You chose poorly
The interactive novel is a worthwhile gameplay genre to explore because, with challenges based on wit rather than reflexes, it can appeal to hardcore and casual audiences. More than that, it provides the potential to produce games that tell more complex stories than videogames have ever told before.
Or it could just retread tired clichés and outdated gameplay concepts, like Wizard’s Choice Volume 5 does.
Right off the bat, the game proclaims you should play the first four volumes before it, but provides a helpful recap of the story thus far. You (it’s told from the second-person perspective) are a wizard-vampire traveling with another vampire: a sexy, winged female one. You both have demons inside you causing your vampirism and fighting with you for control of your bodies. Your goal is to defeat a dragon that’s guarding a book that contains knowledge with which you can expel the demons before they overtake and transform you completely into bloodthirsty, amoral vampires.
The game is effectively a “Choose Your Own Adventure.” You scroll through pages by swiping your finger up and down and, at the bottom of each page, you’re presented with menu options (e.g., “Hide,” “Use a spell”). You choose one by tapping. You can hold your device vertically or horizontally and the game adapts accordingly. It’s ridiculously simple, one-handed gameplay and it works fine.
Furthering the minimalist approach, there’s no sound or music and the only graphics are a drawing of a glowing-eyed dude on the first page and a picture of a skull whenever you die. Earlier volumes were periodically peppered with images throughout, so it seems a bit backwards that production quality is going down. The absence of audio and visuals isn’t a huge drawback. But when a game is so bare bones, what is there invites far more scrutiny and, in the case of Wizard’s Choice, criticism must be leveled at the narrative.
The writing is competent enough. Sentences make sense and descriptions serviceably communicate every situation. There are some grammar and spelling errors, and I twice spotted what appeared to be a leftover programming line. Still, the prose is usually readable, though not very attractive, and sometimes downright silly. There are abrupt changes in tone: you bleed someone dry and then, paragraphs later, there’s some toilet humor. Worse are fourth-wall-breaking moments when you’re told you’re “AWESOME” or the game refers to its own world as “medieval.” There’s also no real character development. You’re a wizard who doesn’t want to be a vampire and has the hots for his traveling companion at the outset and, by the end, you’ve barely changed.
The game’s biggest problem is its progression. Everybody hates vampires, so you’re forever fleeing, hiding, and fighting. Without any downtime, there are diminishing returns on the thrills. Nearly every page ends with you making a choice from two to four options. Usually one will seem more brave, but foolhardy (fly over a town’s outer wall), while others will be more sensible, but cowardly (use a charm spell on the guards). Or you’ll get the option to do something evil (drain someone’s blood) or something less evil (just drink a little).
The problem is the rules are never clearly defined. You have Health, Manna, and Morale stats and, obviously, it’s bad if any hit zero, but you can never truly tell what effect your decisions might have on them. You’re informed when choices cost manna, but your character still occasionally casts spells on his own, using your manna up without your permission. Your morale and health are more of a crapshoot.
There are times when the information you’re given is sound, but there are other instances where it’s implied that an option is risky. Then, after selecting it, you progress without incident. “Bad” decisions will cause you to die multiple times, forcing you to start over from the very beginning (several incorrect choices in the game subtract 100 health, killing you instantly). Technically, this adds replayability, as with each restart you must try different things, but it’s hardly entertaining.
The fun of having input in a narrative comes from it being flexible enough to respond and change accordingly. It’s not fun when, because you didn’t read the developer’s mind, you have to start over. It’s an old design approach. Games have by and large evolved past unfairly punishing players but Wizard’s Choice didn’t get the memo.
Admittedly, the game may be more rewarding after you’ve played the previous volumes. Still, a product should stand on its own and, to the game’s credit, I never felt lost. This, however, highlights the story’s hollowness. Though it’s got five volumes under its belt, it doesn’t appear to have established its own lore and is content to stick with standard fantasy tropes: elves, dragons, goblins, etc.
Wizard’s Choice Volume 5 relies on clichés and outdated mechanics. It’s a cross between a Dungeons and Dragons campaign and a conventional novel with the worst aspects of both, resulting in subpar storytelling and a dearth of genuine interactivity. The best I can say is it’s playable. But you could just read a good novel. Or take part in a fun tabletop RPG. Or play a better videogame.