Review: Richard and Alice

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richard and alice

Richard and Alice
Price: $5.99
System(s): Windows
Release Date: February 21, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Owl Cave (Owl Cave)
ESRB Rating: N/A

Richard and Alice is certainly not a game that is meant to connect with a large audience. Many of the themes and issues present therein are catered to a certain niche audience that is, in all likelihood, quite small. Truthfully, however, to say that this game is intended for anybody would certainly diminish the primary intent developer Owl Cave had while constructing the timbre of their debut adventure title.

While playing Richard and Alice, it’s quite easy to see that Owl Cave strove to create a meaningful experience and unique world, without bothering to worry about what kind of payoff the game would yield upon release. As is often the case, however, passion does not automatically equate to a quality title; thankfully, Owl Cave has managed to craft a labor of love that is deep and thought provoking: even if it does take a few missteps along the way.

richard and alice screenshot

Imprisoned within

Richard and Alice tells the surprisingly dark tale of two inmates who occupy adjacent cells in the same prison. The two titular characters while away each day through conversation usually consisting of one character telling the other about him or herself and what life was like for each of them before they were incarcerated.

Through the dialogue spoken between Richard and Alice, we slowly piece together various truths about the type of world in which they live, and how conflicts outside their personal existences have influenced each of them in a manner unthinkable to someone living in an ordinary societal setting. Richard and Alice takes place in a world that has been plagued by a seemingly never-ending snowstorm that has caused much of society and governmental jurisdiction to collapse, leaving many dead, and the living left to survive in a Hobbesian state of nature.

The true conflict of Richard and Alice, however, is not the monumental climate shift, but the personal demons both Richard and Alice have chained within. As the duo get to know one another and discover more of each’s pasts, an interesting blend of companionship and ambivalent trust emerges that drives the plot through meaningfully dark territory, and develops the characters of Richard and Alice far beyond those present in most triple-A titles.

richard and alice screenshot

Confined to plot

By far the best part of Richard and Alice is its excellent narrative; both Richard and Alice are endearing characters explored through superb writing and excellent story progression that rarely grows stale or becomes uninteresting. Intertwined with the actual dialogue are a myriad of philosophical and ideological issues such as questions of moral relativity, explorations of ethical grey areas, and discussions of whether or not killing and murder are one in the same or, contrary to one another under certain circumstances.

To further cement some of these moral dilemmas, Owl Cave has given several nods to various classic works of literature and film, such as Blade Runner and Watchmen, that are delivered in the fashion of having Richard and Alice briefly discuss these works as if they were largely irrelevant to issues present in the game’s narrative: even though they apply greatly. What’s nice about the ideas and ethics presented in Richard and Alice is that Owl Cave is not trying to convince the player to take a certain position in regard to a specific issue; rather, they are posing the various ideas in question, and ultimately leaving it up to the player to discover and explore their own ethical stance.

Unfortunately, the gameplay of Richard and Alice itself is all but lost to the relatively massive amount of dialogue and plot. The game switches between current moments in the prison where you play as Richard as he solves various mundane challenges, and flashbacks where you play as Alice before her incarceration. Richard’s puzzles include things like crafting a pole long enough to reach the thermostat outside his cell, or finding a way to pass an item across the hall to Alice. These “challenges” are far too simplistic and straightforward to amount to much more than a distraction from the plot, and don’t really add much to the game. Alice’s trials, however, are much more interesting and exciting; her puzzles revolve around her trying to survive with her five year old son as they wander the frozen remnants of society in search of food and shelter. For the most part, Alice’s puzzles aren’t much more difficult than Richard’s, but occasionally you’ll run into a spot that will take some serious lateral thinking; it’s too bad that much of the difficulty of these moments, however, is due to poor conveyance on what must be accomplished, rather than through actual challenge.

Graphically, Richard and Alice is a pixelated, minimally styled game that is very reminiscent of an old DOS title. Unfortunately, this means that, on occasion, it is rife with many of the same problems of the era of games it attempts to emulate: such as the occasional item that looks like nothing more than a pixelated blob. However, for the most part I quite like the graphics; it’s a nice way to fuse a classic style with subject matter that is much more accepted in the current generation of gaming, and it creates a nice contrast that is wholly unique. Though, truthfully, I don’t really care for the character portraits that pop up next to a character’s dialogue; they are somewhat similar to a Norman Rockwell painting and just seem out of place and off putting to me; then again, I’ve never really liked Rockwell’s particular style. I do really like the sprites of the characters though.

For me at least, Richard and Alice is closer to a visual novel than a point and click adventure game; it’s just far too text heavy to be anything else and I can see this turning off more than a few players. The story really is meant to be the primary component of the game, however, and even taken alone is quite good; it is also made all the more emotional and meaningful when combined with the hauntingly beautiful and atmospheric music. My only real issue with the story is that it seems incredibly unlikely that in a world where society has almost completely broken down, there would be a fully functional prison with guards to run it; there was some insight into why this could be plausible, but it’s never really explored fully enough to make it seem like anything more than the developers simply covering their tracks.

richard and alice screenshot

The judge will now read the sentence…

Richard and Alice is not a bad game to be sure, but I think a lot of gamers will be disappointed when they discover that the vast majority of the game is spent reading. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with the visual novel genre, it’s just that it’s a very niche market and Richard and Alice has only been marketed as an adventure game, even though it consists primarily of text. Still, if this aspect doesn’t put you off, there is a very meaningful and unique narrative that is sure to be something that will stick with you for quite some time, and will probably manage to put a tear or two in your eye; it did for me at least.

Site [Richard and Alice]

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