REVIEW: Saga of the North Wind

A text-based fantasy adventure using CYOA-style game mechanics, Saga of the North Wind is an enjoyably atmospheric drama, intelligently written in a style that brings to life the various situations, conflicts and characters encountered on your journey to reach the Valley of the North Wind.

Your tribe (which you can name as you desire) roams the Great Steppe – a land and lifestyle that is now under threat from the murderous sorcerer Zhan-Ukhel and his Tribe of the Black Wolf. This tyrant shaman seeks to awaken the powerful and ancient Chernobog – the goddess of darkness who will aid him in his desire to control all the peoples of the Great Steppe.

The gods Svarog (god of battle), Ziva (goddess of healing) and Veles (god of mystery) visit you in the spirit world, revealing the location of the mysterious Valley of the North Wind: a verdant and unspoiled grassland plain where your ancestors once lived. Only there, they say, can you hope to defeat Zhan-Ukhel and ensure the safety and survival of your tribe. You must lead your people to this hidden valley, constantly chased by the Tribe of the Black Wolf as they seek to stop your progress and destroy you.

I genuinely enjoyed the storytelling of this text-only adventure from Tom Knights, as the grimness of the landscape, and of your tribe’s menacing predicament, adds a realistic quality to this personal saga; a journey where your leadership will be tested on many occasions. After leaving your settlement of Tar-Domos, you’ll find that the game requires you to regularly manage personalities, loyalties and friendships within your tribe (using balancing stats to measure dominance, charisma etc.) and to determine your destiny via responses to situations and opponents met during your travels.

Your available responses do offer player choice, however, they generally fall into a few obvious categories: dominant self-importance, agreeable and fair-minded decision-making, or an aggressive and controlling leadership style. The game displays your choices as an ever-shifting calculation, which then determines future responses and actions by others. This system is quite difficult to interpret, and I was often bemused by the correlation between certain decisions and the resulting stat adjustments. Also, although you have a decent selection of choices – and therefore various attitude selections for resolving issues as you wish – many decisions made will simply lead to predetermined story outcomes, so true choice is somewhat illusory.

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The battles are all scripted events – your role is simply to choose individual actions/reactions or an overall strategy. This works fine for the majority of encounters (particularly the large group battles), but is less than ideal when you are forced to participate in a series of repetitive gladiatorial-style arena battles. These team-based fights (including training/resting periods) simply break the narrative flow of the story and offer only a dull and tedious stoppage to proceedings. A lack of depth to the game mechanics is unmasked during this extended episode.

You’ll encounter ancient, mysterious peoples and places (where your decisions can have significant influence over following events), and may accept or refuse assistance from the gods in situations where their unique abilities are desirable. This feature ultimately gives you control over the future of both you and your tribe, leading to an ending where your personal honour and destiny is challenged. Tribe members will offer guidance and counsel on your journey, and the group dynamics are quite interesting as developments shift the balance in your relationships. There are a lot of different approaches to shape the actual content of any one journey, so replay value is very high for further playthroughs.

Saga of the North Wind is a worthwhile investment for those desiring a tale of leadership, loyalty and betrayal, grand adventure and enigmatic gods from Slavic mythology. The unfolding saga of my character suitably captivated me throughout my time in this ancient land – a spiritual journey where destiny may be nothing more than an undesired reward.

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STORYLINE: A call to arms tale where you must determinedly lead your tribe to safety. Shifting loyalties and fluctuating fortunes will test your decisions, and the secretive gods will play their part. Conceptually strong in most aspects, you’ll face a range of tests that will deplete your tribe’s numbers and erode their faith in your leadership, and as you progress toward your destination questions will arise about the intentions of those guiding you.

GAMEPLAY: The simplicity of CYOA choices makes this an easy adventure to read. There’s no record keeping or map-making, so you’re free to enjoy the unfolding story. Battle mechanics lack depth, but ultimately work satisfactorily within the context of this game format. Options to play as a male or female, gay or straight (including a love interest).

PRESENTATION: Minimal in design and execution, you are presented with the text together with a hidden stats section, which remains visible on the left side when in landscape format on a larger screen. Neat and simplistic, it gets the job done without any significant embellishment.

REPLAY VALUE: Numerous choices to explore further on future adventures, leading to different alliances, events and outcomes. As this game offers a style of group leadership based on relationships, you’re likely to be somewhat keen to find out how alternative choices would have evolved the storyline, and where these relationship variations would then lead. A variety of endings are possible, so the replay value is very high.

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Review by Michael Reilly

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