Winter Voices is a French tactical RPG - with a difference. Now, this is a game that is going to get a lot of criticism, and this is definitely not without its drawbacks, but it's a unique little game that some will find rewarding. Read the review fully before making up your mind - you very possibly won't like this game!
The prologue of this seven part series basically has to gameplay elements: town exploration/character interaction and tactical battling of personal demons. You play a young woman in a cold town whose father has recently passed away and is tormented by depression and frightening, hidden memories. The tactical action is straight-forward enough, except that you are seldom trying to eliminate enemies, but usually trying to run away from them, or simply survive encounters with them. This throws interesting new elements of gameplay into the tactical battles. All of your enemies are psychological, either specters of your past or shaded memories, hallucinations, oppressive feelings. Every battle requires different tactics, a little reward if you become accustomed to playing. Experience is gained whenever you complete a battle and also whenever you talk to an NPC in the right way.
The game looks beautiful. Simple, goregeous artwork rendered in a beautiful painted style, with lovely design for menus and characters, all made so as to provide a melancholy, reflective, cold atmosphere. The music is also excellent, combining detached, sombre ambiances in the town with static-laden, post-rock style dischord during battles. Apart from the fact of a bug that forces the music to drop out if you ever switch to desktop, this is another very impressive element of the game.
The are a couple of other bugs, the odd freeze or crash. Also if you accidentally click on a person while you are exiting a scene, you will be stuck on a black scene and have to go back to the last save. Overall these happen rarely and are not a big deal.
Okay, so here's where people are going to have problems. First of all the game is sloooow. Turn-based tactics have never exactly provided fast-paced action, and the lengthy animations are not pretty enough to merit the time you spend watching them. There is no run function, even out of battle, meaning you'll spend up to 20 seconds at a time watching your character leisurely pace to and fro. This runs in theme with the slow, depressive storyline (whether intended to or not), but in today's age of instant gratification there is no way that Winter Voices is going to satisfy most gamers' lust for graphical pyrotechnics and explosive action.
The other main point of contest would be the dialogue. Roughly half the game will be spent reading (not listening to) dialogue. If you don't like to read, you won't like this game. If you don't like unearthing subtle, slowly progressing plots, you won't like this game either. There is a lot left unsaid, a lot of open plot threads when you begin the game, and you will start off feeling bewildered by the goings on. It takes a little perseverance to start making sense of things. Many have also complained about the shoddy French-to-English translation. There are quite a lot of spelling errors, and I suspect the elegance of many phrases may have been lost in transition from the original language, but I was fully able to make sense and even to realize the advanced (and elusive) ideas behind the seemingly piecemeal narrative just fine. Anyway, come on, its an inaccessible indie game with a very narrow target audience who knows their not going to be making money off of their five dollar releases (that most people are going to ditch after the first one), there's no reason to expect professional translation. Also, For younger people, non-native speakers or those who are not big readers, you also need a slightly advanced English vocabulary to properly appreciate the game.
The game's biggest downfall is probably the droll voice-acting and script-writing of the father, which is also the only voice-acting in the whole game. His plodding style is so bland and boring, yet still manages to be melodramatic somehow and spoil further lengthy passages of arty, pretentious, completely unnecessary prose. I think these scenes are supposed to increase the minimalistic, frosty loneliness, but they unfortunately do just the opposite and give the game unwanted flamboyance.
So that's why people aren't going to like the game...other people, that is. I thoroughly enjoyed the Winter Voices Prologue and will continue purchasing and clocking chapters of the game until I get bored or finish it. Yes, the game is slow and clunky, but you can't beat the original atmosphere and interesting tactics. Best of all, I just felt refreshed by the game. Finally, a game people made based on completely different guidelines to most other games, a game that dares not to be commercial or accessible, a game at once soothing and disturbing that yo