IFComp 2016: Aether Apeiron: The Zephyra Chronicles

Spoilers follow the break.

The first chapter here is the most interesting part. It kicks off with a bang, putting you in control of a spacecraft in trouble, the sci-fi equivalent of a storm at sea — a comparison that’s surely intended, because the descriptions are peppered with references to ancient Greece and Greek myth. The body of the work is even preceded by an invocation of the muse. While struggling with the controls, the main character, Zephyra, is periodically blacking out and hallucinating from oxygen starvation and G-forces, with the result that descriptions keep changing: a computer’s voice giving status reports, for example, might become disjointed phrases, or melodic gibberish, or various other randomized descriptions, every time you revisit its node. Click on the words “Herculean effort” and Heracles himself will stride into the bridge and take the helm, only to fade into mist on a second look.

After you deal with that crisis, though, the narrative leaps into a flashback, and it never actually returns to the timeframe of chatper 1. Instead, the rest of the story is devoted to world-building, and the bulk of the interaction is spent meandering through a representative cross-section of society on Zephyra’s home world, Kyzikos, from the docks to the palace and finally off into the wilderness on a perilous road to the story’s end. We’re still in mixed sci-fi and ancient Greece here, although chapter 1 was sci-fi with Greek flavoring, and down here it’s more like the reverse: the occasional marble android or tentacled alien spicing up scenes at the agora and so forth. Conspicuously Greek verbiage is used throughout.

Although choice-based, the interaction is basically mazelike. At each node, there’s one link that goes forward towards the story’s finish, others that lead off into dead ends or go around in circles. Much of the time, I mean that literally, as probably a majority of the links are devoted to walking around, but conversations and other interactions are handled the same way. Sometimes it’s obvious what the forward link is, sometimes it’s not. I may have just not been paying enough attention, but I have to admit that even when it was clear what I had to do to advance the plot, I seldom had a strong sense of what my goals were. In the first few scenes, it’s obvious: earn some money from fishing, then go off to the agora to spend it. After that, who can say? Zephyra just looks off towards the mountain in the distance, and so off toward the mountain we go.

As I coincidentally said recently about another game loosely inspired by Greek myth, it ends abruptly with the promise of a sequel just at the moment when things seem to be getting started. That feeling is even greater here, probably in part due to the lack of plot over the course of the rest of the story. The whole thing ends with the arrival of a spacecraft called the Argo, which, we are told, “changed life on Kyzikos forever”, and was “the first drop of an upstoppable ripple that impacted even the most distant lands”. But we don’t get to see that. The story we get is just a prelude to it, showing us what Kyzikos was like in times of peace. This could be a good way to provide contrast with what comes after, but it’s pretty unsatisfying to get just half of a contrasting pair.

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