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Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Review: Choices That Matter: And Their Souls Were Eaten (Nintendo Switch)


Review by Matt S. 

Oh, this game is good. This game is really, really good. The previous Choices That Matter title, released on the Nintendo Switch last year, was an excellent example of how pure text adventures can still be both relevant and compelling. This one, And Their Souls Were Eaten, has if anything upped the ante. This is brilliantly intelligent, interesting pulp fantasy, and it deserves your attention.

In what is by no means a short adventure, And Their Souls Were Eaten is instantly compelling. It takes place in a fantasy steampunk world, where you play as someone with the ability to "eat" souls. These soul eaters basically transfer the soul of the recently deceased to themselves and then, when they eventually die, they guide those souls that they have eaten to the afterlife. This ability forms the core of the religion of the world, and your protagonist is a reluctant participant in it all. Not everyone has the ability to be a soul eater, those that are uncovered are spirited away to learn the "trade", and our hero is desperate to avoid that fate.

On top of this, in the world of And Their Souls Were Eaten, metal can have magical properties, and there is an intelligent (and menacing) great white bear, Nox, that becomes a vocal companion to you at every step of the way. Before you know it, you're thrust into a grand conspiracy that has the highest stakes of all; the lives of everyone. There are a lot of narrative balls in the air, in other words, and it's to the immense credit of the writer that they're all balanced out beautifully so that nothing feels superficial or superfluous to the narrative. It's all there for a reason and adds something to a distinct and interesting take on the steampunk genre.


Just like its predecessor, And Their Souls Were Eaten is filled to the brim with a constant stream of decisions to make, and those can spin the story in some wildly different directions. It's not easy to do that and maintain the consistency of the narrative, characterisation, and make every branching path equally compelling, but that's exactly what has been achieved here across the 400,000 or so words that make up the entire narrative. It's gripping, deftly-written, real page-turner stuff, and a huge leap above anything you might have expected from the "choose-your-own-adventure" genre that these games draw inspiration from.

Some might look at the screenshots and wonder at why there's no visual imagery to accompany it. It's not that this game is nostalgic for the old text adventures like Zork, after all. It's actually very modern in both writing style and approach to gameplay, and there's no homage in there to the genre of yesteryear. However, visualising the game would have been a mistake. And Their Souls Were Eaten is pretty vivid and descriptive, and is really enhanced by the imagination, just like a good book is. I love the visual novel genre, but if you were to look at the writing in isolation, it's pretty clear that it needs the art to add the necessary visual cues and narrative to flesh out the words. And Their Souls Were Eaten is a different beast to that, and if the developers had have denied the player their own imagination, the overall experience would have been the weaker for it.

And Their Souls Were Eaten is incredibly interactive thanks to the sheer number of decisions that need to be made, and one of its best features is that it's also really, compellingly social. Because you're being asked to make so many decisions, and because the outcomes of those decisions aren't immediately apparent, you're going to allow your personality guide you, without any game-like considerations to the "right" answer for a specific result (at least, this will be true the first time). At the end of each chapter, a little results screen will pop up, telling you how many like-minded people ended up taking the same path as you. It's a simple inclusion that we've seen in many other games before, but in most of those games it's based on one or two decisions and so the results don't feel uniquely "you." In Choices That Matter, it is a dozen decisions (if not more) that leads to the results you get, and it's fun seeing whether you are making the popular choices or not as you play along.


Choices That Matter's big problem is that it's so easy to overlook, as it doesn't screenshot easily. A black screen with a paragraph of text, unfortunately, is not going to excite a significant number of people (you'd wonder what such people think of books, but you just know that a lot of gamers aren't readers). For those that do spot it and give it a go, however, it really is a special kind of experience. From the opening paragraph the atmosphere, tone, and structure of And Their Souls Were Eaten makes it simply impossible to put it down. 



- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb


Review: Choices That Matter: And Their Souls Were Eaten (Nintendo Switch)
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