Herald: an Interactive Period Drama easily has the most descriptive title in videogame history. All jokes aside, though, Herald is more or less a visual novel played out in a point & click style. It is made up of a total of four episodes (referred to as “books”). Each book is a self-contained story that contributes to an overall narrative. By nature, Herald is a dialogue-driven game with a branching storyline where the things you say and the choices you make can affect the world around you. If you say the wrong thing to the wrong person, you may just make yourself a few enemies. Herald takes on complex themes that are still prevalent in today’s society, such as racism, servitude, bigotry, and the effects of colonialism. It also draws a lot of parallels with British history and it’s colonization of India, to be more specific. As of this writing, only books I & II are available now, so I’ll be covering those in this review. Since the story is such an integral part of the experience, I’m going to talk about it briefly; don’t worry, there won’t be any major spoilers, everything I talk about you will find out in the first 10 minutes or so of playing.
The world of Herald is set in an alternative version of the mid-1800s. The West is now a united global superpower that goes by the name of The Protectorate. The Protectorate is run by an elected official named The Lord Protector, who is responsible for running the whole show. The Protectorate has many colonies that provide them with goods and services and whatnot. Devan Rensburg is a man of mixed heritage who wants to seek out his roots and learn more about himself and where he came from, so he finds work on a merchant ship that is journeying towards the colonies: the FLV Herald. The story itself starts off with Devan Rensburg sitting in a locked room at the top of a tower overlooking the vast ocean. A mysterious woman who proclaims herself as “The Rani” is peppering him with questions about whom he is and his reason for going to the colonies. She then pulls out Devan’s journal and asks him to read it to her. Devan then recounts his story as the narrative shifts back and forth from his current time as a “prisoner”, to his journey on the FLV Herald.
Every line of dialogue in the game is voiced by a diverse and wonderful cast of thirteen voice actors who play out their parts quite well. I was surprised t find myself letting the dialogue play out fully instead of what I usually do. I get impatient because I’m a really fast reader, so usually, I’m reading the lines and then skipping to the next part of the conversation before the voice actor finishes fully reading his or her current lines. Sorry, but with the size of my gaming backlog, I need to make every second count! The diverseness of the voice cast really helps towards fleshing out the characters and making them all the more memorable. The world is a large place full of so many different people from different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities, so it’s always nice to see more in-game representation. The world of Herald is very much pleasing to the eyes as well. The majestic, rolling waves of the ocean; the cloudy blue sky; the melancholy orange painted across the sky by sunset, all depicted with the aesthetic of a beautiful watercolor painting. The character models look a bit strange in motion; I find that sometimes they seem awkward in their movements and when interacting with certain objects. For example, in a scene where Devan is serving tea, the pot stutters a little before reappearing in his hand. These instances are few and far in-between, however. The character portraits that appear whenever you engage in a conversation struck me as absolutely gorgeous. They aren’t your regular static 2D portrait found in other similar games, but living, breathing representations of the current character speaking.
Gameplay-wise there isn’t too much going on here. As I said before, Herald is mostly a visual novel, therefore, much of the gameplay is dialogue-driven. The choices you make impact the story and how people react to you. Each character in this period drama has their own motives and hidden agendas, you will often find yourself thrust into the middle of their squabbles as well, forcing you to choose sides. Whether you want to take the diplomatic approach or be the person who doesn’t put up with any of their bullshit is up to you, but your choices will have consequences. Personally, I chose the nice guy approach; I’m planning on doing another playthrough on a quest to be the biggest jerk I can. Besides engaging in choice-based conversations, occasionally you will have to run an errand, which mostly involves finding someone/something. You can walk around and explore the ship, however not all areas are available to you at first. There are no puzzles as there usually are in other point & clickers, so you can focus entirely on the engaging story. Thanks to a recent update you have the choice of using a controller instead of the standard mouse/keyboard combo. I tried out both control options and they both worked as intended, no problems there.
It was an interesting adventure, seeing all the various dynamics coming into play between the members of the crew and the passengers on the ship. The racial differences that cause some awkward moments and misunderstandings; the rift between the rich and the poor, the figures of authority and the people who serve them. It goes to show that even in these modern times, not much has changed; just the time and place. I rather enjoyed my time with book I & II of Herald. They aren’t that long; my total playtime for the both of them was around 4 hours but considering the low price point it is more than worth the price of entry. I’m eagerly awaiting the next two entries but as of yet, there is no solid release date announced. So until next time; bon voyage, mon Capitaine!
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review
Final Score: 8.5/10
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