by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Once upon a time…
Gather round the campfire, as I am going to tell you the story of a little indie game called Oknytt. Developed in Sweden by the four man team of Nemoria Entertainment, Oknytt (which Google reliably informs me translates to ‘Goblins’) is a point and click adventure game following the story of a small, nameless creature as it tries to find its place in the world. Nighttime is a scary place for anyone, but when it is inhabited by frightening creatures from Swedish folklore, only the bravest of souls will make it to dawn.
Our hero is a cute little furry fellow who, while he doesn’t look like much, turns out to be one of the most endearing characters I have played as in recent times. Coming into existence beneath a pile of stones next to a pond under a starry night sky, he knows nothing about the world. Naïve yet wary, he travels around the world searching for what it is exactly he has to do. With a seemingly insatiable desire for helping people, he encounters all sorts of creatures, from beautiful, fairy-like Alvor to the horrible Vitorm, a hungry snake creature. Oknytt is narrated by a single man sitting at a campfire, who does an excellent job of putting on a voice for each new being you come across.
The story really was beautifully written and narrated, and I confess I know next to nothing about Swedish folklore, so I contacted Max Nilsson, one of the designers on the game to learn more. “All of the creatures you meet throughout the game are spins on various folklore myths and stories, and we chose to keep the Swedish names to honour the source of inspiration.” The origins of the main character himself are open to interpretation, however there are hints in the game suggesting it has similarities to a certain creature. I wondered if the story was an adaption of an existing tale too. “The story is completely original by us. If it had been a classic Swedish folk tale it would not have ended happily in any way. Most of them are very grim and were often told to frighten children so they wouldn’t be reckless around water and wells, not to trust strangers and so forth.” In the menus there is a handy Lore Library which fills in as you meet new characters, which really served to further my interest.
Of course, to get through the story you have to solve puzzles to progress. It soon becomes apparent that our main character has a certain magical property about him. Ever present at the bottom of the screen are four runes, each one tied to one of the four elements of Earth, Fire, Water and Air. These can be clicked at any time to have some sort of effect on the environment, which can be relevant to solving puzzles, or can just be cosmetic. For example, activating a fire rune might kindle a flame for use, or the Water runes might make it start raining. It is a fairly unique option to have for a game like this, but eventually you just end up clicking each of the runes every time you enter a new area just to see if they do anything. Having a bit more strategy behind the rune presses would have probably been more entertaining.
It wasn’t long before I was losing strategy behind the actual puzzle solving too, sadly. Oknytt follows a standard point and click adventure formula; you speak to a character who needs something, so you go and find objects, combine them, bring them back and receive a reward which can be combined with something else to give to someone else. More than a few times I ended up systematically clicking everything in order to find the correct combination to continue. This is something that the majority of adventure games suffer from these days, but it is still frustrating to have an overly complicated solution to a seemingly simple problem. For example, the game wouldn’t allow me to give the reflective piece of glass to the Gruvfru until I had combined it with a stick to make a ‘mirror’.
Graphically, Oknytt is suitably bleak to match the setting. Most of the game takes place at night in dark locations like swamps and thick forests, or underground hidden from the moon and stars. The colours are faded to the point of being completely black and white, with the occasional splash of colour, usually related to one of your runes. There are nice musical flourishes, again often tied to runes, and while it is obvious that the narrator is voicing all of the characters, you soon forget and listen to conversations as if they are really happening. There are no dialogue options, but they aren’t really needed, and it allows the developers to tell the story exactly how they want it to go.
For a game with such a wonderful narrative, it is a shame that the gameplay to back it up is lacking. Oknytt is certainly not bad when compared with other games in the same genre, and even goes some way to providing some unique mechanical options in the form of the runes. However it still suffers from many of the same problems that those other games do. I would recommend checking out the story, and the best way of doing that might be to play the game with a walkthrough.
A beautifully written and narrated story.
Standard point and click woes of over-complicated problems.