The Fool and His Money: The Seventh House

Today, let’s look a little at what lies between the mainline puzzles and the endgame that I’m still working on: the Seventh House. When I first started seeing this phrase used in the story text, I didn’t recognize it, but it turns out it was in front of me all along, in the title bar of the puzzle menu. The building depicted there, with its seven stained glass windows, presumably is the house itself, which the player sneaks into through the windows to access the puzzles there. Despite being non-obvious, these puzzles are just as essential to unlocking the Moon’s Map as the ones in the main sequence.

The Seventh House repeats itself sevenfold in both story and plot. There seven windows lead to four layers of pages, each available only after the previous layer is complete. Each layer contains seven iterations of a new type of word-building puzzle, and seven repetitions of similar events. In the first layer, the Fool eavesdrops on the Prince meeting with someone helping him, under duress, to spread his bewitchments through the lands. In the second, the Fool is ejected from the house and meets seven strangers, each of whom entrusts him with a key in exchange for Wordage before being captured by the Prince’s guards. In the third, the Fool once again eavesdrops on the Prince as he searches his seven captives for their keys, then destroys them. And in the fourth, even more disconnected from the narrative than the first three layers, the Fool confronts the seven mysterious and powerful beings through which the Prince worked his magic, and defeats them. Between these layers, the game indulges in fourth-wall-breaking trickery. There’s a puzzle hidden in the Seventh House page, another in the credits (or rather, the “compendium of true believers”, a list of the people who pre-ordered early on and never canceled), even one that pretends to exit to the main menu and erase your save.

Now, I find the third layer particularly troubling. The way the prince destroys people is, essentially, by abstracting them — turning a person’s silhouette into a mere wobbly shape with roughly the same contour as the original person, which then flattens to the ground. This seems worse than an ordinary death to me. It isn’t the only place in the game we see these shapes, either. A couple of other people turned into shapes and flattened at other points in the story. Also, I mentioned a puzzle where you press buttons to cycle sets of objects through different states: those objects were people that cycled through degrees of abstractions, and the goal was to make them all into people at once. (Interestingly, the buttons in that puzzle were letters of a word, and in the similar later puzzles where you press buttons to cycle letters in a word, the buttons are people.) But in the third tier of the Seventh House, the repetition makes the dehumanization and destruction of these people predictable: as you solve the puzzle that completes the story on that page, you know that it’s going to result in the annihilation of someone you’re trying to help. It feels a lot like solving the puzzle is what kills them.

And that’s not an unreasonable thing to feel. Understand that although the player is clearly meant to identify with the Fool in this story, it’s more like the sort of identification you get in a novel than a full-on Player Character relationship. You don’t control the Fool’s actions and aren’t affected by his setbacks, and indeed you basically operate on his story from outside, moving back and forth through it at will, skipping over bits and missing out on information that the Fool acts on. The one place where your interaction with the story intersects with the Fool’s actions is in the solving of the puzzles. In the main line, each puzzle you solve corresponds to the Fool breaking an enchantment and/or committing Wordage: the words you build or unscramble or decipher are the ones that the Fool is unlocking from the air. But here in the third layer of the Seventh House, the Fool does nothing but watch while the Prince does something very evil. So it’s as if the puzzle-solving in these scenes represents the Prince’s magic, not the Fool’s.

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