Puzzles and the Pursuit of Perfection
A Homeric epic filled with trials of wit awaits you in FIVE-BN’s latest installment of their flagship series Darkness and Flame. To call this ancient Greek-inspired title ambitious is an understatement. Darkness and Flame 4 boasts fully-animated painstakingly-rendered cutscenes, a full voice cast, and dozens of complex puzzle minigames. Not to mention all the worldbuilding and the myriad of plot threads being woven together. But do the seams hold up? Or has FIVE-BN bitten off more than they can chew?
In a fantasy world heavily inspired by Greek mythology, you control a young girl with the power to summon flames from her wrist. The setting is distinctly medieval (knights, crude villages, mutton chops), but with subtle steampunk touches (a city of people who live in fantastical treetop domes, goggles that inexplicably have gears on them, etc.). This setting is the perfect vehicle for puzzle mechanics. The lack of technology necessitates the application of Rube Goldberg-esque mechanisms that in more modern settings would simply be a switch or press of a button.
Stakes Suffer Sequelitis
Despite being the fourth entry in the series, Darkness and Flame 4 works surprisingly well as a standalone installment. The cutscenes recap the relevant events of the previous titles competently, if somewhat shoehorned. However, despite Darkness comprising half of the title, the game tells you almost nothing about the titular element other than that it’s a vague supernatural entity. When the endgame comes and the Darkness attacks you, there are no stakes established beyond “Oh no! Another bad guy!”
As for the story itself, it begins with our heroine narrating her journey and introducing us to the friends she’s made along the way. Her friends are immediately killed unceremoniously off-screen. In fact, a gorgon —a creature thought to be long dead— turns them to stone. Your goal is now clear: kill the gorgon before she can hurt anyone else! You can only accomplish this by completing a series of logic puzzles. Naturally.
Pantheon of Portraits and Puzzles
What’s equally puzzling is how absolutely stunning these cutscenes look for an indie-developed mobile game. Sure, the movement isn’t very fluid at times, but the intricate scenery and choice of camera angles shows real artistic vision. The amount of effort put into rendering these scenes is downright palpable.
Besides its gorgeous landscapes, the diverse selection of logic puzzles is really where Darkness and Flame 4 shines. No two are alike. The main aspect of gameplay is your standard point and click. You use items you find to solve environmental puzzles and advance the story, with dozens of top-down logic puzzle minigames to keep things fresh. These minigames offer a genuine challenge and take a serious amount of mental calculation to solve. Indeed, these puzzles give you a real sense of accomplishment upon completion. In short, real juicy stuff.
Voices of the Damned
Unfortunately, every chain has its weak links. A studio of their budget can only afford so much polish, and thus they left some aspects to rust. That rusty, clunky, beyond stilted aspect in this case is the voiceover. Good lord, is it bad. I’m talking high school production of “To Kill A Mockingbird” bad. You’d find better line reads in an early 90s FMV game. On LaserDisc. This doesn’t ruin the game by any means, but it takes something that could’ve been great and holds its head under the water despite constant kicking and screaming.
A tale of hubris as old as time itself, Darkness and Flames 4 aims for the sun only for their wings to melt. Alas, while it doesn’t plummet to the ground, per se, it definitely gets burned. I believe it was the ancient historian Herodotus who said, “Φιλέει γαρ ο θεός τα υπερέχοντα πάντα κολούειν.” Or—if your archaic Greek is a little rusty—“God likes to bring low all things of surpassing greatness.”
Is it Hardcore?
Darkness and Flame 4’s lovingly crafted, challenging puzzles and beautiful artwork more than make up for its subpar voice acting and less than engaging story.