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Reviewed: Keepsake
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: May 5th, 2006
Page: 2
As Keepsake begins, players take on the role of a young girl named Lydia on her way to Dragonvale Academy to become a student and reuinite with her old friend Celeste. The game's tutorial is mandatory (bad) and the voice actor for the character they used has apparently been instructed to make his accent as horrible as possible (worse), but it doesn't take long to get past him and onto the game.

And the game itself is awesome. The world's designers obviously spent tremendous amounts of time on their art, and it shows; the first half of the game happens in a ground-level castle, and the second in an auxiliary castle-like structure held in the air, but it's all amazingly detailed.

Gameplay-wise, there are a few oddities. The in-game map is quite easy to use, though sometimes hard to read correctly; since it's a 2-d representation of a highly three-dimensional world, and all levels are represented on the same map, it takes some getting used to. The in-game inventory also shows all currently available items, just greyed-out if they haven't been acquired yet, giving players a virtual checklist of things to do.

Perhaps fearful that the game would be seen as too difficult, the designers also included a dynamic help system. It's a very helpful item when coming back to the game after a break, helping players to get on track, and also offers up some hints and the rules for a given puzzle, to allow frustrated players a way through. If you really can't get past, they've even included a "give up and just apply the solution" option, though this may strike certain gamers as cheating.

There are precious few companions in the school,
 but this one will follow you like a puppy.
The upper level of Dragonvale is
 awesome to behold.
Dragonvale seen from far-off is an awesome sight,
 even if this is only 1/2 of the school.

The meat of the game is the environment and story, and for this reason, Keepsake stands head and shoulders above many of the current crop of Adventure titles. Despite a rather small cast, there are few offputting characters, and even the trader (who voices the horrid tutorial) seems in place when finally met inside the game. For the vast majority, it's down to two voices. There's Lydia, whose voice will be heard whenever in conversation or examining items, and there's Zak, a wolf who claims to be a wizard's familiar but who is found locked into one of the school's lockers. The music for the game is also well done, especially during cutscenes, majestic and solemn and perfect for setting the game's mood.

Other than Zak and the trader, Dragonvale is completely deserted. The goal is to discover what happened to all the students, and get the school's machinery running again. Occasionally (whenever a specific event is triggered) Lydia will zone out, and a flashback to the game's backstory will occur. These are important come the end of the game, as well as to understanding the story as a whole, so the fact that they're un-skippable is a good thing.

Regrettably, the dialogue might be skippable, but it's no help, because character's talking animations still take the time to play out even when the skip button is pressed. I can't envision this as anything other than a bug, but one the designers didn't feel important enough to correct.

The ending of the game is perhaps the best part. Trying to pin it down to "happy" or "sad" is inappropriate, so let's just say that it's a moving event, which is rare for adventure titles and video games in general; the majority of games end happily.

Keepsake's a definite must-have for adventure game fans, and thanks to the help system and well-done storyline, I'd recommend it as a way to introduce a new player to the genre as well.

Added:  Saturday, May 06, 2006
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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