It’s that time of year again, the King’s Challenge, to find the new Champion of the Fairy Realms. The competition is fierce, but the Bard has an edge, his father trained him, a member of the Order of the Thorne.
Developer: Infamous Quests
Publisher: Infamous Quests
Release Date: January 2016
Played: Full playthrough
Purchase At: Steam
I don’t usually review episodic games until after the season is out, but The Order of the Thorne is an anthology, so every story will be independent and each will have unique gameplay elements. So for the first time, I’m going to be doing per-episode reviews.
Finn the Bard, son of a famous Order of the Thorne member joins other hopeful competitors on the King’s Challenge, a yearly tradition held by the King of the Fairy Lands. This time around, his Queen has chosen to join the fun as the object of the quest. The participants must find and return her to the village of Crann Naoimh and her husband will grant the winner one wish. Aside from Finn there’s Snow and Red, sisters who act like a pair of airheads, a legendary hero, a gruff knight, the Chancellor of a nearby realm and what can only be described as the village idiot.
The Order of the Thorne: The King’s Challenge is a point & click adventure game in the same vein as the developer’s previous title, Quest for Infamy. You explore the Fairy Kingdom, talk to people, collect items and use them to solve what is essentially a single yet giant quest chain. One item and its use lead to more of them, paths opening, new avenues of investigation and eventually the Queen and your prize.
It’s an organic approach to storytelling and adventuring, leaving the pacing up to you and your wit, but also ensuring that you learn the story and about the world in the process. If you’re a fast thinker and outstanding puzzler, you’ll go through the game really fast, but you and the slower player will both have experienced the same content and come out with the same enjoyment.
The plot is simple and straightforward. You must find the Queen. But what makes it interesting is the number of secondary stories you involve yourself with on the way. Most puzzle chains involve solving one of the characters’ issues, from finding a lost harp to playing matchmaker for a good yet quiet man and his gorgeous and sweet Potion lady. The game’s ending points to the larger plot at hand, but The King’s Challenge drops hints to this development throughout the experience, so if you pay close attention, you’ll know what’s going on. It’s pretty nice and I hope to move forward with both the main plot and the individual ones in the next installment.
While there are inventory and conversation-based puzzles, Finn’s bardic ability brings another element to the gameplay: music. Using his lute, you can play various songs for different effects. It made me feel as if I were back in my teenage years playing Ocarina of Time once again, jamming on the Ocarina with my cheat-sheets to play the Imperial March and the theme from Beverly Hills Cop! So when the game prompted me for the difficulty on the Lute, I played it on hard, forcing me to remember the tunes and play the starting notes manually.
The Lute is another part of your inventory and sometimes it’s not an item you need to overcome a challenge but a sweet tune! Sadly, the songs have very limited uses, with one of them only useful at the end of the game. It would’ve been good to see more use out of them, perhaps with environmental effects. Another issue with the Lute is that it doesn’t recognise the songs if you don’t press the song’s button first. This means listening to a piece’s demonstration before you can click on the cords. It made things a bit slower for me and eventually forced me to set the Lute difficulty to Easy so I just had to click on the icon and play the song, as I didn’t want to go through it twice.
The King’s Challenge takes place on the Fairy Lands and it’s a charming place, with beautiful meadows, rolling rivers and tranquil fishing lakes. Most people are nice and they don’t believe in money, preferring trades or just asking for ingredients to make what you request. The areas, including the dangerous swamps, are vibrant and full of colour and life, and you can’t help but smile at some of the sights. The Sprites’ tree in particular is gorgeous and straight out of the pages of a children’s book.
The lands also have many references to folklore and fairy tales. There’s a greedy troll guarding a bridge, a mysterious ferryman asking for a single gold coin to cross, Snow and Red and the dwarf (aka gnome in the game) they pursue to help bring out the good in his Grumpy heart. The Fisherman has a Frog partner and there’s an old witch in the swamps who will tell your fortune. The Brave knight is also proud and foolhardy and the hero has a dark secret. These are all references to classic storytelling and I found that it added to the charm.
While this may be a minor point, and not affecting the game’s score, I disliked the fact that voice actors don’t pronounce the names properly. As someone living in Ireland for the past few months, I’ve been exposed to my fair share of Gaelic, so I can tell when someone is doing a terrible job of it. Every voice actor in The Order of the Thorne butchers the language. For example, the main village is Crann Naoimh, and they pronounce it as you would read it in English, when the Gaelic pronunciation of Naoimh is Neve–like Neve Campbell. There are quite a few of Gaelic names dropped with bad pronunciation and I cringed every time.
What does affect the score however is how bad the actors’ accents were. They all attempt pseudo-Irish or Scottish but the accents swing wildly from one end to the other. One of the characters goes through every Irish accent on the planet over the course of a few sentences. Accents are difficult to do, and you know what? You don’t need them. The important things is the delivery, the emotions infused into the performance, no how close the accent is to real Irish or Scottish. The actors are good enough, but the bad accents drag their performances down.
As it is a game with a bard, music is a constant thing and I loved it. It always made feel as if I were on a grand adventure. The city has a vibrant theme, with a nice beat that evokes the hustle of a capital. The main map’s, on the other hand, is akin to the music you’d find in classic Arthurian Legend films, just a medieval adventure jingle. It’s quite nice. The Swamp on the other hand is gloomy and the Isle of the Honoured has a solemn theme befitting a giant graveyard.
The Order of the Throne: The King’s Challenge is a fun game with a simple yet satisfying story that connects to a much larger plot we’ll uncover over the course of this season.
4/5 – Exceptional!