We've all heard of Dungeons and Dragons before, but you can be forgiven for being unfamiliar with the world of The Dark Eye. According to helpful research sources like Wikipedia, it's an ersatz tabletop RPG game that's wildly popular in Germany, even outmatching D&D itself. It's got a lot of rich history, lore, and storyline behind its many editions and volumes.
It has also launched a lot of cross media properties, including a few video games, such as the ancient Realms of Arkania series and the recent Drakensang games. More importantly for this review, though, is the fact that it also inspired Chains of Satinav, a beautiful point-and-click adventure game developed by the talented adventure-smiths at Daedalic Entertainment. A point-and-click adventure may seem like an odd genre for a tabletop RPG setting, but it certainly works out for the best here.
Because of the established, yet completely unfamiliar, setting, the game's penchant for throwing names and places at you can seem a bit dense at first to anyone who isn't versed in the pantheons and pathos of The Dark Eye. Most of it can be considered background fluff though, and it's not hard to catch on and get caught up in the rather well-written story. You control Geron, a bird catcher who was foretold to bring misfortune and misery to all he comes into contact with. The jerk who sent this prophecy is the Seer, shortly before the villainous old man was burnt at the stake. This, unsurprisingly, means that Geron is mistrusted and avoided by the general population. As the game begins, Geron meets an oddly distant girl named Nuri, which sparks an epic journey of danger, romance, and using items on objects to solve puzzles. It's an intriguing premise, which is followed through nicely in a fine narrative that manages to avoid nearly all of the common pitfalls and clichés. Voice acting is generally favorable as well, with most of the main characters putting in decent performances. What may be the most interesting point is how generally serious it is; the game isn't without humor, but it's definitely not focused on comedy like most adventures. The key theme here is weaving a fantasy story, much in the tradition of games like King's Quest. The writing isn't always perfect, with some
clunky dialogue exchanges here and there, but these moments are minor. It would be a disservice to spoil any more of it, but Chains of Satinav is certainly gripping in an odd sort of way, which is more than enough to keep you hooked through one puzzle after the other.
In terms of puzzles, Chains of Satinav offers up an intermediate challenge for adventure game fans. Most of the puzzles are fairly logical and easy enough to solve, with the notable exception of the fourth chapter. This chapter unfortunately tends to skew towards a “Water Temple” style of level design, with a lot of variables, switches, and randomness. Aside from that example, every solution can be found with a good sense for puzzles, some well reasoned guesses, and a pair of magic spells. Every adventure game these days strives to make the gameplay a little friendlier, and Chains of Satinav is no exception. In Challenge mode, you're completely on your own like the good old days. Most gamers are probably going to lean towards Casual mode, which makes some very nice adjustments to the puzzle solving. In Casual, the game keeps track of what you've interacted with and whether or not you can interact with it further. It also lets you know if this item will work with that object through the cursor. Most intriguing is the eyeglass button, which quickly marks every object and exit on your screen for a handful of seconds. It's incredibly helpful for spotting items that you've missed among the crowded backgrounds.
These cluttered backgrounds make up what is easily the best quality of the game: the stunning graphics. You've probably noticed thanks to the screenshots, but the graphic design makes Chains of Satinav look like a work of art. The detailed environments and fantastic locales are all perfectly captured by the game's hand-painted aesthetic. The characters are equally stunning and detailed in their design, although the animations are somewhat constrained and awkward. But animation is such a small factor compared to the actual visual details of the game, which are some of the best that modern adventure games can offer. To put it another way, every still from the game looks less like a screenshot and more like a quality illustration to a fantasy novel or gamebook.
Final Verdict: Chains of Satinav is a worthy game for anyone who enjoys point-and-clicks. Even with the hint system, it's probably not the best choice for beginners, but the story line is compelling and the visuals are artistically brilliant. The high price might be a little dubious for what comes out to no more than six hours, but as far as adventure games go, it's a great entry into the genre.
This review is based on a review copy of the Steam PC version of The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav provided by Daedalic Entertainment distributed by Deep Silver.