Writing an interesting and engaging story is hard; Writing an interesting and engaging story for a video game is even harder; Add that the video game in question has multiple endings, and now you’ve gotta worry about continuum and content issues. Indeed, writing a good story can be harder than developing a good game in the first place, and often they feed off of and enhance one another. Because many video game stories have left me wanting more, and indeed left me wanting to change the story myself, I was understandably excited when I learned about the premise of Dejobaan Games’ Elegy for a Dead World, and luckily, despite some minor shortcomings, my expectations were satisfied by the final product.

Elegy for a Dead World charges you as the lone survivor of a freak accident that killed off the rest of your exploration team. This exploration team you are part of had been on the way to survey and record what you can on three worlds, the portals to which had recently mysteriously opened, in an endeavor to bring back the only accounts of the civilizations that had lived there that humans will ever know of. That’s just great, tasked with all the work on unknown worlds and alone to boot.

The “hub” of the game, which is also the first place you start off in when you begin, is open space. You traverse this space via floating in a sort of microgravity using a jet propulsion system in your space suit, operated using the standard directional arrow buttons. Distributed around this open space is the said three portals to their respective worlds: Byron’s World, Keat’s World, and Shelley’s World, each named and drawn based on the works of British Romantic era poets (Lord Byron, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, respectively). As you traverse the hub area, there is a constant stream of random radio/TV chatter that is usually comprehensible but somewhat odd to me as to why it was included at all.

General descriptions aside, on to the meat of any review: content, and its associated criticism.

When you press enter to start exploring a world, you aren’t planted on the planet and go from there. Instead, after hitting enter while floating in front of one of the portals, a list of options you can choose from appears, ranging from Start Writing, Your Stories, Commendations, Read, and Cancel. This list of options is the same for all worlds, but what differs is what options you have in Start Writing and what you and others write in Your Stories and Read. I was not able to peruse any other stories using the Read options, and instead opted to jump straight into Start Writing. Also, I chose not to publish any of the stories I created online for others to read (as part of the “Read” option described earlier), but more on that later.

Selecting Start Writing takes you to a list of pre-made Writing Prompts, and these prompts provide a general skeleton to write what comes to you as you explore each world. The left and right directional arrows are used to walk in their respective directions in a 2D-side scroller style, and the up directional arrow button allows you to use your jet propulsion system to fly, making getting to the next prompt much faster and funner, at the cost of less time to think and reflect on the environment. A small side note: I’m pretty sure it’s just my system specs that caused it, but as you get to the end of each 2D screen segment, I experienced a slight lag that wasn’t apparent at first, but then became very annoying in the second world I explored, so much so that it even took me back a few paces after the lag catches up, depending on how long I pressed a directional button.

Anyway, the worlds themselves are cute and varied enough, at least through your first playthrough, but I’ll come back to that latter part later. Despite a lack of actual objects you can alter or interact with, the 2D environments of each world lend themselves easily to being written about. Giant statues, a rare animal, floating pieces of land that glow, wood or stone structures that look ominous and foreboding, and much more are just a few examples of what Elegy presents you with. This “inspirational” factor of each world environment contributes greatly to the main gameplay element of Elegy for a Dead World: writing your own stories!

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Scattered throughout each world is the option to enter buildings and/or climb up or down ladders, denoted by an arrow appearing just under the screen at the point where you can do so with the press of a button. These mini-areas are usually smaller than the main world areas, and usually also contain more dramatic environmental set-pieces to stimulate your imagination and inspiration as you fill in the writing prompts (or else go free-form).

So what are these writing prompts I keep going on about? Where you can write about something varies according to which Prompt you choose from in the hub portal menu. These prompts, a total of 27 being available, are partially pre-filled with different story starters (“prompts”) that vary depending on which Prompt you chose in the hub portal menu. You’ll know you’ve come to one in the world because, just under the floor you are walking on, a quill icon appears. Pressing the space bar while standing above one of the quill icons opens up the pre-filled prompt in the widescreen-format black bar, and it’s now totally up to you as to how to fill in the blanks, or change the prompt entirely too. Another option that I personally didn’t try is selecting the Free-form writing option in the hub portal menu, allowing you to write anything you want at every writing prompt area in each respective world.

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Two things I liked on a related note about Elegy is that, one, the prompt and enter/climb icons are very obvious because they are a bright white, making it hard to miss one even if you’re zooming through a level using the jet propulsion system (and even if you still manage to miss one, you’ll know you did from a prompt counter that keeps a record of how many of the available prompt boxes in the game you have filled in); the other is the simultaneous writing/typing as you type by the explorer on a digital screen in-game that opens up when you press the space bar.

Where Elegy truly shines is the literal fact that the story is limited only by what you can imagine and how you deliver it in writing. The three worlds vary by their environments and where/when you can write about an observation of an area or record your feelings or thoughts. Thus, theoretically, the story you write about a world entirely depends on you and whatever the writing prompt might present you to fill in. But this is also a double-edged sword of sorts. In my first playthrough of each world, I made many interpretation mistakes that the pre-made fill-in-the-blanks writing prompts in-game didn’t agree with completely.

For example, in Byron’s World, I typed up a story in the first few writing prompt areas that I thought was interesting while staying vague enough to allow some elbow-room, but the pre-filled text of the next few writing prompts completely didn’t match what I had written up in the first few areas. Other than dismay, this also stirred up some annoyance, both with myself and with the game system, since, for continuum, even though I wasn’t going to publicly publish them, I needed to backtrack in the game world to modify the story I had established near the beginning to match the later prompts.

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But this problem occurred before I found out you can change the pre-filled prompts, and you can also edit the story straight from the Your Stories option in the hub portal menu to jump straight to the area in the world with the offending story-writing box. Nonetheless, without these editing options being readily-apparent, it still stands as a significant negative for me.

Sound in the form of music (and some other sound effects) in Elegy contributed to the overall mood and atmosphere of each world. The majority of music was more somber than upbeat, adding to the general sense of sadness and loss that the environments alone already convey. I was pleasantly surprised by the climactic and moody music that played to highlight what was in the current area, such as the high-pitched beat that plays upon finding a statue whose symbolism is rather depressing and dark.

Elegy delivered almost everything it promised on, except for one thing: Similar to how I felt whenever I used the Rewind feature in Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, going through a world a second or third or whatever-number time just doesn’t make me feel the same electric excitement for “what’s next?” that I felt during the first runthrough. Is that the cost of being a player-driven storyline, as The Walking Dead is?

Or is this final note just an afterthought that gets said only after having cleared it and still looking for more? I suppose it depends on the player, and what prompt (or lack thereof) you choose to play through.

Unlike a good Choose-your-path Goosebumps book or a compelling Fill-in-the-blank book of vignettes, Elegy for a Dead World is truly your story, and, with the exceptions of gameplay and environments, you ultimately control whether you like it or not.

And that’s the essence of a true player-driven game.

Review Copy Provided by Dejobaan Games

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Cedric Lansangan

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3 Comments

  1. I have to disagree with one of your negative points. I think the devs did a good job with creating the environments to where you can write whatever you’d like. I don’t there is really any way to misinterpret the environment.

    1. Actually, what I was trying to say is not that the environments were easy to misinterpret, but rather that the pre-filled writing prompts often didn’t match the many possible interpretations of the environments. I apologize if this wasn’t clear in the way I wrote the review and the way I wrote the negative point. Thanks for reading!

      1. and another side-note: I noted in my review that my interpretations didn’t match the writing prompts, but that this is easily remedied by completely changing the writing prompts to fit however you want them to in your story. Again, my apologies!

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