The colonial times of the British Empire isn't exactly a part of history that's been 'done to death' within the video games medium. This doesn't come as a huge surprise, due to it having a controversial nature and possessing sometimes, convoluted politics. With Herald, it's nice to see this historical material implemented in an interesting way and communicated in a manner that engenders the player with a sincere enough interest of it.
A shipwreck is always an effective start to a story. Here, it sets the scene nicely and quite quickly has us questioning the main character's journey and motives. Devan Rensburg is being held as a prisoner in what appears to be the Indian colonies. I use the word 'prisoner' relatively loosely, as he is being held captive in a room, furnished luxuriously with items of eastern design whilst at the same time being questioned by a woman known as The Rani; a Hindu title denoting Sovereignty. His story is one that he appears to have told her once already, judging by her demands that he tells her again "truthfully", what he is seeking in the colonies. Her suspicions are, however, understandable. Firstly; Devan is a young man of mixed heritage. He explains that his father is from the protectorate and his mother, is originally from the colonies. Secondly; he was pulled from the sea wearing not the garb of a standard crew member, but a captain. It's these unusual set of circumstances that pave the way for the player to not only unravel Devan's nautical story but to contribute towards it too.
Video Review Ahoy!:
Told via flashbacks the game jumps from the regalia enriched room to the ship itself - Herald; a merchant vessel on the Indigo route on which Devan is the steward. Further to the opening section which contained mild interactivity, the UI and simple mechanics are explained in a tutorial set piece with the main protagonist and some of the crew. Straight away we're given a bit of a conundrum which has us wondering if our relationship with the hierarchy could go as salty as the sea air, from the outset. Shortly after, the tour of the main deck and some interactions with other crew members inform us of how to navigate the area and take us through Devan's journal. Events, objectives, historical nuggets of info and map of the Herald are all recorded here in his pocket-sized encyclopedia.
An Officer And A Cabin Boy
Being someone who leans more towards the rustic nature of a print publication for a straightforward story, I was glad that Herald: An Interactive Period Drama introduces some nice choices, ultimatums and conversational pathways, not unlike a standard point 'n click adventure. Dialogue trees seemed to offer a nice amount of scope for fleshing out Devan's personality. This is always welcome and allows me as the player to emotionally engage with the plot and characters further. Becoming involved in disputes between other crew members, clashes of ego's and possible incidents of a darker and grubbier nature are all matters that Herald delivers within book 1. The seedier subject matter which is hinted at, seemed to be something, in my opinion, that could've possibly been handled in a slightly more artistic manner. This could well be the case further down the line but the kicker here is that I didn't get to find that out.
Upon firing the game up again to play through Book 2, I was rather dismayed to notice that my save file, which remained perfectly intact through two previous sittings had vanished completely. Try as I may to recover it, I had to concede that the only way to get through Books 1 & 2 in their entirety would be to start over. Although save game issues are problems that do unfortunately occur with Beta titles, or those simply within their teething stage, I'm not prepared to spend the time going through all of it again as I really shouldn't have to. A shame! After a bit of a slow start, I was getting quite hooked by the story and indeed some of the personalities that developers Wispfire have provided for us.
A Well Scrubbed Deck
Aesthetically the game is very pleasant to look at. Character animations are nothing that I'd describe as detailed but the artwork is effective enough. Basic in some places and pretty in others, especially on the character portraits during the dialogue scenes. Fine art style brushstrokes and some bold outlines create some lovely visuals. The sound also plays its part well. Aside from very occasional discrepancies with the voice acting; articulation being slightly off in places, the characters are brought to life nicely. The background music appropriately compliments each section and ambiance such as the creaking of the Herald itself sets the scene in an evocative way without being intrusive.
Suffice to say I quite enjoyed what I played of Book 1 (It felt as though I was coming to the end) and may return in the future. Developers Wispfire has created a nice mix here, of choice-driven adventure and visual novel. I'm confident that fans of either genre, will be interested in seeing how things unfold for the enigmatic Mr. Rensburg.