he’s going into the woods on a fortune-seeking adventure.
Kobold and the Beautiful
After entering the woods, it doesn’t take long for things to go awry. Hans finds himself inside a nightmarish world filled with grotesque creatures and shady individuals. One of these is a kobold who convinces him to enter a nearby castle that holds treasure. Treasure that can only be obtained by completing a trial, which is guessing the kobold’s name.
Once you enter the castle, you learn that the letters of the kobold’s name can be found within the rooms inside. There are a total of twelve rooms, eight of which have the letters. The rooms that contain letters contain moderately challenging obstacles that include a maze, booby traps, pushable objects and switches. These rooms make up the bulk of the game and are for the most part quite entertaining.
Most of these rooms aren’t too difficult, but they are challenging enough. They are relatively basic in terms of what needs to be done within them. For example, I entered a room that had a broken ladder. Later on in the game I found a ladder that I could use in its place. It uses that point-and-click adventure design of finding objects that you can use on other objects. Other rooms contain more timing and skill-based obstacles: one room had floor tiles that would sequentially shoot flames that I had to avoid.
The game also has some creatures that you must avoid. Since the game is more about pacifism, you can’t fight back, but instead rely on stealth and strategic movement. When an enemy sees you, they will give chase. Luckily, you have hiding spots within the environment that allow you to avoid them. These encounters can be tense since enemies are pretty strong. There is one enemy type in particular that uses a suction pentagram below its feet then stretches a red tentacle from its face to hurt you.
Stealth, Health, and Limited Wealth
The main challenge here doesn’t come from the rooms or the enemies; it comes about more within the game’s inventory management, of all things. Much like an older survival horror game like Silent Hill, you have to use your finite healing items wisely. You can find food, which restores health, and coins, which you can use at a merchant or to save the game.
Much like in the early Resident Evil games where you’d use typewriter ink to save your game, you have to use a coin that you toss into a pond to save your game. This feature may feel unforgiving if you die after not saving for a while, but I think it just adds some extra tension since you can find a decent amount of gold within the castle. There is also the option of taking the risk of saving your money instead of saving the game, a double-edged sword for all money-hoarders out there.
Means to Ends
You gain most of the narrative through NPCs you interact with within the game. The neat thing about this is that the items you receive – and the ending you ultimately see – depend on your actions. There are plenty of ways in which your actions can shape your play-through. These decisions mostly affect minor aspects of your experience (like whether an NPC gives you a certain consumable item), but there are times where these decision will affect larger things as well.
The devs finds a nice balance between giving you the ability to affect macro and micro aspects of the game, an aspect most games don’t nail very often. It can be tough, however, since most decisions will have an unknown effect, much like decisions in real life – the outcome can’t always be predicted. It takes choice that we see in a lot of other games and makes it more of a central game mechanic and less of a narrative gimmick.
The narrative aspects of the game are intriguing: Lucanor is clearly influenced by the older recognizable fairy tales with witches, curses, a magic mirror and even magic beans. These tropes help the game feel familiar, but it cleverly uses these ideas to create its own unique tale. I was impressed by how intriguing this horrifying little world was. In a way I wanted to escape it, while also experience more of it. I especially wanted to talk and learn more about certain interesting NPCs.
I did have a few issues with the game’s tale overall. Since the game is so focused on narrative, I felt like the main protagonist could have been developed more. You do learn plenty about the mysterious castle and get a grasp of your predicament, but Hans’s development felt cast aside. He starts off the game as an ungrateful child but when you reach the end of the game, his outcome doesn’t have sufficient payoff.
The absolute strongest aspect of this game is its atmosphere. Wandering around the manor and seeing a creature lurking towards Hans, made for some tense moments, especially whenever I encountered Red Camerlengo. The game’s atmosphere created a creepy world filled with uncertainty and horror during every moment. A lot of it is due to its simplistic graphics that help leave a little more to the imagination.
Much like how The Last Door was able to stay horrific with its pixelated graphic approach, this game accomplishes the same thing. It also doesn’t hurt that it featured some ambient chiptune music built from the public domain works of Johann Sebastian Bach, and great eerie sound effects that made the setting and creatures feel more alive.
Creepy? Count on It
The Count Lucanor is an inspired, entertaining little horror game. It’s a creepy, four-hour fairy tale shaped by the choices you make along the way. If you’re a fan of classic fairy tales and the horror genre, this game will not disappoint.
The Count Lucanor is available via Steam
Watch the trailer for The Count Lucanor below: