As a child, did you ever have one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books? You’d read a few pages of a story and then be presented with a few different options the narrator (a reader-insert referred to as, “you”) could take. Different paths would emerge, and there’d be multiple different endings.
Now, a company called Choice of Games brings the same sort of format into the digital era. In their games (which can be played either on a web browser or downloaded as a phone app), there is only text, no visuals or audio. The games are structured much like the Choose Your Own Adventure books, where you can follow multiple paths to reach different endings. However, Choice of Games also brings in some video game elements, where your narrator has statistical bars that various choices can add to or subtract from. For example, do you greet your love interest at a party or snub them? Either choice can affect how much the love interest likes you.
The above screenshots are from a game called, “The Lost Heir,” which I was obsessed with for an entire weekend. In “The Lost Heir,” you play as a prince or princess whose parents are murdered. You escape with your life, and at the age of eighteen set out to reclaim your kingdom.
“The Lost Heir” draws heavily from Dungeons and Dragons (the classic tabletop role-playing game), with options to specialize your characters in the Dungeons and Dragons character class system. If you’ve played Dungeons and Dragons before, much of the game will seem familiar. The game does have some original world building, relating to the summoning and use of demons. Still, the setting could lack originality, and it takes place in the Euro-centric, medieval setting used by all too many fantasy stories. The one plotline that takes you outside of a European-based setting relies on unfortunate stereotypes and is overall rather poorly handled.
“The Lost Heir” has seven different major endings, where you either rescue your kingdom and live happily ever after or fail, leaving the world in chaos as demons run rampant. It took me quite a while to actually get to a happy ending. My first few playthroughs had me either become a puppet of the villain, a monster, or a martyr. However, I think the difficulty is part of the charm. That and the wide variety of approaches you can take (with multiple different subplots) left me enthralled for several days.
Choice of Games provides the code for writing these games and hosts some fan-made games, as well. “The Lost Heir” is one of these. I don’t have enough familiarity with the professional games versus fan games, but I have enjoyed both sorts.
My favorite games from Choice of Games are written by a fantasy author whose work I love, Max Gladstone. I never know how to describe Max Gladstone’s work. It’s weird, modern fantasy, where gods are like corporations and necromancers are basically lawyers. You don’t need to look much further for a creative, original setting!
In Gladstone’s first game, “Choice of the Deathless,” you are a new hire at the elite demonic-law firm of Varkath Nebuchadnezzar Stone, where some of your superiors are undead. You’re neck deep in student loans (perhaps a bit too close to reality) and trying to make partner, which involves battling demons and deposing a fallen god.
However, it’s in Gladstone’s second game, “Deathless: City’s Thirst,” where he really hits his stride. “City’s Thirst” is set decades before his novel Last First Snow, in the desert city of Dresediel Lex. Dresediel Lex needs water, and as an associate at a public service conglomerate, it’s your job to get it. But the water has to come from somewhere, and the local farmers are going to fight you every step of the way.
Out of the three games I’ve discussed here, “City’s Thirst” works best as a piece of literature. It’s not just a simple adventure, but instead complex issues. Do you side with the city or the local farmers? There’s no clear-cut right answer. Additionally, your protagonist is a war veteran, who is dealing with PTSD. The writing is vivid and gripping. I love “City’s Thirst” as much as I love Gladstone’s novels.
All Choice of Games games let you play the first chapter or so for free, after which you have to purchase the game (usually from $2.99 to $4.99). For an engaging story that I’ll read through multiple times, it’s well worth the price.