Love Chronicles: The Sword and the Rose
Love Chronicles: The Sword and the Rose opens with a foreboding yet lovely animated sequence that not only sets the stage for the game but also sets expectations very high. Does the game live up to them? In a word, yes. This lengthy, well-crafted fairy tale is easily one of the finest hidden object adventures I’ve played in a long time.
What is it about handsome, adventurous princes and the trouble that seems to follow them wherever they go? After banishing the forces of evil from a peaceful kingdom and saving the beautiful princess in Love Chronicles: The Spell, our nameless, ruggedly self-sufficient young nobleman sets sail on the open sea in search of distant lands. When finally he finds one, guess what? It’s caught in the merciless grip of evil! Isn’t it amazing how these things work out?
Anyway, long story short, the tiny island kingdom is locked in some sort of supernatural winter that’s turned everything lifeless and grey. But as the prince comes ashore, his ship wrecked by a crushing berg, he discovers a magical rose with the power to melt ice and free the glowing rose petals that are scattered across the land. Thus equipped, he embarks upon an exciting new quest to – you guessed it – free the people and save the princess.
The Sword and the Rose is very much an adventure game, and while hidden object searches are a big part of the action it will actually take a surprising while before you come across the first one. They become more common as the game wears on but the developers have done an excellent job of balancing HOGging with other types of gameplay, including by-the-book, inventory-based adventuring and plenty of puzzle solving. Variety is one of the game’s strong points, in fact, as the various game types are very well blended and never settle into a routine.
The game is very easy on the eyes, with a hand-drawn appearance that stays consistent and strong from start to finish. It’s a visual style that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to hidden object searches, which normally rely on sharp, photo-realistic images for best results, but it works out well nonetheless, with some very challenging HOG sections that forgo tightly-packed clutter in favor of fiendishly well hidden items. There are also plenty of animated interludes, some quite elaborate, that keep things lively and reward progress, and although there’s no voice acting the music provides a subtle, low-key and very appropriate backdrop. Even the in-game diary, although it can be a little confusing in spots, is a lavishly illustrated affair that’s one of the nicest I’ve seen.
Puzzles don’t require visual fidelity to succeed but they do need variety and creativity in order to avoid becoming a chore. Fortunately, The Sword and the Rose does a great job of avoiding repetition. Some of the puzzle types may be familiar but the mix is excellent and I found that the challenge level escalated remarkably smoothly over the course of the game. In the early stages I was positively aglow with triumphant pride in my puzzle-solving skills, but by the time things were wrapping up I was struggling to stay away from the “skip” button.
The game’s biggest failing is its occasional, frustrating failure to explain how these brainteasers actually work. A few times I found myself confronted with a puzzle that I knew how to solve but couldn’t properly manipulate because the mechanics of the thing weren’t explained and didn’t function in any way that I would call intuitive. Puzzles can be skipped after a timer counts down and a built-in strategy guide explains how to get past them the old-fashioned way, but players should never have to struggle just to interact with a game.
The Sword and the Rose is a collector’s edition that comes with a fairly standard mix of extras, including the aforementioned strategy guide and a surprisingly large number of wallpapers and concept art screens. A bonus chapter that brings a more definitive conclusion to the story unlocks once the main game is completed, which took me to somewhere in the neighborhood of five hours of relatively rushed playtime. That’s right, five hours – either I’m losing my mojo or this is one big, beefy game.
I’ve never played Love Chronicles: The Spell and Gamezebo didn’t review it, but the user reviews to this point have awarded it an average score of just 3/5, a thoroughly mediocre rating in the heavily-biased word of video game reviews. It would be a mistake to let the unimpressive score of that game keep you away from this one. Vendel Games has clearly learned its lessons very well and bounced back with a truly outstanding effort in Love Chronicles: The Sword and the Rose. You simply won’t find too many hidden object adventures that are better than this one.