You’ll have to make a few sacrifices. Literally.
It started at the triannual Ludum Dare game jam. The prompt was “You are the Monster.” Kitfox, creators of the indie RPG Moon Hunter, came in second place with this creepy, gothic, text-based simulator. In The Shrouded Isle, you play the leader of a cult that has three years to prepare the flock for the end times. The preparations include rooting out sin, appointing advisors to guide the flock, and then sacrificing one of them at the end of the season. Fun for the whole family!
So you want to run a cult . . .
The score consists of five virtues; Ignorance, Fervor, Discipline, Penitence, and Obediance. Each has a threshold that the leader has to meet to keep the village from falling apart. The five families in the village are responsible for teaching their respective virtues to the other villagers. Every person in the village has a virtue that gives them a bonus, but they also have a sin that runs counter to the virtues: Knows too Much, Undisciplined, Disobedient, etc. The leader starts the game with a collection of rumors about the villagers. In order to learn more, you must hold Inquisitions. Compliant families require mood is neutral, satisfied, or zealous of your leadership. If their mood dips into dissatisfied or rebellious, then you must give them a seat on the advisory council to find out more.
Whenever someone leads their activity, the associated family value increases. Their personal virtue also gets a boost. However, points are taken away depending on their sin. For example, “Knows too much (Scholar -30)” has a negative impact on Ignorance. If the leader of the Book Burnings is also secretly a Scholar, this can lead to some problems. At the time of sacrifice, more serious transgressions yield greater results from the village. For example, the Scholar is a -30 vice, but an Imaginative villager is -20, and someone who is merely Curious is only -10. If you choose a grievous sinner (-30) then the town is happy and the family is begrudgingly accepting of the sacrifice; you don’t lose as much favor with them. If you pick a minor transgression, the town is less happy and the families become outraged. Improper family appeasement can lead to a full scale rebellion and an end to your illustrious career as a doomsday prophet.
Micromanaging and Megalomania
Along with managing the families, the leader must occasionally deal with incidents in town. His decisions affect scores, stats, and statuses within the families. The situations can be as harmless as a new fashion trend by a Teen (-10 sin), to the Lustful (-20) family member becoming pregnant by the sea. As in, they walked into the water and came out expecting. Just what they are expecting, I’ll leave for you to play and find out. [[OMINOUS MUSIC]]
And on top of all that, dreams appear at the beginning of each season, guiding you on just who the old gods want sacrificed. If you take out enough of the major sins, Chernabog gets really petty, asking for increasingly minor vices like the narcissists and imaginative ones. The families don’t ever see these visions. You need to tread carefully lest you arouse the ire of a family that feels persecuted. Persecution leads to resentment, resentment to rebellion. Rebellion leads to the Death Star blowing up. I may have strayed on my analogy here.
No, Really, it’s cool: Chernabog said so. I think.
The visions can be frustratingly ambiguous. For example, one season I was told to “find the Scarred one, bring her to me.” It turned out I had two different houses with a “Scarred (-10)” individual. One was obviously a female, the other had a strange name and the illustration wasn’t giving me any help on the gender. Choosing wrong meant I unnecessarily angered a family over a forgivable sin. Another time I was tasked with finding the “Swindler”, and had to interpret that as the “Embezzler (-30)” sin. I chose poorly in both instances. And well, you’ve seen Wicker Man, right?
The Shrouded Isle treads on the shallow end of the game depth pool, apparent after the first couple playthroughs. My first game lasted about 90 minutes, and only got faster after that. After ten games, I discovered a definitive “right” way to play. When I deviated from what was working, I never made it past the second season. The family members only act as playing cards; a mother, father, and four children. The family dynamic doesn’t change if the children become orphans. I would imagine the same would be true if the parents were left childless. Furthermore, appeasing the dreams doesn’t have an effect on the end game. In-game the visible effect seems to only be a change in Virtue threshold increases and what new victim you need to appease the doom god. It certainly doesn’t improve your standing with the village. And while the game claims multiple cinematic endings, I got the same one (the good(?) ending) the four times I made it to the end.
The Shrouded Isle Final Verdict
Despite the lack of dept, this is solid game design. The soundtrack and art style successfully crafted an uncomfortable, Gothic/antique, creeping doom, horror atmosphere. The character portraits cover the eyes, giving them all a simultaneous sinister and victim feeling, making it easy to send these cultists to their doom. Considering this was built for a game jam, the shortcomings come from a time crunch, not laziness. I could see a full game play out on a much longer timeline. Instead of three years, something like Double Fine’s Massive Chalice where you have 100 years of families, generational flaws, and a dwindling (or vastly expanding depending on actions) flock to keep Chernabog happy. But for a game that was built over the course of a single weekend, Shrouded Isle is worth a look.
The Shrouded Isle is available August 4th on Steam.
The Shrouded Isle Grade:
Graphics – B+
Gameplay – B+
Sound – A-
Overall – B+