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Jazz and Faust

Review by Skinny Minnie
June 2002

As an adventure gamer I have never cared for lonely, first-person, mechanical-puzzle Myst clones, obsessive pixel hunts, or nonsensical puzzles that have nothing to do with a game's storyline. I much prefer rollicking, story-driven adventures with unexpected tale twists, plot-propelling inventory puzzles, and an overall feel of mischievous fun. Having multitudes of gorgeous, exotic locales to explore and many nonplayable characters to interact with are definite pluses for me as well.

It is no surprise to me, then, that the high-seas hijinks of the whimsical, straightforward-but-not-always-easy, story-driven adventure game Jazz and Faust has me feeling that my ship has come in! It is a tale that sails into jail breaks, kidnappings, rescues, romances, harems, tavern brawls, wild-animal captures, slavery, bribery, run-ins with the law, and even an opium den, all with equal aplomb! At the same time, this game manages to remain genteel and humorous in the style of its two lead characters. All of its "action" scenes are completed via mouse-driven inventory puzzle-solving, with no timed sequences anywhere. This game actually presents itself entirely with a simple point-and-click interface that requires little coordination or reflexes. Jazz and Faust is one of the better new adventures I've played, in contrast to many others that have cascaded unfinished into the "probably never again" game pile all too quickly.

Although it stops short of becoming a personality classic like Anachronox, The Longest Journey, or the Broken Sword games, Jazz and Faust does offer warmth and humor amidst its romping chaos. It is a solid third-person adventure game with hundreds of objects to manipulate, over fifty NPCs to interact with, and ninety jaw-dropping scenes to go back and forth between that change from daytime to nighttime.

Double Trouble

It also has a plot device that has never been used to such an extent in any other game I have come across; this device is actually one of Jazz and Faust's biggest strengths. Two very differently motivated characters travel through similar locales at similar times but from very different perspectives. Their unique stories slowly weave in and out of each other's and their paths even cross in certain instances. Their lives also intertwine with a larger, looming tale of family treachery, treasure, greed, curses, regret, lust, and loves lost and found. You as the player will slowly uncover the truth of this larger tale and bring to rights the foul deeds of the past, but it will take playing twice through the game, alternately as Jazz and Faust, to do it. Just seeing each character's ending alone is worth the time put into playing the game!

There are two distinctly different paths through this game that you experience as you play each of the two lead characters through to game's end in turn; it is your choice whom you wish to play as first. I chose to begin as Jazz, the treasure-driven, incarcerated thief and smuggler. That left honest, lovelorn sea captain Faust for the second round. The larger back story affects both characters; it just causes very different reactions and ideas in each of them because of who they are as people, and makes one's play through the adventure quite unique from the other's. Jazz and Faust are each controlled in successive, straight passes right through the game, the switch-off of characters being triggered by an unexpected and amusing plot twist at the end of your first character's trip through the adventure. Although Jazz and Faust visit similar locations, their plot progressions, inventories, and the NPCs they meet are quite varied for each character, even though everything is ultimately woven into one larger yarn. You will visit Old England-like towns, Turkish bazaars and palaces, underground mines, deserts and tropics, but there is no traipsing through 95% of the same story and puzzles over again just to see a different cutscene at the end of this game, I can assure you!

Some of the locales Jazz visits are completely different than Faust's and vice versa. Some of the chaos created by Jazz in his run through the game is reflected in newspapers and NPC actions during Faust's travels, too. Jazz and Faust even meet up with each other at certain spots, although comically, Jazz's version of events sometimes differs from Faust's view of what happens there!

Many of the inventory pickups are woven quite well into both stories too, instead of being that ridiculous gaming situation where your character blatantly grabs everything in sight for no apparent reason while onlookers don't even appear to notice. In Jazz and Faust you've got to sneak around unobserved to take something you might need, trick or distract someone to get something, move about in disguise, or make sensible trades. Showing NPCs various inventory items often meets with quite differing responses—some helpful, some funny, and some moody! At times, they will even take you to task if you try something stupid, and your lead characters will comment about it as well. Both Jazz and Faust also give distinct explanations for picking up many of the things they take, especially on questionable pickups. Faust, for instance, takes a broken claw from a large scorpion he just conquered, saying, "Well, I'd better take this as a souvenir or no one will believe this happened to me!" Of course, you may wind up using said claw somewhere entirely different, but the initial explanation is a nice touch. I especially like that Jazz's character is a thief to begin with, his chosen field woven right into some of his inventory additions. Jazz also apologizes when sneakily acquiring necessary objects, promising here or there to attempt to return them, albeit "someday, if I get the chance." Probably the nicest feature of all, though, is that items that are no longer needed stay where they are last used. Although inventory is constantly changing, there is never a bulk of useless junk to lug around or scroll through!

Well, You'd "Rather Not Do That" Yet, Jazz, but I Would!

