Pentiment: when the journey means writing one's own story

Who I am
Judit Llordés
Author and references

“The first draft is just telling yourself the story,” if I think of the development of Pentiment, this is the most apt quote. To say it was Terry Pratchett, the famous British writer creator of the magical Discworld, an intelligent, incredible and surreal series, which deals with issues related to evolution and self-discovery. Every idea imprinted on a page, every sketch, every word and any other formula that creates a scene, that speaks of a universe and its particularity, it becomes an art that you share with yourself and then with others. This is how the memory of words is born, erected by memory and sensitivity, which in turn break into the lands of the unknown.

  • Our subconscious, on many occasions, imagines stories set in distant and forgotten lands, in dark and magical caverns. And sometimes those places, so remote but still contemplable in our imagination, somehow become a certainty on which to stand. The weight of the years passes and, at the same time, what someone is facing becomes mysterious. But darkness does not dull the mind, they can't scratch the past or even the present. Words have logic, and some of them, reciting an ancient proverb that someone attributes to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, hurt more than a sharp sword.

    In Pentiment, the new video game from Obsidian Entertainment, those words are like boulders that are hardly supported. A story that begins from nothing, in a distant world, which can be traced right back to the subconscious, between irrationality and fear, between doubt and certainty. Erasmus of Rotterdam, back from England, wrote: "There are two main obstacles to knowledge of things: the shame that dulls the soul, and the fear that, at the sight of danger, distracts from undertakings". Andreas, the protagonist of Pentiment, is not a warrior like Henry V was, nor is he a leader like Joan of Arc, nor a saint like Francis of Assisi.

    He's an artist, a young man chasing a dream and hoping to make it come true. He is a man who lives in the past, chasing a momentary peace, but he doesn't know the shape of it at all. Such a writing, if it didn't increase in pace, would be roughly obvious, yet the tale of Pentiment, created precisely to retrieve a wonderful past from history, it is the same that we could approach to the great novels of recent years. In this article, in fact, there is the desire to deepen the narrative and talk about the great inspirations of Obsidian Entertainment. We could start by citing various works of modern reading, perhaps mentioning Bernard Cornwell, Ken Follett and Umberto Eco, or Francis of Assisi himself and his Canticle of the Creatures.

    And who knows, even Thomas Aquinas (whom the production mentions on more than one occasion) could be pulled out of the hat, between ancestral, ecclesiastical ties and the present forged by Roland's greed, protagonist of the French epic poem “La Chanson de Roland”. Knowledge, on the other hand, is a useful weapon in complex moments. It serves to have greater contact with what is in front of you and how this can extend into different reasoning. This approach, chosen by the US team precisely to interface with different inspirations, works because it is a type of writing that speaks with simplicity of great changes and seemingly unsolvable situations. The hand joins another, the warm torpor of a body becomes necessary and, in the meantime, the story takes an ever more sinister turn. The story of Andreas MolerIn fact, they concern a historical period divided in two.

    On the one hand the past, with the most extreme examples of the Ancien Régime, while on the other the security of the Holy Roman Empire, still recovering, despite forty years having passed, from the murderous fury of Sigismund. Pentiment, in fact, is set between 1518 and 1543, in a world that did not yet know the Renaissance, but woke up more resolute, embracing the ideas of Martin Luther, the theologian who harshly criticized the Church of Rome and was burned at the stake some time later. And in Pentiment, as the experience progresses, one notices how this great change is about to reach every corner of Europe, up to the coasts of Northern Ireland, in Belfast. Sitting on the English throne at the time was Henry VIII, son of Henry VII, one of the branches of the red and white rose of the Tudors, younger sons of the Lancastrian branch, who had the courage to oppose the Church of Rome, naming himself head of the Anglican Church. The events of Pentiment, however, date back to the Holy Roman Empire, in the lands of Germany, on the border with Bohemia, which someone has already known in Kingdom Come Deliverance, fighting as young Henry, unaware of his lineage.

