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Heroine's Quest - Which is not unduly obvious, as I am about to explain
Heroine's Quest
I've spent a good chunk of this weekend playing Heroine's Quest: The Herald of Ragnarok, a free(!) indie adventure-RPG lovingly modelled after Sierra's Quest for Glory series, except with a strong female protagonist, and set in the context of Norse mythology. Excellent graphics, pretty good voice-acting and music, and they did a good chunk of research - including appearances by Ratatoskr, the SQUIRREL OF DOOM.

I admit to cheating, however. I gave myself ridiculously high stats and money so I could avoid grinding. This means I don't know how to describe the pace of the game, since I ignored it entirely - although there are four major chapters, each triggered by in-game events. I think you can take as much game time as you like, despite things like a guy lying injured in the forest, surviving for days. Several puzzles were a bit difficult with not enough hints to suggest solutions; but at least online searches provided the answers. Normally breaking the game immersion like that bothers me, but it didn't here, which I think is due to just how nicely put together the whole thing is, so eager was I to see what came next.

There are some neat little touches here and there. Lots of random shout-outs to other games (sprites that occasionally wander across the screen); I recognized about half of them. There's a real sense of culture, although the Norse names take a while for the brain to acclimatize to and memorize. The NPCs (and their pets) wander around their towns by a loose schedule, and if two are in the same room together when you're having a conversation, it's not unusual for one of them to interject, or for the NPC you're talking with to alter their dialogue slightly.

Like Quest for Glory, you can play as a fighter class, a magic-user or a thief, or multiclass yourself slightly; some quests are class-specific while others have different solutions depending on your skills. There's a hidden "honor" stat where you have to be all goody-goody but you'll get a cool sword if you pull it off. Me, I played a thief. Had a bit of a problem getting into the thieves guild (in the end, I used magic) - and at night I went around stealing stuff. Sometimes I felt bad about this because it turned out the people lived in fairly squalid conditions.

Actually one funny thing that happened - I stole a shovel from a storekeeper instead of paying for it. She left her shop unlocked during the day! But it came back to haunt me. Unlike other items, you can't exactly hide a shovel on your person, so if I ever entered a room where the shopkeeper happened to be - and remember, the NPCs wander around - she'd say something like, "Hey, that's my shovel!" Suddenly you'd be surrounded by the other townspeople - really nice people - who'd disparage you at how their hero had betrayed their friendship and trust. Then they'd lock you up in a pillory and the town librarian would throw a tomato at your head. The End. All because of a shovel. And when I say the town librarian, specifically, it's this librarian - I was not expecting a shout-out to The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, which came out over 40 years before this game did!

Anyway, I defeated the big bad guy at the end using a walkthrough 'cause I'm laaaazy and impatient. I've saved the world! And I'm waiting to see the praise and feast and final points tally when suddenly... "Hey, that's my shovel!" and I'm disparaged again, but this time, forget the pillory, now the dark elves lock me in their prison in one of the other nine realms. Luckily I had savegames from earlier, and you can hide your shovel in one of three storage chests scattered around the game for later retreival, but still. Harsh. And delightfully unexpected.

So if you liked Sierra's Quest for Glory games, this one is definitely a worthy addition to the genre, if you don't mind grinding and occasionally needing to look up a puzzle solution. I recommend it!
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