Paris 1313: The Mystery of Notre Dame Cathedral

Review by Enigma
February 2002

Ah, the Middle Ages! Loud, dancing flutes and lutes and crashing tambourines! Colorful costumes, stained glass, soaring cathedrals! Villains, friars, and lords and ladies! Intrigue and romance! Yes, here's another game from France for those of us who love medieval history.

Will we also love the game? It's short, coming on only one CD, but Paris 1313 gives us some lovely shots of medieval Paris. Golly, but the French are good at computer art. It has some fresh ideas about gameplay and a few nifty puzzles and, wonder of wonders, some excellent voice acting. For all that I'm giving it a thumb up.

If it didn't force all but the most clever, or lucky, player to watch the same scenes over and over again, however, I'd be more enthusiastic about that choice. I don't mind when a short game is stretched out by ingenious, difficult puzzles, but stretching out the hours through repetition isn't my idea of immersive gameplay. Alas, for all its innovation, Paris 1313 descends into tedium far too often. For that I almost gave it a rotten egg.

The Story

Paris 1313 has an interesting, strong storyline, but despite the game's subtitle it doesn't seem to have much to do with Notre Dame Cathedral. A character named Adam has invented the first mechanical clock at the behest of Phillippe, the King of France. In the opening cutscene, Adam falls from the cathedral. Did somebody push him? Adam's brother Jacques, an actress named Rosemonde who's Jacques's fiancée, and Pierre, an impoverished young nobleman, will try to find out what's going on. Also in the mix of characters are Agnes, Pierre's wealthy fiancée, Pierre's uncle Nogaret, who's a high official, and Brother Jean, a scheming friar who serves as the villain of the piece.

Brother Jean hatches plenty of plots, the real thrust of the storyline. What's he up to? We learn in one of the first scenes that in the past he accused Rosemonde's mother of witchcraft, and the woman was burned at the stake. Jean threatens Rosemonde with the same fate if she doesn't steal incriminating letters for him. Meanwhile, Pierre focuses on his up-and-down relationship with Agnes, until he too becomes entangled in Brother Jean's schemes.

As the game advances through puzzles, so does the story. On several levels you'll see the same scene through different characters' eyes. For example, Pierre competes in the archery contest while Rosemonde tries to steal a letter he's carrying. Brother Jean questions Rosemonde while Pierre listens at the door and Jacques eavesdrops on the same scene. Although we get even more repetition from these different angles, I still thought it added to the realism and intrigue of the game.

Gameplay

In Paris 1313, you play three characters, each with quite different personalities, which is a nifty idea. As either Pierre, Jacques, or Rosemonde, you'll have one puzzle to solve for seven of the nine levels. The game is so short that you'll want to solve all the puzzles for each character. Ideally, you'll do all three of the puzzles on each level before advancing to the next. The game forgives you if you can't solve absolutely everything, however, by allowing you to advance if you've solved only two of the three puzzles on a level. If you want to go back to an earlier level and tackle something you missed, however, you'll lose all of your subsequent advances. At the end of each puzzle you'll be transported to a graph that marks your progress. You can click on any of its icons to gain access to a scene.

You can save your game after each puzzle, but not within a puzzle. Therein lies the most serious flaw in the game. If you don't solve a puzzle on the first try, you can keep trying, but you'll have to watch the entire scene, from scratch, every time, into infinity. They're nice scenes, don't get me wrong, but after a few times these repetitions get old.

More repetition comes in some of the puzzles. You'll have to play a dice game twice, and unless you bet the farm you can play it all night. You'll have three, count 'em, three, archery puzzles. If you don't like hand-eye coordination stuff you needn't worry, because the archery turns out to be about the easiest task in the game. Yes, the game has a maze, but it's the easiest maze I've ever encountered.

Many of the puzzles are a cinch, but a few are real posers. One, wherein you're trying to remove the wax seal from a letter by heating a knife, I found to be actually impossible. Even after consulting a good walkthrough I couldn't do it, and your intrepid reviewer gave it over 100 tries. It was the only puzzle in the game I didn't finish.

