I'm going to start off by admitting that I've never played the two previous Empress of the Deep games, so I had no set expectations for this third chapter, other than I knew it was a popular and highly praised franchise.
However, I'm of the opinion that if a game is truly a good play, then it shouldn't matter what the other games were like. A sequel should be able to stand on its own without riding the coattails of previous games.
Now, with that said, let me tell you why Empress of the Deep 3: Legacy of the Phoenix was a pretty spectacular game.
Some of you may not be old enough to have played a little game called Myst, but I remember, quite vividly, being introduced to its simply stunning graphics and somber, haunting story.
From the moment I started Empress of the Deep 3, I was immediately transported back to my childhood watching the story unfold in all it's fantastical beauty and I eagerly began playing.
I didn't feel too lost coming into the story. I understood immediately that Anna had an evil sister named Pandora who we had previously vanquished but who was still stirring and causing harm to our world.
I understood that Jacob, that floating image plagued with static, is someone who has helped us in the past, and I couldn't help again to be reminded of the two trapped brothers in Myst caught in their respective blue and red books pleading with you to help them... and my suspicions were roused...
Anna, with the help of the Phoenix, flees the floating castle and travels to the mysterious island where a dangerous colossus is beginning to wake from his long slumber. The only inhabitants of the island seem to be a two-headed man called the key master, (I wonder where the gatekeeper is hiding!), and lots of stray cats.
How can you beat a story like that? No investigations... no ghosts... no murders... a true fantasy game made for a true nerd like myself.
That's not to say all was going well for Empress of the Deep 3. I thought the voice acting was pretty horrendous and often lamented while playing why the developers felt the need to break this pristine and haunting story with the too soft and oddly broken pauses of Anna as she commented on her surroundings. It just didn't fit.
Jacob was a little better, broken by static, he didn't come through clear enough to really wear on me. But the keymaster and the voice of the crystal used that weird double voice technique that was just a bit over the top for me.
The graphics were stunning. Truly beautiful and drenched in nostalgia for me as they were riddled with areas of sepia shading, lazy shadows, and utter silence. Again, very much a nod to Myst, the scenes captured a certain quiet loneliness that made you believe no one has set foot on this island in hundreds of years. If it was truly a homage to Myst, it was quite masterfully done.
The music was equally beautiful, nothing crashing or tumultuous here, just an ethereal, haunting tone that again enhanced that feeling of utter solitude. I would almost say that the music captured the sounds of silence, it was that perfectly executed, leaving you feeling cold and bereft of comfort as you wandered the island, your only companion, the looming colossus, so close to being awakened.
The gameplay of Empress of the Deep 3 was riddled with puzzles that were varied and unique. The amount was a bit much for me, as it seemed that no matter where you turned, there was another puzzle waiting to be solved. But, I will admit the puzzles were entertaining and held my attention long enough for me to solve them without resorting to the skip button.
The hidden object scenes were challenging. The shaded coloring and shadows made it hard to identify objects since they weren't the normal color you would expect to find them in. I found myself using at least one hint on each hidden object area as I searched for green snowflakes and gray fortune cookies.
But the hint system itself was well executed, especially during normal scenes as you wandered the vast island in search of answers. You simply would hit the hint button when you weren't sure what to do next, and lo and behold a hint would appear... a real hint. Not some sparkle shimmery arrow pointing to where you needed to go. A real written hint would appear telling you that there was something on the globe in the temple ceiling and that you should investigate there. Imagine that!
I was a little disappointed that there wasn't a map that could hasten travel from place to place. While the map did show you where you were, there wasn't a fast travel option, so it was a lot of back and forth. Instead of the map, there was a portal system that you had to open up with cat coins that would allow you to travel from one area to another... kind of like getting onto public transportation, it would take you kind of where you wanted to go. But you still had to schlep the rest of the way to your destination.
Overall, whether it was from pure nostalgia or not, Empress of the Deep 3: Legacy of the Phoenix was an amazing game. Probably one of my favorites so far this year. If it weren't for the grating voice acting and the public transportation system... this game would have received a perfect score, but still, even with these small flaws, Empress of the Deep 3: Legacy of the Phoenix is hard to beat.