    Andreas Moler and Henry, be clear, they actually have very little in common. The protagonist of Pentiment, in essence, could remind someone of some protagonists of Ken Follett's books. I am referring, specifically, to the young Merthin Fitzgerald, protagonist of Mondo senza Fine, the second volume of the series dedicated to the Welsh writer's town of Kingsbridge. In Pentiment, however, there is no bridge to be built connecting one side of the river to the other to allow pilgrims to reach it. Here is a masterpiece that the protagonist, after securing money and prestige, must conclude.

    “Woe to those who will die for mortal sins” – Francis of Assisi

    The word "Masterpiece", which in the Middle Ages had an archaic meaning and derived from the Langue d'Oil, the so-called Gallo-Romance languages, referred to a lofty concept of a work. The term was even more popular, because every language was born in villages and slums, becoming something more concrete only when it was deepened in the texts. Spanish derives not only from the Florentine vernacular but also from the Sicilian vernacular, since he was born at the court of Frederick II, who knew ancient Greek, French and Latin, and was a great reader of Latin authors, as well as a calm and measured.

    Many citizens, as happened in the past with as many languages, began to use the Florentine vernacular in the form of a dialect. The famous Sicilian tradition, later handed down in Tuscany by those who lived at the court of King Frederick II, later defined the Florentine vernacular, with Dante who elaborated his critical treatise on the use of the language. However, it was with Pietro Bembo and Niccolò Machiavelli that someone began to consider the Florentine vernacular the only language capable of spreading throughout the country, although at that time Spain was divided into duchies, principalities and petty kingdoms.

    Returning to Pentiment, Andreas is striving for perfection through his work to meet the expectations of his master and the other monks he works with. Obsidian, taking care of the historical aspect in a careful way, has given a detailed tone to the dialogues, trying to make the experience as realistic as possible. The term "Masterpiece", coined in the masters' workshops, is in fact a proof of the pupil's maturity. If he passes it, he in turn becomes a member of corporations and guilds. At the time, there were quite a few and in Ken Follett's books there are quite a few, some of them headed by the most illustrious and wealthy men of the hamlet, borough, town or village. A historical work that I absolutely could not fail to mention, considering the great inspirations of Obsidian Entertainment, which followed a more mature and conscious style than his other works.

    These are peculiarities which, in a work of this caliber, allow us to understand how complex it was to be able to clearly have every detail well inserted in the story. If nothing else, this is precisely the great peculiarity of Pentiment: if it were a book, it would be an excellent book. What a great video game it is.

    The inspirations of Pentiment: from Ken Follett to Umberto Eco

    I admit it, the names I mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph are as heavy as the boulders Merthin Fitzgerald carried during the construction of his bridge. And if you think about it, Merthin and Andreas have much more in common than one might imagine. In Pentiment you can choose your origins and your life paths, and an element that surprised and captured me, reminding me precisely of World Without End, is when Andreas decides where he learned his art and honed his skills. In a moment of the Welsh writer's novel, the young Merthin leaves for Florence and here he becomes a rising star of architecture, building magnificent works. In contrast, Andreas, on the other hand, is an artist who reads and draws inspiration from the Spanish style, consequently deepening the knowledge behind the words, symbols and bright colors of the Florentine style. And he learns, as he works, to approach his style differently, developing more complex and better works.

    Speaking instead of the context, which is the most interesting feature of Obsidian Entertainment's work, the inspiration for "The Name of the Rose" is quite clear, considering that part of the events take place inside an abbey and a convent. And “In Mondo senza Fine”, in fact, there is a convent and an abbey at the center of the events of the second and third parts of Ken Follett's novel. However, the atmospheres recreated by the US team tell of dark, brutal and bloody moments. Not making you spoilers, just know that the story of Pentiment intelligently narrates the events of a constantly changing world, which now finds itself divided and confused. If on one side there is the Church, which is the basis of the society of the time, on the other is the nobility. In the middle, however, there are the people. Ignorant, unaware and scared of the future, he lives every moment with the fear of not reaching the Kingdom of Heaven and definitively sincerely with the Lord. Some people care more than others, but that's the point: in Pentiment one senses that the society of the time, more concerned with fulfilling the never-made requests of a celestial entity, he completely forgets who is really in trouble.

