Zelenhgorm: The Land of the Blue Moon
Episode One: The Great Ship

Review by Skinny Minnie
September 2002

As I gaze into my ageless crystal ball, I see that a certain first-person adventure gaming coziness will flow over you very soon. Moloto calls it Zelenhgorm: The Land of the Blue Moon. I call it Everybody's After Me in FMV!

Yes, there's nothing quite like exploring the languid, comely old fishing village of Senava while simultaneously being reviled, hated and hunted down by most of its live-actor population. It all begins innocently enough. You lounge away the morning in bed. You dawdle over tea. You take a congenial stroll out to your sunlit garden, where you are immediately attacked by an angry mob before your tea bag can even slip out of your left hand and plop onto the dirt road. Suddenly, everything from Uncle Johnny's toothache to the mysterious appearance of a gargantuan, abandoned ship that ran aground in your front yard is the fault of your evil left-handedness, which will cause the utter demise of civilization unless you are executed ASAP. "Wah! That big, evil ship wrecked our fishing nets on its way to shore and now we have no livelihood!" cry the fishermen. "The only thing we can do in the water now is drown you in it!"

Well, so much for that pastry brunch! While avoiding death and dismemberment and simultaneously begging, borrowing or stealing everything that's not nailed down, you as Arrikk Vaheirr of the people of Deyrec will begin to discover why everyone begrudges you every atom of oxygen you inhale. You will also slowly absorb the history of your family's veiled past while attempting to discern why the heck that humongous vessel has completely destroyed the glorious hedges you spent all of last spring cultivating.

You can save anywhere in Zelenhgorm, which I found comforting considering that ten minutes into the game I had already drowned, been imprisoned in shackles overnight, and had guards sent out to attack me so many times that I could draw a halberd blindfolded. However, upon reevaluating my willingness to actually finish the game, I began anew on a meeker path. You may actually play this inventory-based puzzle game sans violence altogether, should the thought of constant sparring make you quiver. A steady flow of contraband items provide the ingredients for stealthy break-ins and personal camouflage, while timed diving expeditions will yield you increasing amounts of oyster pearls (Senava's currency) to buy other things you deem necessary, if you do not drown in the process.

All conversations you have are with live actors filmed in full-motion video. Their comments to you are reiterated in bold text below the three-quarter-sized gameplay screen, and your replies are offered below-screen as well, usually relegated to several brief choices. Hey, you aren't exactly Mr. Popularity in town, and unless you're hankering for a fight and a subsequent execution, keep your indignant little comments to yourself!

The different actors' vocalizations are an odd hodgepodge of American, English, and Gaelic accents, but none are overdubbed. Most of the acting is good, especially in Arrikk's grandmother's case, but occasionally some characters are overtheatrical or wear too much makeup. Unfortunately, the blandest character appears to be Arrikk himself, whose British voiceover sounds quite young compared to his adult appearance and who usually shows very little emotion besides weak surprise. This contrasts unfavorably with the options there are for combat and for playing the role with a more aggressive conversational attitude. Cutscenes are extremely short and mostly relegated to merely watching Arrikk traipse from one forested area to another or viewing his dreams and visions of the past and future as he sleeps. While the dream sequences are enlightening and tantalizing for plot curves that are yet to come, very little is actually seen in the way of acting by Arrikk himself. He is a handsome devil in his own way, though!

The mouse-controlled interface incorporates fluid and gentle 360-degree panning, which can also be moved quite smoothly from floor to ceiling. For the most part, in a unique touch, Zelenhgorm's cursor only appears onscreen if an area can be traversed or an item or person interacted with. (You will come across a scant few areas where items require manipulation but the cursor never appears, though.) The left mouse button initiates walking when following the triangle cursor. If an item can be picked up, the cursor becomes a circle, and left-clicking adds the item to the ever-increasing inventory. The inventory bar itself only appears when called up with the right mouse button, and items delicately roll across the screen for perusal when the mouse is hovered over the right or left edge of the inventory bar. Clicking on an item in the bar brings it up for full screen viewing, and other items can be dragged from the bar and combined with the featured item even well before needed without repercussion. (Yes, this is how I make my way through all games—half idle experimentation and half accidental incidents.)

