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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: Keepsake

Keepsake (Game release date: 2006)
A well-written and moving story, peppered with interesting puzzles, but bogged down by slow and overly passive gameplay.

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Highlights: Interesting plot, good puzzles, magical exploratory feel Lowlights: Slow and repetitive gameplay, no interactivity at all

Keepsake is a game I should have enjoyed a lot more than I did. The plot piqued my interest, the puzzles were worthwhile, the set design was evocative and the overall feel was somewhat Mystlike. Unfortunately, this game is so darned s-l-o-o-o-o-o-o-w that it's hard to have fun during all of it. I'm someone with a fairly high tolerance for slow pacing and long, ponderous dialogues (I loved The Longest Journey, for example) and even I felt like banging my head on the wall during Keepsake. It's simply too long, too slow, and too passive-- and the interface doesn't do it any favors by adding on lots of unskippable animations, either. The magical mood and interesting plot would have been enough to see me through 20 hours of this game, but Keepsake was nearly twice that long, and the magic had worn off by then. This would actually have been a better game if it had been a lot shorter-- there just wasn't enough interesting material here to support so many hours of play.

Still, if you have a good supply of patience, there is much to like in this game. Keepsake isn't boring, it's just slow. The plot is satisfying and emotionally affecting, and it's refreshing to play a graphic adventure game once in a while that gives you actual puzzle mechanisms to explore rather than just handing you sheafs of silly inventory puzzles.

Style: Keepsake is a third-person puzzle-adventure game with a point-and-click interface. You control a single character for most of the adventure, a magical apprentice named Lydia, though you do get to switch to controlling a side character with even for a few puzzles. The plot is a mystery adventure and there are fantasy themes. The game is untimed and no manual dexterity is required. Combat and leveling are not elements.

Series: Keepsake is a stand-alone game that is not part of a series.

Finding Keepsake: This is a relatively recent game which can still be found in many software stores. Here it is for sale on Amazon. If you're a fan of graphic adventure games in general, this is one of the games included on the Adventure Collection DVD, so you could pick up five decent-quality adventure games for less than $20.

Getting Keepsake to Work: I did not encounter any installation or gameplay problems with Keepsake. It isn't technically compatible with Vista (hardly any games released before 2007 are), but will even run tolerably there if you use XP compatibility mode.

Hints For Keepsake: I do not have a page of Keepsake hints at this point, and given how thorough the in-game hint system is, I'm not sure one is necessary. If you ever get confused about what the correct next task to complete is (which can be an issue in a game as linear as this one-- sometimes trying to complete tasks out of order only wastes your time), all you need to do is click the hint button and it will tell you where to go next. There's also an in-game graduated hint system for puzzles-- every time I tested it, the first hint explains the goal of the puzzle without telling you how to solve it, so that's a great way to get started on a confusing puzzle without spoiling it for yourself. There is also a good hints page at UHS which reveals only one hint at a time, so you won't accidentally learn the answers to future puzzles while scanning for the one you're stuck on.

Game Length: Around 40 hours. Since much of this time was spent waiting or walking slowly across the same scenes, it dragged quite a bit.

Age-Appropriateness: Keepsake is rated E (for everyone 6 and up), and I agree with this rating: there is no sex, violence, or bad language in this game (though some parts of the plot are rather sad.) In practice though, this is not a game I would get for kids unless they are already diehard fans of the puzzle-adventure genre. Some of the puzzles in here would definitely be too frustrating for children younger than 12, and the glacial pace and lack of anything resembling action would have trouble holding the attention span of most young kids.

Lora's Keepsake Review: (Pretty Good)

Plot and Quests: The plot is very good but the player's role in it is extremely passive. Most of what you're trying to accomplish here is just getting the main character to SEE things, not affect them or figure them out.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: The puzzles are a real strength of Keepsake's. There are no "what inventory item can I use on this door" exercises, and no "if I give the policeman a rubber chicken it will make him shoot his revolver in the air for no predictable reason" contrivances. They're almost all real puzzle mechanisms to be explored, manipulated, and solved. The quality is somewhat inconsistent (some of the puzzles are stupidly easy and others make no sense at all), but Keepsake definitely gets an A for effort here.
Characters: You play a pre-assigned PC in Keepsake, a magical apprentice named Lydia. Her conversational options are fixed--you don't have the option of choosing her reactions to things the way you can in more interactive games like The Longest Journey. Though the player has no input into it, it is still interesting to watch the characters of Lydia, her old friend Celeste, and her new companion Zak be developed.
Gameworld: Keepsake is set in an wizards' academy in a magical fantasy world. Though the mystical ambience and lonely feel of the place are very nice, the scope of the explorable world is very small (only one building, long and carefully decorated though its hallways may be) and the vanished inhabitants have left behind no traces of a unique culture to captivate the player's imagination the way similarly depopulated games like Riven managed to do. This could essentially be any magic school in any D&D-type world.
Gameplay: This is where Keepsake really suffers. There are exceptionally few actions you can actually direct Lydia to take. Most modern graphical adventures spend too much of the player's time listening to the character talk and watching her walk around, but in Keepsake, it's almost all there is to do. You wander aimlessly from place to place solving puzzles until Lydia is rewarded with a vision that shows her part of what's going on in the plot; lather, rinse, repeat. You can't even initiate conversations with your lone companion Zak-- Lydia will randomly converse with him herself if you stand still and wait long enough, choosing her own topics of conversation and reacting to the things he says with no input from you.
Interface: The interface is a basic point-and-click affair. It is serviceable with no major flaws, but the gameplay problems noted above are exacerbated by the slow walking speed of the main character, lack of movement shortcuts, and inability to skip animations (including conversations-- you can skip a line of dialogue but must still wait for the conversation animation to slowly conclude before you can move again.)
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The setting is lovely and evocative, and the cutscenes, though not as visually impressive as the ones some games feature, are well-designed and often emotionally stirring. Except for one annoying minor character, the voice work is serviceable, and though this game was clearly not originally written in English, the translation is good with only a few jarring moments.

Lora's Recommendations: I recommend Keepsake to patient adventure game fans who appreciate a slow-paced gaming experience. The puzzles are well-done and the plot really does hold your interest. If you prefer action in your games, though, you'll want to stay clear of Keepsake; except for solving the aforementioned puzzles, you will spend most of the game passively nudging the plot to continue unfolding.

If You Loved Keepsake: Then you should play the Myst series if you haven't yet. These classic first-person puzzle adventures feature the same kind of hands-on puzzle-solving and exploratory feel Keepsake does, set in highly innovative gameworlds. Another game that might be worthwhile for you to check out is Schizm, another rather slow-paced supernatural mystery adventure featuring innovative puzzles. If it was the plot and the poignant feel of Keepsake that really appealed to you, then I recommend The Longest Journey and Syberia, two artistically evocative graphic adventures about young women discovering themselves (The Longest Journey is better-written, while Syberia has better visual art.)

For a more detailed critique of the game involving spoilers, plot holes, and impacts Keepsake could have on the adventure-game genre, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Happy gaming!

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