Untying Rosemonde's hands, putting together a gorgeous mechanical rooster, and the final puzzle, completing Adam's clock, also will challenge you. However, you'll do all of this through trial and error, with no clues and not much thinking involved. Each time you fail you'll be watching the whole scene again. To me, that isn't puzzle solving. I want subtle, hidden clues, something ingenious to figure out, so I can say, "Aha! Now I understand! Why didn't I see that before?" Only a few puzzles gave me that sense of accomplishment.

That said, the game does have some innovative puzzles, especially one of the first. As Jacques you'll climb straight up a wall by moving each hand and foot up to different ledges, all the while listening to Jacques's heavy breathing as things get tougher. This one isn't difficult either, but I thought it was a clever idea. Later Jacques has to arrange small rings with partial inscriptions into a motto that makes sense, Pierre answers some riddles posed by Agnes, and there's an interesting decoding puzzle near the end of the game. I'm just not sure these overcome the tedium of the others.

Lights, Camera, Action!

In its graphics and voice acting, Paris 1313 really shines. Its 3D buildings soar with solid stones and bright colors. The furniture and wall hangings look authentic too, and the cutscenes display interesting pen-and-ink drawings that lend the game another touch of authenticity. Pierre, Jacques and Rosemonde are nicely done in 3D renderings, and Pierre especially wears a colorful costume authentic to the period. The game's medieval period music, played loudly, also helps you to believe you're really there in the fourteenth century.

What a relief to find a game that doesn't insult your ears with amateur voice acting. The actors in Paris 1313 handle the dialogue convincingly, with just the right touches of emotion. You'll be hearing them do the same dialogue over and over, of course, so it's lucky that the actors are good.

However, if you don't at least read French, you'll miss out on some of the plot. During the game you'll find two letters to read, and both are in French. The game offers you the option of reading subtitles for the dialogues. Why aren't subtitles available in English for these letters? Lack of language ability won't deprive you of learning what happens, but it dilutes the impact that the letters might otherwise have had.

I found the in-game encyclopedia to be rather intrusive. The type is tiny and superimposed on brightly colored backgrounds, making it difficult to read. You can access the encyclopedia right from the playing screen, by clicking on a book-like icon, and I often did that accidentally. I usually appreciate well-done encyclopedias, but this one left me cold.

Bugs

I played with a 500 MHz iMac and had some serious problems with the sound breaking up, especially in one crucial scene with Rosemonde. Her dice partner made several interesting comments, many of which were cut off, along with the subtitles. Often the sound seemed to begin later than the animation. Every time I tried to quit that sealing wax puzzle I'd lose my cursor, and I had to force quit in order to get out. Other than those annoying problems, the game ran fine.

My Verdict

I had a tough time trying to decide whether I liked this game or not. Certainly the fun device of playing three different characters, the interesting story, the well-done graphics and acting, and a few of the innovative puzzles stand strongly in Paris 1313's favor. Yet the tedium of the repetitive scenes and the equally repetitive trial-and-error puzzles had me gnashing my teeth, almost enough to overcome my enjoyment of the things the game did well. I had the impression that Wanadoo cut corners in order to get the whole game onto one CD. If you have a high threshold for frustration and love the Middle Ages as much as I do, you'll probably enjoy it. If not, be forewarned. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Canal+ Multimedia
Publisher: Wanadoo
Release Date: 1999

Available for: Macintosh Windows

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System Requirements

PC:
Pentium 133 MHz (166 MHz recommended)
32 MB RAM
High-color video card
Soundblaster-compatible 16-bit sound card
4X CD-ROM drive (8X recommended)
Windows 95/98/NT

Macintosh:
PowerPC 120 MHz (200 MHz recommended)
20 MB RAM free for the application
High-color video card
4X CD-ROM drive (12X recommended)
System 7.1 (8.1 recommended)

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