Signs of the has Sojourner the heart of an indie visual novel and the mind of a card game: he shyly approaches us to the charm of communication, and the bonds that flow from it. At the same time, the use of playing cards adds a fresh and strategic element to a traditionally not very interactive genre. But first let's take a step back, and let's see what the first effort of the Echodog Games.
When understanding each other becomes a challenge
Signs of the Sojourner is undoubtedly a game of difficult classification. It opens to the player with a colorful and imaginative style, and with a nostalgic and delicate atmosphere. A flashback from the protagonist's childhood accompanies the first tutorial, in which the conversation system is explained to us. Instead of having a list of possible answer options to choose from, like any visual novel, each dialogue develops in the form of a card game. You have your deck, your hand, and a bar in the center of the screen for you and your opponent to place your cards on.
To learn more:
Semiotics in video games
Each playable card has two symbols on its respective sides, which represent "the way" you are communicating; it is important to make each card interact by creating Narrative "chains", through which the conversation will be successful. This is where the fulcrum behind the communication in Signs of the Sojourner reveals itself; the goal is not to win the card game itself, but create a connection with the other inhabitants of the world. The character you are conversing with he is not an enemy but a person like you who is trying to make himself understood as much as you are. Playing cards with the right symbols and in the correct sequence will reward you not only with useful information, but also with new cards to add to your deck. Communicating also means learning, and the experience we draw from this exchange will increase ours "expressive" baggage.
The cards, in addition to the essential communication symbols, can also have specific abilities. These abilities increase or change the interactive value of the card in question, making them more flexible or safer to play. You can see them as compromises to which you come down so that your interlocutor can understand you even through expressions that are not entirely similar.
On the road ...
This system might appear very simple at first; or rather, that's what the game would like you to think. It is no coincidence that the first interactions take place with people whom the protagonist has known for some time, and with whom it is easy to communicate. These are all presences with which your virtual alter ego has grown, and with which there is little room for misunderstanding. In fact, the real challenge will come later, when the game world opens and you can start exploring it at will.
You will find that creating a network of contacts is an essential requirement, especially if you are a merchant in a post-apocalyptic world. Resources are scarce, and the communication routes between the various inhabited centers are risky and inaccessible. During your adventure you will be called to take part in a large caravan; you can travel the world through a handy map and go in search of goods and resources to resell once you return home.
The game calendar keeps track of all the stages of the caravan, and you decide how far to go. But be careful: the more time you spend on the road, the more tired you will get, acquiring the "fatigue" cards that will mix with the useful ones. Accumulate too many, and during the dialogue your hands will be filled with these unusable cards, inevitably leading you to fail every trade.
You can't conquer them all
Each new character you meet on your travels will inevitably have its own character; and, with it, a different set of "personality" cards. As you continue on the journey of Signs of the Sojourner, personality combinations will multiply, thus forcing you to modify your deck to include new ways of talking. After a certain number of mistakes, in fact, you will be denied the possibility of accessing new goods and important information.
Traveling enriches, you all know that. But above all, it changes us inside. Your deck is limited in size, and the further you go, the more you will be forced to choose what to forget of your past traits. If you are not careful, you will run the risk of returning home fail to communicate as well with your old acquaintances. An analogy that I found delightful, and definitely in line with the message the game tries to convey.
Signs of the Sojourner manages, with particular skill, to create a precious allegory on communication problems that we live every day. Not all characters are interested in talking to us. Our personality is not necessarily compatible with others. Growing up and learning also means understanding when the bridge we are crossing is interrupted, and forces us to take another path.
Limited by design
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The video game needs an identity narrative
Mechanics and narrative: these are the two elements that dance frantically on the screen, crossing each other and mingling with each other. Signs of the Sojourner doesn't just tell you about communication itself; disguising the dialogues in card games gives a greater feeling of participation than any other visual novel. But above all, it invites the player to use your imagination, a bit like when we were little ones trying to interpret the pixels of NES games.
The characters you meet speak to you, but how they will address you will depend on how good you have been at completing the communication puzzles. There is no middle ground, there are no shortcuts or saves to reload. The bailouts are indeed automatic, and you will be forced to live with every mistake you make. At the end of those three to four hours it takes to complete a run, your choices and unresolved doubts will remain there, crystallized.
... your choices and unresolved doubts will remain there, crystallized.
The game strives to make you understand that it is impossible to find out everything what it has to offer. The limited time, the inevitable communication errors, travel fatigue; and by design, you won't be able to see everything there is to see. You won't be able to get along with everyone, because your deck is limited in size. You will not be able to visit all possible destinations, because homesickness hinders your rhetoric. So is life in the dying world of Signs of the Sojourner.
A journey to remember, a journey that is forgotten
Here on Holygamerz things are done in a certain way. Yes, let's talk about video games; yet, we wouldn't think twice about closing the shack and puppets if we stopped seeing something di più. Taking a work, large or small, and taking it apart piece by piece means insulting those who instead wasted time, resources and soul to join those pieces in a magical all. It makes us feel compelled to narrate how we lived that experience; how it made us feel, which strings of our soul it touched and above all how it changed us.
It is therefore with a bit of a bitterness in my mouth that I have been forced to deviate from the intimate and personal nature of our criticism. Signs of the Sojourner it rests entirely on an allegory; and the video game here is not the end, but the means. I have not felt immersed during my travels. I haven't tried that Greek sympatheia that made me forget who I am and where I am. The characters followed each other in a frantic comings and goings without a real guideline, adding nothing to the experience but inflating it. Signs of the Sojourner, in short, gave me the concrete impression of being one spiritual tech demo of the creative intentions of Echodog Games.
Signs of the Sojourner gave me the concrete impression of being one spiritual tech demo.
Yummy but I'm full, thanks
The extraordinary severity of Signs of the Sojourner in submitting the player to his narrative mechanics however, it is certainly commendable. The coherence of its design blends beautifully with a colorful, simple and full of character aesthetic. The impression you will have will be that of leaf through a children's book, welcoming and friendly but with an important lesson to teach.
However, here, you will learn the lesson one failure after another. And with abysmal honesty, the game immediately tells you how many days you will have to complete the objectives set from the beginning. And trust me; when the last cross is drawn on that calendar, you will be left with a bad taste in your mouth. You will want to start it again, to try different paths, but you will realize that after all the story and the characters they weren't that memorable. You will remember that the dialogues were only interesting to the extent that you didn't know what they were saying. You will again have to endure the tedium of finding the best cards, or discovering all new paths.
Signs of the Sojourner, after a few hours, at the beginning of your forced second start, it will remain there, in that thin limine that so many know. The uncomfortable border area that assigns itself to something that surprised and fascinated us, but perhaps not worth reliving. Yet, the merit of the work of the Echodog Games deserves once again to be recognized; few times I have met such a mastery in combining gameplay and storytelling. This time they wanted to talk about communication; what will wait for us next time?Verdict 7/10 Its greatest qualities are also its biggest flaws. A brave experiment that everyone should try. Comment Signs of the Sojourner does not look at anyone: even at the cost of being frustrating at times, it marries gameplay and storytelling in a valuable combination. Although longevity leaves something to be desired, this small indie title not only successfully blends two very different types of games, but it does so with a creativity and clarity of purpose that are sometimes disarming. If this is the line that Echodog Games aims to follow in the future, we can not help but be optimistic. Pros and cons ✓ Totally original
✓ Difficult but intuitive
✓ Good replay value but ... x ... forgettable history and characters
x Some balance problems
x Short and restrictive