Vidar is available on Steam for £6.99
"Welcome to Vidar."
That's a line that isn't on any road signs, and certainly won't be heard from many in the game. You're a stranger, who has been rescued from near-death in the woods and brought to an inn in the village of Vidar. While you recover, townsfolk grumble about how you're one more person they really don't need right now. Thankfully, for us, we're soon back on our feet, talking, quest-collecting, puzzle-solving and trying to save the day. After all, this isn't "Lie-in-bed Simulator"- though who's to say what DLC might be added?
Being the nice stranger we are, when Erik, a young, bored boy enters the nearby cave, we agree to help rescue him. This involves entering a dark, icy cavern and attempting to negotiate your way through it without slipping off the edge of the ice rinks five thousand times (like I did), pulling switches and levers along the way, because that's what levers and switches are there for. In no game ever, be it Pokémon or Skyrim, has there been a lever that hasn't been pulled, and Vidar is no exception. It's probably no coincidence that Nintendo decided to name a whole console after them…
After discerning Erik's location, you're given joint control of both the player and the troublesome runaway and must switch between the two to feast on another switch-pulling bonanza, and try to help Erik escape with his life. God knows how he got into such a pickle so quickly in the first place, mind. It's almost admirable.
Unfortunately, this isn't a Disney movie, so your rescue mission doesn't go quite to plan. You return to the village Erik-less, to face the wrath of his friends and family. Each night following, one villager dies at random in the night, and it's up to us (isn't it always?) to stop the killings before Vidar becomes a Ghost Town- or rather, Ghost Village.
The story changes each time you play, as different characters die. Certain quests may become unavailable on some playthroughs; weapons quests wouldn't be possible if there were no blacksmith, and so on. If the nice villagers are all killed, you can expect a pretty hostile environment- even if you are trying to save the world. Some people just don't appreciate the help when it's offered to them, do they?
This apparent randomness and unpredictability make for a truly unique experience; no playthrough is the same, and you're never quite sure what will happen, who will die, or which puzzle you'll get completely bemused by and end up pulling your hair out over the solution, only to realise the answer was actually very easy, and you're just incompetent. No? Just me?
The game is largely exploration and puzzle based; it's possible the exploration part wasn't intentional, but being a gamer with a terrible sense of direction, that's what it turned into. The puzzles were most definitely meant to be there, however. You're thrown in at the deep end, too; right from the very first cave you must navigate across gaps and past other obstacles, pull the right switches to avoid sliding into an icy pit of despair, and so on. Each puzzle is randomly generated from a bank of puzzle types, so each section will be unique- this makes looking up solutions a borderline impossibility, so be prepared for some serious thinking.
Keeping track of everything can get quite cumbersome, as there doesn't appear to be any quest log, or indeed notifications for quests- I realised I had a quest only after I looked in my bag and found an erroneous bottle of alcohol (if such a thing as an erroneous bottle of alcohol exists). Hence it's somewhat reliant on memory- where and who each character is was the biggest problem I faced, as I didn't find any of their names particularly memorable at the beginning of the game. Other than Erik, because Erik was a stupid idiot. This can become an issue, especially with a player like me who has a terrible memory for anything other than the locations of hidden switches that open trap doors in Pokémon casinos.
Graphics and Audio
Graphics and sound are not the priority here, and nor should they be; the story and gameplay primarily take the forefront. Vidar was designed by a small team in RPG Maker, so the expectation of a full-voice cast with outstanding, photo-realistic graphics is as pragmatic a hope as humans genuinely being licked into existence by a cow named Audhumla. That's Norse mythology, by the way, not me taking hallucinogenic drugs. Honest.
Vidar's sprite-based graphics and design will be immediately familiar to anyone who's tinkered with RPG Maker in the past. The sprites are nicely rendered, and everything has a somewhat predictable indie charm to it- there's something about pixel-based fruit bowls that are so endearing. I didn't stumble across any confusing elements or "WTF is that supposed to be?" moments, as I've experienced in other sprite-based games; potions are clearly potions, bookshelves are clearly bookshelves, and strange green ghost people are evidently…strange green ghost people, et cetera, et cetera.
Vidar also offers a nice map overview which demonstrates the beauty of the town in full, along with headshots pinpointing the locations of the surviving villagers. However, this map does not highlight where you are, or who each icon actually is- it's down to the player to establish that for themselves. This is still a nice touch, though- many indie games along a similar vein neglect such Luddite things as "maps", in favour of letting the player become completely lost in the forest, snow, desert, or whatever terrain may be applicable in that title.
It's often the case in games that audio is either the highlight (see most Final Fantasy soundtracks) or the biggest flaw (see Two Worlds' woeful voice acting). Thankfully, speech is left, for the most part, to the player's imagination. The game begins with a quote read aloud; the remainder of the game is mostly text-based, however. There is a nice ambient soundtrack, which provides atmospheric detail at the right moments; the howling of the wind, or the creepiness of an unexplored cave. All in all, it's a nice package.
Vidar was crafted lovingly using RPG Maker; the hard work is clear from the outset. It's not perfect, and it certainly isn't the simplest of games; if you're not that mad about puzzles, it's probably not for you- being randomly generated, there's no easy quick solution or online walkthrough readily available- you'll have to puzzle yourself out of every situation, trying to keep your sanity intact. It's also easy to lose track of quests or items, with no quest log or journal, and the maps don't actually identify where you are- you must figure out where you are in relation to the landmarks.
What Vidar does have, however, is replayability- as horrifying as it is to have villagers repeatedly murdered, it's also fascinating to see how the dynamic changes. It's a welcome alternative to many RPGs with few or fixed endings or paths, and it doesn't come with an AAA price tag.
There are a wealth of projects that begin life on Kickstarter, or in RPG Maker; many of these are simply terrible- like my own, which began in around 2006 when I had no clue what I was doing and was quickly abandoned after managing to design one quest (a quest which largely entailed walking forward, opening a chest, picking up a sword and delivering it to a random NPC for no particular reason).
However, Vidar is not one of those. Its storyline, quests, characters and puzzles are all solid. It's had years in the making, and this time has clearly been spent well; everything comes together, being well thought-out, designed and truly captivating. If you love RPG Puzzlers, you should love Vidar. If you love getting lost and wandering around in large circles for several minutes, you should love Vidar. If you like being called an "ungrateful sh*t" by someone you've just met, you should love Vidar.
There are lots of reasons to love this game, and few to hate it. If you have some spare change and time to kill, Vidar is certainly worth a look. Now excuse me, I'm off to pull some levers in a different video game, for a change. Preferably one I might have a small chance of completing without making myself feel like an idiot.
|+ Interesting premise and story||– Not beginner-friendly|
+ Replayability & Unpredictability
– Easy to get lost or lose track of what you're doing
+ Randomised puzzles makes for unique experience each time