In many cases, care appears to have been taken not just in the logical acquisition of inventory, but also in the correct timing of its pickup or use. At first, this "everything has a time and a place" method of adventure gaming really drove me nuts. I have been brainwashed since the advent of the 1980s text-parser adventure games into inexplicably behaving like an unabashed kleptomaniac, with the uninhibited ability to try using said stolen items whenever I want to. Not that it gets me anywhere, you understand, but few games have actually stopped me from even identifying, picking up or using certain things until there was a clearcut reason to do so. Now, I do realize that most adventure games have always been linear in their progression paths. Actually, as adventure elements have invaded other genres like action games and RPGs, they too have adopted the "one must have inventory item A to successfully complete Quest 1 and continue to Quest 2" mentality as well. Jazz and Faust merely adds a new twist, called "no inventory item shall be manipulated before its time." Jazz walks by a ladder leaning up against a house. (I immediately shriek, "Climb it, climb it, climb it!") He won't climb it because there is no reason for him to. He is able to get to the top floor of the house by being invited inside, and there's nothing up there he needs at this point anyway. ("Well who cares, just climb it, dammit!") After a bit of scenic trekking including NPC conversations and inventory discoveries, alas, the blasted ladder finally reenters my mind as a viable path with a useable inventory item above it that requires fetching. Subsequently, Jazz amiably agrees to climb up.

Of course, the golden rules of adventure gaming do apply in Jazz and Faust as well. Say Jazz is extremely stuck, sans story progression, banging his head on an infamous door where nothing ever changes no matter what Jazz tries in that evening scene. This situation is purely hypothetical, I assure you. The hypothetical gamer who buys the game the very day it hits store shelves knows damned well, err, darned well that there are no walkthroughs available yet. She therefore heads for the gaming forums seeking hypothetical help or Valium, whichever she can find first. What exactly does she encounter? Oh look, it's a seven-car pileup of Jazz and Faust gamers surrounded by loud, in-unison "thumps" of multiple Jazz characters thudding their collective heads against identical doors ... ("Oh man, did I miss something during the day in town? Oh no, all of my saves are at nighttime scenes! What if I have to start the whole game over? No, no, it must be a bug! A big, fat, horrible gaming bug ...") Is it a bug? Well, for a certain hypothetical gamer, she finally discovered by revisiting an earlier scene that she was merely missing the boat on one inventory item and a second round of conversations with certain NPCs. Naturally, those discoveries would go on to trigger additional events. I guess you could say that might "bug" her, hypothetically speaking.

Walkie Talkies

You merely move your cursor around to interact with the game world. The stationary arrow moves a character around within a scene, and double-clicking makes him run at a spanking pace. The cursor becomes a swinging spyglass if something can be examined, a hand if an object can be picked up, a yellow dragon if conversation is possible, and a compass where you can move to another scene. Right-clicking brings up a large but very simple inventory screen (see the last screenshot for an example), and one item at a time can be scrolled through with the left and right red arrows. To use an inventory object, just left-click on it, and it will show up on the bottom right of the screen as the main large screen disappears. Then just click where you want the item to be used. When you pick up new items, they will briefly appear in the upper left corner of the screen before disappearing into inventory.

You may save the game wherever you like; I would only use five of the save slots, and keep covering them over. F5 and F6 keys function as Quick Save and Quick Load, if you don't feel like typing in save descriptions or using separate save slots. Hitting the escape key brings up the main menu, from which you may save, load, and also exit the game altogether. There is an auto-save feature that continually saves over itself at the start of new locales and it has its own separate slot, so you may still be okay even if you are the lazy type and you run into trouble.

Even though the dialogs aren't as long as they could have been and feel somewhat empty at times, both plots have a lot of surprises just the same. The conversations in Jazz and Faust are indeed short, but many adventure games that have multiple choices in dialog must be hacked through only to find that many of them have no effect on the story anyway. I like choices if it pivots the game in a different direction or ending depending upon which choice you make, but not so much if it doesn't. Much as I love April Ryan, The Longest Journey just has too much extraneous gabbing for me!

Jazz's stealthy personality, voice, dry wit and genteel manner remind me somewhat of Rent-a-Hero's humorous Rodrigo. Jazz's voice acting is quite good too. Many of the other NPCs' voiceovers were decent as well, running the gamut from Oriental tradesmen and Turkish royalty to elderly American widows and Gaelic barroom brawlers. Faust, however, has a mostly monotone voiceover that really falls flat. He verbally presents an uninspiring contrast to Jazz's more lively and natural performance, even though Faust's character is the one more prone to bold fighting and occasional swearing. Faust's voice acting is one of the main reasons that this game's grade is a thumb up and not a star.

