Winter Voices: Avalanche Review

Written by Joe Martin

September 24, 2010 | 10:45

Tags: #avalanche #episode-1 #episodic #rpg

Companies: #beyond-the-pillar #indie

Winter Voices Review

As if things couldn’t get any more monotonous, there’s still Winter Voices combat to deal with – though it’s not really ‘combat’ per se. Instead, players spend their time dealing with hallucinations, flashbacks or dreams which are presented as turn-based combat on a square grid. Enemies are usually either shadows or small flickering blue flames.

In theory, Winter Voices handles combat in an unusual and remarkably fresh way. Players aren’t given much in the form of direct attacks and battles are instead won by achieving certain objectives – surviving for 30 turns, for example, so it’s something more than the usual shooty-shooty fare. As an idea it’s interesting because it represents the character repressing or forgetting these painful memories, while at the same time it makes combat more of a puzzle than an action sequence - it's all about planning the right moves.

Unfortunately, the bizarre way that fights are randomly dropped upon players without immediate explanation and the lack of interesting objectives means that combat quickly devolves into a clickfest. As in, we just kept clicking ‘End Turn’ over and over again, skipping through whichever fights we could as fast as possible. While the idea for combat sounds interesting, the reality is that it’s slow and repetitive. Enduring enemies is only preferable to killing them if you’ve got something fun to do and Winter Voices attempt to turn fights into puzzles doesn’t nearly qualify on that front. Again, it's painfully slow and dull even compared to other turn-based games.

*Winter Voices: Avalanche Review Winter Voices Review
The village well is one of the few things the game doesn't ceaselessly lecture about

It’s baffling, really. There are plenty of places where Beyond the Pillar’s competence shines through; the interface is both pretty and informative, the tutorial is efficient and the stats system which underpins the game is quite clever. Character classes are grounded firmly in the fiction and stats are all based around the personality of your character. Increasing your Humour, for example, improves your temperament, letting you shrug off both emotional jibes in dialogue and physical attacks in combat.

Other stats are more double-edged – increasing your memory lets you collect XP faster because you can learn more quickly, but it also makes battling your own flashbacks and hallucinations more difficult since you can recall them more clearly. It’s a well thought out twist on the usual difficulty choices, tying the available reward to the possible risk.

Aside from these few highpoints though, Winter Voices is fundamentally flawed in incredibly obvious ways. We simply can’t believe that playtesters didn’t flag the dawdling pace and stifling monotony as issues with the developer, or that the all those little poems don't add anything to the script.

We can’t understand why some parts of the game are so directionless either. One of the earliest objectives in the game has you, visiting three different friends and then returning to the local priest after your fathers’ funeral. You do so and the priest, still seeing you are upset, advises you to ‘get some air’. The objective listed in the top of the screen tells you to return to the priest, but every time you do she gives you the same old speech – go get some air.

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The artwork is quite pretty

Turns out that what ‘get some air’ really means is ‘Go to the woodmill on the far side of town, have a flashback, survive for 30 turns and then come back to the priest’ – despite the fact that the woodmill isn’t mentioned at all and isn’t a building you can actually enter. There’s not even anyone there to talk to, so the only reason to go there and enter into that combat is because, like us, you’ve walked through every other part of the town in a process of slow, boring elimination. It took us at least an hour and even then you didn't even have to win the inexplicable combat.*Winter Voices: Avalanche Review Winter Voices Review

We’d relate what our notes said about this particular turn of events, but truth be told we’d stopped caring enough to even scrawl down our thoughts by that point.

Winter Voices is not, we suspect, a truly terrible game underneath the painfully slow animations and superfluous, adolescent reams of text. There are times when the music and art-style combine to create something genuinely soothing and it’s obvious that there are some good ideas somewhere close to Winter Voices’ core. The downside though is that you have to wade through all the boring, repetitive and completely rubbish top layers in order to get to these ideas – and they aren’t good enough to be worth that kind of effort.

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October 14 2021 | 15:04