Nothing ventured…

Surprise is a rare feeling for me to get from most games nowadays, but The Lost Crown is a rare breed of game—the kind that draws you in slowly, peeling away each rich layer of story, slow and methodical.  You are Nigel Danvers, treasure hunter and paranormal investigator, sent to seek your fortune—the ancient Anglo-Saxon crown—like many before you.  Atmospheric and steeped in mystery, the quaint English seaside town of Saxton and the surrounding countryside awaits your adventure…

Although “a ghost-hunting adventure” is indeed an appropriate subtitle for this game, I believe it’s also the thing that originally turned me off, and the reason why I have not played this game until now.  I finally decided to give it a go after seeing it so highly recommended here and here.  I remember a few years back, seeing The Lost Crown on the store shelves, and quickly dismissing it as some kind of cliche horror title with vague, simplistic goals of capturing proof of the afterlife.  And while it’s true that you will spend a good portion of your playtime doing exactly that, The Lost Crown offers much, much more.

For starters, the game features a large cast of extremely well-developed characters—both living and dead—all with distinct personalities, backgrounds, & (often tragic) histories.  The quirky townspeople of Saxton are generally a simple and kindhearted folk, but the small town’s more sinister residents (and past residents) are the kind you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, or say, in an ancient graveyard in the middle of the night! Every single line of dialog in this game is superbly voice acted.  The soundtrack is richly layered with Celtic music, ghostly voices, nature sounds, and a cacophony of eerie effects.  It never felt repetitive or uninteresting, and each location seemed to have its own auditory identity.  The starkly-contrasted black and white visuals are also highly effective in creating the overall mood.  Every scene features one small burst of color—such as the bright red of the phone booth, or the pale pink hues of the flowers—similar to those old hand-dyed photographs.  But whether its minimalist approach to graphics was a bold stylistic choice, or a result of budgetary restraints, The Lost Crown’s unique style oozes charm.

And I haven’t even mentioned how good the story is yet!  Saxton can best be described as a mystery wrapped in an enigma.  As its superstitious residents might say, “Not all is as it seems.”  Your adventure into the spirit world will uncover many grisly, terrible secrets, but it will also help some of the poor souls who are still lost and wandering.  The Lost Crown is equal parts scary and sentimental, and this, I feel, is one of its strong points.  There are plenty of scares, but plenty of tender moments too.  The game is also surprisingly long, but I say that to its credit.  There are far too many adventure games out there that are big on gimmicks and short on gameplay (cough, Still Life, cough).  The Lost Crown takes its time to tell its many related stories, and wraps them all up in an elegant package.  The game also boasts a good variety of creative puzzles, and although challenging, not once did I ever feel frustrated by them.

The Lost Crown is not flawless, however.  There were a few (minor) annoyances:

  • Inability to skip through dialog quickly
  • Too wide of a range on clickable “hot spots”, which can be cause for confusion
  • Nigel walks very slooooooooooowly…
  • Cumbersome inventory; you will walk around carrying 20+ things at any given time

But these things are all forgivable, especially considering the small size of the development team, led by the insanely talented game designer, Jonathan Boakes.  I loved this game so much that, before even finishing it, I felt compelled to buy the Limited “Pins & Needles” Edition of Dark Fall, Jonathan’s previous series of games.  Each edition is hand numbered & signed by the designer himself—I can’t wait to get my mits on this one!  And as for The Lost Crown, well…I will never judge another game by its cover again!

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