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Seven years ago I received an email titled, “The game John is meant to review.” So I obliged, and discovered Driftmoon – a sweet, charismatic RPG, that lasted for a very welcome fifteen hours. The work of just two people, husband and wife team Instant Kingdom (Anne and Ville), it was a cheerful, if somewhat primitive, role-player that was clearly a labour of love. And I really liked it!
Seven years later, Instant Kingdom have updated it (for free to anyone who previously bought it) to the Enchanted Edition, which not only brings it to mobile devices, but also updates the graphics, interface, and a whole bunch of the quests and in-game dialogue. It is still, unquestionably, a clunky-looking game from a time long past, but once again I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing through its uplifting, enthusiastic story of saving the inhabitants of a moon from the evil magics of one Wizard Ixal.
That mean ol’ undead man has turned everyone in your village to stone! You were only saved when your mother pushed you down a well seconds before. And now, with the help of a young man named Word, and a very excitable firefly called Fizz, you’re off to try to find out how to save everyone.
What follows is in many ways a very traditional old-school RPG, albeit quite significantly stripped down in favour of being story-first. So while you level up, and pick between Strength, Agility, Endurance, etc, and while there’s a sapling of a skill tree to pick from, there’s no real character class or development here. You’re the bloke you are, and you’re mostly staying that way.
That’s not to say you don’t affect the story. While you don’t get a pool of companions to choose from, you do pick up a range of buddies to bring with you along the way, or you can ask them not to come along. More significantly, you can dramatically change the way the main events play out by the decisions you make, with calamitously bad endings available, alongside varying happy possibilities. Plus, like all good RPGs, it’s about how you choose to behave along the way.
It’s quite the most extraordinary thing for two people to make an RPG, even a relatively short one like this. It’s also fair to say that, more so than in 2013, it does feel rather rough around the edges, despite the various upgrades it’s since received. And yet, it’s so bursting with charm, and such a sweetly crafted thing, that you can’t resent a bit of it.
There are jokes that don’t quite hit, and the combat certainly leaves a lot to be desired – you click on an enemy and then it gets on with it, you interrupting to use skills when it feels appropriate. (It’s worth noting combat can be completely turned off, too). But as a piece of loveliness, Driftmoon shines.
That’s an odd criteria to judge a game by, I agree, but it’s so appropriate here. You can tell this is a work of love, and I don’t just mean “created in their spare time”, which it absolutely was. It’s also in so many ways an overt love letter between the couple, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out your character’s love interest might have a fair bit in common with Anne. Oh Ville, you romantic.
The game has had a small modding community since its initial release, and you can still explore all that has been added that way. Or mod it yourself now. Instant Kingdom are so supportive of modding that they’re still highlighting mods made for their 2003 game, Notrium!
So yes, this is some loveliness, and who doesn’t need some loveliness right now. No, it’s not a BioWare competitor, but as an indie project from a two-person team, it’s a real pleasure. Plus it features an angry royal panther.
Oh, and right now it’s half price on Steam, GOG and Humble, for the rest of this week, so get it!