    He judges, sentences, doesn't feel empathy and hates anyone without distinction, treating everyone from top to bottom. Other than teachings of Christ and the Bible: the figure of Martin Luther exists to counter the power of the Church of Rome which no longer speaks for Christ, but for his emissaries. As I moved through the shadows of the abbey, gazing at the gargoyle statues, I knew full well that something was afoot that I feared might extend beyond those walls. Gossip is always on everyone's lips, especially in a village far from the big cities and the castles of the dignitaries, who only know some facets of the events in the less relevant places of their possessions.

    The abbey, which in this case is the nerve center of the various situations taking place in the production, it is a reference to the Sacra di San Michele, the place that inspired Umberto Eco in writing his novel. It perches on a mountain within walking distance, and at its edge is a forest covered with coniferous trees, conifers, and shrubs. And then there are the trees, which dominate a clearing illuminated by the sun's rays. While I was visiting the village, the forests and its pastures, the descriptions of the Spanish writer came to my mind, who had the ability to write an exciting story.

    In this sense, some of the monks inside the abbey are reminiscent of those from "The Name of the Rose", but in the case of brother Pietro, who is one of my favorite characters, the reference to my adored brother Philip from "The Pillars of the Earth” was inevitable and I smiled, because I remembered the thoughtfulness of that man who brought to Kingsbridge not only a cathedral, but also the bliss and holiness that in Pentiment is reached only at a specific moment of the experience, which I prefer not to reveal.

    When the Middle Ages of Pentiment speaks to ourselves

    In Repentance, as in many other works, you write your own story. The threads of destiny are inexhaustible and some of them, according to the Norms, are impossible to change. The fates, however, did not oppose when Kratos didn't care about their prophecies, so much so that he continued his journey until he reached the summit of Mount Olympus, claiming his revenge. In short, if a Spartan general can change his fate, because Andreas shouldn't? Life, according to Irma Vep, imitates art: the television series talks about how it gives a different perception of the world around us based on one's own experiences.

    In the Obsidian videogame, on the other hand, there is a world to be fully discovered and understood, made up of events to be fully experienced. And this is how the choices that are made happen, and here the player chooses who to really be. There is no intuitive interface where you choose your height, weight and facial features, but what has happened in your life so far. It is an aspect that I found intriguing, because it allows you to have control over your own existence, improving affinities, behaviors and experiences. My Andreas, for example, is a Latinist, a doctor and has taken part in long trips to England, knowing English.

    He is a cultured, attentive and curious man. The most interesting side of the work is certainly this: allow players to optionally outline their main protagonist, with its pros and cons. It is also the aspect, moreover, that convinces even during the discovery of the play structure in its entirety, better understanding what is hidden in the depths of the human psyche, devastated and darkened by fear. In short, recreating such a context could have been a big risk for the American team, but in reality I knew that he would be able to keep his writing commendable, surpassing himself once again. I had left Obsidian Entertainment in the far far space of The Outer Worlds, and I found myself in a period of stalemate between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance which involved me in a completely unexpected way.

    “None of us knows our end, or what hand will lead us to it” – King Baldwin

    Peace is not achieved easily. È necessario, sometimes, even sacrificing oneself before coming to understand how one was involved in a story in which it was better not to slip. Andreas is a protagonist who likes to be the center of attention, but it is typical of artists who chase a dream and hope to make it come true. A journey to write one's own is especially useful for understanding distant inspirations, stories and legends, some of which are necessary to listen to and share. Art is also this, actually: listening, patience and a lot of study. Sometimes it's better in company, and on just as many occasions the discovery can be faced alone.

  • Pentiment is a video game that, drawing from the Middle Ages and the period following the discovery of America, teaches to live with the awareness of one's means. This is his greatest moral, the only one that has the ability to leave you speechless through a gesture of a character. “We few, we happy, few”, Henry V said to Azincourt. And how to blame him?

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