The other reason for the dent in grading regards self-publisher 1C's translation of the game from its native Russian into English, much as I am grateful for the effort as this is the only way I could possibly experience their game. Here and there the English phrasings are overly simplified or odd, although, that said, it is still quite clear what needs to be done throughout the game. I turned on the optional text dialog for many of the screenshots so you can get a feel for the conversation quality yourself, but I do wish I spoke Russian so I could experience the game in its original and intended form and hear Faust's original character voicing as well. Of course, this statement comes from the gal whose bilingual capabilities are limited to writing English gaming reviews from her "el desko." Nonetheless, I did take a trip to 1C's Russian homepage, which enlightened me as to the difficulty of this translating task.

Drugs and "Hookahs"

Actually, the only major conversational confusion I had in the whole game had precious little to do with the translation and everything to do with my inexperience inside of Turkish opium dens. At one point, one of the NPCs therein remarked to Jazz that he was stressed out and needed a "hookah!" Once I was able to get up off the floor and back into my computer chair, I decided to do a tiny bit of web research. Hence, I was able to blot out my original "red light district" thoughts and learn that hookahs are Turkish water pipes that function as smoking devices for whole-leaf, wet tobacco. They are lit with hot coals held in metal tongs. Congratulations, for now you know everything I will ever want to know concerning opium dens.

Nothing to Bug You in the Background

Tiny visual touches such as bugs buzzing around lit lanterns, smoke piping out of chimneys, gorgeous, rippling azure waters, and squawking turkeys wandering the marketplaces all show remarkable attention to detail. Owls soar across the night sky, NPCs wave fans in the heat, and anchored ships have sails that flap gently in bay breezes. Graphic details and textures are incredible. They reflect smooth glass, puffy clouds in streaky blue skies, cracking plaster walls, grainy woods, marble tiles, shiny brass, and rusty, beaten, jail cell bars. Similarly to The Longest Journey, though, the blocky character models don't look as good as the backgrounds.

Character movement is quite fast if you double-click on where you want to go instead of single-clicking for a slower character gait. I would say that Jazz and Faust's movements are visually typical of many third-person games, except if you compare them to something like the third-person character gait in Morrowind—then both Jazz and Faust become poetry in motion by comparison. Faust especially does have the quirk of brushing off his pants if you leave him standing around, though. Scene changes load extremely fast; turn away or blink a couple of times and you're in a different locale.

The synthesized, new-age music is relaxing, positive, and original to the game. It is refreshing not to hear the stereotypical "yo-ho-ho" seafaring tunes one would usually associate with a sailor's game. Sound effects are actually quite good as well. Wooden boats creak when anchored in harbors, change clanks as it goes into pockets, water laps upon shorelines, and footsteps change tone depending upon whether they are passing over sand, stone, or wood. Even the cursor icons have audible reminders; the hand icon offers a dual clicking sound that alerts you further to inventory items lest you miss the visual cursor change, and the swinging light cursor sounds a bit like an electric guitar's wah-wah pedal. Voices, sound effects and music can all be lowered or raised in the options menu, and shadows and video options can be adjusted there as well.

Time and Timing

It took me about 14 hours to finish Jazz and Faust, but Jazz's side is more complex and time-consuming than Faust's side, which has puzzles that seem too straightforward and easy. However, obsessive pixel hunting, mazes, timed sequences, and sliding tile puzzles are nowhere to be found in Jazz and Faust, making it a little more unique in today's adventure gaming landscape. The droves of inventory puzzles that it does offer mostly make sense and are organic to the story; as movie cutscenes are almost nil, it is the puzzles that actually move the story forward almost continually. Having to wait until an action makes sense or waiting until you are actually requested to do something before you do it does add a sense of logic to the game, once you get the ants out of your pants at any rate.

Windows XP did play Jazz and Faust without one single crash or freeze on my Athlon XP 2100+ system with an ATI All in Wonder 8500 128 meg DDR video card and 1 gig of DDR system RAM. I have heard from one WinXP player, though, who mentions one spot in Jazz's travels and one spot in Faust's where if you move them to a far corner, each character gets stuck there and can't get out. I have not encountered that myself, though.

So much care has been taken in the graphics, sound, puzzles, and explanations of story and inventory in Jazz and Faust that I find it hard to believe the language barrier hasn't affected the depth and translation of the exact dialogs into English in a negative fashion. Still, if you like sweet, genteel heroes who absolutely cannot die and humorous, third-person adventure games filled with inventory puzzles and devoid of gore, it's certainly worth the price of admission. The End

The Verdict

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The Lowdown

Developer: 1C Company
Publisher: 1C Company
Release Date: June 2002

Available for: Windows 

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System Requirements

Windows 95/98/2000/XP/Me
DirectX 8.0
Pentium II 300 MHz (Pentium 400 MHz recommended)
32 MB RAM (64 MB RAM recommended)
8X CD-ROM
4 MB 3D video card (16 MB 3D video card recommended)
16-bit stereo DirectX compatible sound card

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