Since I can ever remember I’ve always been hooked on story-focused and character-driven games. And so when I first discovered Choice of Games I was so excited for the potential that text-based rpg’s can have, where one person alone can potentially create the kind of amazing story and emotional depth that I always hope and look for in rpg’s.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I enjoyed Study in Steampunk by @heather the most out of all the CoG’s I’ve played so far, and I think mostly it’s because of such strong writing of dynamic character growth and constant thematic relevance in the story.
I understand that it must be difficult to write; the balance of having the freedom to be whoever you want vs being limited by what the author writes as character motivation, personality, and backstory. So instead it seems a lot of CoG titles skimp on it a bit, providing tons of different options as to who your character can be, but forgetting why it matters. We might choose our gender, race, weapon, hair, height, and eye color, but none are ever referenced again. We may receive one-shot “how do you feel about this” thought bubbles and then move on with little impact.
Where Study in Steampunk differs is that the game has a more predefined protagonist - Main Character is always male, always has the same history & background - but the tradeoff is that we are allowed more detailed and dynamic character development. During in-game events we’re included the obligatory “I feel X about this event”, but it doesn’t stop there. Throughout the story are callbacks and references and thematic elements that occur in connection so that it feels really satisfying to play through because everything is relevant, for example MC’s PTSD and the connection to his suntouched abilities which are connected to later story branches and themes ex. healing vs killing, science vs magic, tradition vs rebellion, etc Though ofc this does to an extent depend on whether certain choices or branches are taken, but regardless, the motivations and themes are consistently shown throughout the story so nothing really feels like a throwaway aspect of your character but instead is constantly relevant and evolving.
Likewise, the big plot events aren’t just pointed to like “this is a big moment”, but they are treated as a big deal within the story itself. Everything is thematically consistent and we have reminders of past decisions in later parts of the game, for example moments where the MC can fall into despair as a result of past decisions with the dialogue/thought of “I couldn’t save Finch, and I couldn’t save Grace” or later in the story where MC, feeling alone and lost, thinks “I had [someone] once, but Finch is gone now”, etc
The emotional moments are just the right amount that you can pick your reaction from the dialogue/thought choices then infer whatever you want from your next actions while also having callbacks and reminders to your past decisions. It makes it possible to develop your character in many different but equally satisfying ways.
And what makes it great is that the references in which you don’t have an input are phrased in such a way that they can also be interpreted by the player so nothing is forced on you but it’s not forgotten, either. The events in the protagonist’s life are so effective and yet ambiguous enough that the player can draw their own conclusions as to how we feel about them.
Another thing I really appreciate about Study in Steampunk is that there are no (or at least very few) anti-climactic game over’s. Yes, you can fail, but when you do, you fail in a such a way that it can feel like a satisfying conclusion to the story and not just a “game over, try again”. You still need to play to your strengths in order to get the best results, but skills and stats can be changed without worrying too much about penalties or losing the game. You aren’t punished for changing your character’s opinions or perspective along the journey, instead your character is actually encouraged to naturally develop with the story.
TLDR I guess I’m just putting this out there (bc 1, i needed to gush some more haha) but for any would-be writers out there who are interested in making a CoG game, this game was so satisfying to me. It’s not about having tons of different choices that don’t have much relevance on the plot, or being allowed to have freedom amounting to “deep as a puddle, wide as an ocean”, but instead, having character development, emotional moments, events, and themes that MATTER. (As a side note, characters and relationships are another thing that for me are very important in rpg’s that I didn’t touch on too much here, but that’s mostly because Study in Steampunk is stronger in the former aspects.)
What do you guys think? Are there any other Choice of Games titles that have pulled off this kind of thing as well? (And honestly, asking not just for discussion’s sake but also bc I would love any suggestions as to other games that do this sort of thing too )