Ambient sounds are sparse but of good quality; gulls cry at the shoreline, bugs buzz in the brush, wolves howl in the night, and your heartbeat pounds louder and louder at every brush with death. Otherwise, orchestrated music is sparse, drums and wind instruments mostly only cuing your capture by guards or your untimely demise!

The filmed actors, who often sport odd knitted caps with antenna-like tubes on them, are superimposed upon the three-dimensionally rendered backgrounds. Fantasy garb in the town of Senava consistently harkens one back to nondescript times of old; simplified clothing appears hand-sewn, leather and ropes are hand-hewn, and browns, beiges and berry-dyed blues are the primary colors. Weathered wood makes up the bulk of the housing material; simple metal tools are roughly forged. Stones and statues appear hand-carved; worn, leather-bound books are hand-drawn. Mountainous landscapes are bright and crisp; water ripples in the seas and the sun's rays blaze across azure skies.

The more intricate carvings and books are indicated through the course of the storyline to be otherworldly, although no opportunity is presented to decipher these symbols or writings in The Great Ship, which is Zelenhgorm's premier episode. (Episode two, The Voice of Water, and episode three, The Dark Below, are planned for release sometime in the future.) For this reason there is quite an unfinished feeling to the game.

Mysterious crystals and spheres are also found both in outdoor locales and on the ship itself, which is so massive that it is quite impossible to do it justice via either screenshot or description! The 360-degree panning feature, besides presenting clues and puzzle elements both high and low throughout the game, accentuates the feeling of awe when craning upward to see the giant, fanning masts of the weather-beaten, wooden vessel run aground. It takes multiple clicks of the mouse even to walk from bow to stern, never mind all of the panning to get a full view at each stop. There is much to note and wonder at both inside and out, between the puzzles available and the lovely, age-old painted motif. Feelings of both spiritual peace and emotional upheaval do pervade this mysterious ship, which resembles little of the Nordic Viking lore you may have come to expect from Swedes. Inside the ship are elegant, spherical accouterments with attractive, fanciful detailing that contrast in their complexity with everything the Deyrec people have produced for themselves. Even the Great Ship's carpeting and furniture speaks of a level of development not appearing possible to native Senava. The worst part of the ship itself in episode one is that multiple doors cannot be unlocked; much of its exploration appears destined for later episodes.

The fact that this game can be played by following the character path of either a thrill seeker or a meeker gamer is indicative of the time and consideration spent on a well-rounded offering. However, the ending of this game feels like waiting for the other shoe to drop, and quite shortly after pulling the shoes out of the closet at that! I don't think it took me more than ten hours total to finish this game, even with head-scratching puzzles here and there. I did collect more inventory items than my local Home Depot hardware center could ever dream of storing, and a good portion of these were left unused by game's end, which really left me hanging. I do realize that two more episodes are planned, but paying the rumored $39 retail price per episode is a bit steep even for the three-CD package of The Great Ship, considering the reality of its short length. Perhaps once developer Moloto cements a publisher and a website shop, they might offer the package in a series of downloads at a reduced price to the broadband-enabled.

Zelenhgorm: The Land of the Blue Moon's premier episode runs flawlessly under WinXP, and its grounded and logical puzzles meld with the fine acting and seamless suspension of reality to offer an elegant full-motion video adventure game with an ancient folktale feel. I do await the second installment, not only to confront the many questions left unanswered, but also for the chance to make my fondest Zelenhgorm wish come true: I want to steer the ship! I want to steer the ship! C'mon, Granny, we're out of here! After all, I'm a left-hander too, you know … The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Moloto
Publisher: TBD
Release Date: TBD

Available for: Windows

Four Fat Chicks Links

Player Feedback
Interview with Michi Lantz

Screenshots

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System Requirements

PII 266 MHz
64 MB RAM
DirectX 7.0 compatible, 8 MB 3D video card
DirectX 7.0 compatible sound card
16X CDROM
650 MB free hard drive space
Windows 95/98 (Ran fine without the compatibility wizard in WinXP)

Where to Find It

 
   
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