Released: 26th October 2016 (Windows)

SUMMARY
Set within the enchanted pages of a living pop-up book, players guide the amnesiac ghost of a little girl as she reconnects the pieces of her fractured memory, to pass on to the afterlife. Memories are recalled by collecting the three feathers lost by her enigmatic raven guide, scattered across the real world Irish landscape of Cairlinn. The world is an unfurling watercolour that in places needs a fresh coat, but with what hues is down to you.

A good spirit always follows it’s heart.”

Each of Scéal’s three chapters follows a similar formula: glide through the valleys of the island repainting forgotten structures, completing a mission for a villager and then finding a feather with the hint given to you as a reward. The gameplay itself is not the main draw from Scéal, but rather, the arrestingly beautiful and enchanting way these scenarios are presented to you. As a girlish Geist, you emit an aura that transforms the world around you from a misty, messy underpainting into a realised and detailed vista. Darting through the game has you leaving streaks of detail through the unfinished world, but travelling at a slower, more patient pace, details fade into view as you creep forward revealing a world that was forgotten. It’s a clever and engaging visual metaphor that gently tugs at players, asking them to appreciate and bask in the detailed and dynamic world.

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It’s not just this sumptuous watercolour aesthetic or the whimsical way houses and trees fold out at your approach that make Scéal shine. The score is what really defines the game, sweeping and stirring Gaelic vocals really bring the Irish setting and style to life. A celebration of its culture, the game itself pays respect to the ancient traditions of Irish song which is predominately segmented into three categories: lament, repose and celebration. Through the course of the game, Iona the spirit can take on two other forms, an Angel whose golden light spreads summer across the world or a blackened Banshee, who brings winter and ruin to the verdant plains. Both styles of painting the world are required to solve puzzles and have accompanying music, from the uplifting and airy tunes that follow an Angel to the crooked, sharp strings and morose vocals that follow the mournful Banshee. Seeing the game paint with darker colours is a stark and shocking contrast, but in the words of Bob Ross “Gotta have a little sadness once in a while so you know when the good times come.”
Amen.

Reflective of these three styles, there are three endings the player can choose, to decide the fate of Iona. Each gives a different flavour to the overall scéal (Gaelic for story) and incites a curiosity about the other possible outcomes. Distinct and emotive, all are worth a replay.

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Scéal is mesmerising, if not slightly linear. The game takes place on a single island, which transforms to reflect the emotions of Iona. The island whilst small, feels more intimate than confined. Through the game, players will get to explore every peak and valley of the island in all three of its forms, the world charming and a joy to explore. Originally, each chapter was timed, resetting after an in game day had passed which has since been removed. A wise decision, as this would have completely undermined the experience of floating through its world at your own pace. What would have been interesting would be the choice to swap forms at will, becoming an Angel or Banshee to play with the landscape how you see fit. Instead, Iona dons these new forms at the request of the townsfolk. This keeps the narrative on track with the forms making powerful and memorable appearances at appropriate moments.

VERDICT
Scéal is short and sweet and can be completed in one sitting, but this doesn’t diminish its value in the slightest. The narrative is written in rhyme which underlines the storybook setting and whilst a tad twee to begin with, opens out into a stirring and moving tale of love and bereavement, depending on the ending you gravitate towards. The experience of ushering life, or death, into a vivid world accompanied by Gaelic verse is a truly unique and special one, ensuring that this Oirish folktale is one that you won’t regret visiting.

RATING: 8 out of 10

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