The Novelist

So I thought it was about time I wrote my next review. It was then that I realised that I never wrote this review. Oops.

The Kaplan family has temporarily moved to new house, led there by the husband and author, Dan Kaplan, who is suffering from writer’s block. But it just so happens that the house is haunted by a spirit. But not the “built on an indian burial ground” kind of spirit. This is not a Stephen King video game (a.k.a. Alan Wake). Instead, it’s more the “greek muse” kind of spirit. Which is a nice change actually.

In The Novelist, you play this spirit, flitting from light bulb to light bulb, reading minds and searching memories to discover everyone’s desires influence the decisions of Dan towards the best possible outcome. But this isn’t just a story about Dan and his struggle to write a best-selling crime novel. Dan’s wife and young son have accompanied him to the haunted house. The wife looking to further her career in art while solidifying the family unit, and the son needing a change of scenery due to being bullied.

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By exploring all the memories, crayon drawings by the son, and letters and books around the house, you can discover the desires of each of the family member. It is then that you can influence Dan to act accordingly to support one of the family member’s desires, including his own. If you discover everyone’s wishes, and not get caught as you float around the house, you can also choose to compromise towards someone else’s desire.

This game is about balance. Balancing Dan’s writing career with the individual needs of his family while still maintaining strong family bonds. While I only played it through once, I got the strong feeling that there’s definitely better choices and compromises to make. You can form a limited idea of what the outcome from Dan’s actions will be and how you influence Dan probably depends on what you prioritise. Do you prioritise Dan’s book being a best-seller? Or prioritise Dan’s wife breaking to the local art scene? Or do you help the son make friends at school?

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The Novelist is simple, in looks and execution. There are only three characters and you never see yourself (or even if you have a material form). I did feel that there could have been a bit more effort put towards the character models, especially the faces, in order to feel a bit more empathy towards them. But, thanks to some decent voice acting and good writing, I don’t feel that the characters are as robotic as they look.

Rating Innovation

The Novelist isn’t doing anything particularly new and the story isn’t unique, but this doesn’t mean it’s not good.

Excellence

Choices matter. This is becoming a bit of cliché in games these days and only about half of thee games that claim this actually come through. Fortunately, The Novelist fits in this half as it’s entirely about choices. For what it’s trying to do, it does it very well.

Conclusion

The Novelist is a story about balance and despite being called The Novelist it is far from being just about that. It’s a simple, short play through, with limited, yet solid re-playability. I’m not sure if it’s worth $15 US, but definitely worth a play.

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Orthogonal Games
The Novelist is available on Steam, the Apple Store and their website for US$14.99.
The next review in about 4 weeks will be on Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist
Next time
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