vidar review tale hero

There are plenty of games on the market that offer an escape from the real world. You could argue that escapism is what makes games so appealing in the first place since it lets the player set their problems aside to become something fantastic: a master tactician, an apocalypse survivor, or (of course) a Chosen One. It’s easy to settle on an “out-of-this-world” premise for a game’s design, but it takes courage to build a game around something real.

Razbury GamesVidar is one of those rare examples of games reflecting life, instead of ignoring it. In this Puzzle RPG, the player must help the citizens of Vidar while facing one of life’s most universal truths: death is inevitable.

You are a stranger to the snowy village of Vidar, but you are trapped in its borders all the same. For the past few weeks, a terrible Beast has been terrorizing the villagers, emerging from the expansive cave behind Vidar to claim one victim every night. Twenty-four villagers remain by the time you arrive, and as you progress deeper and deeper into the cave, the Beast devours more and more people. In the end, the Stranger is all who remains; then it’s time for you to face the Beast as well.

Vidar randomizes its puzzles at the start of every new game, so it’s unlikely that the player will encounter the same problem twice. The Beast also chooses its victims at random, and with twenty-four different men, women, and children to pick, it’s almost impossible to play the same game twice. In fact, the randomized death count makes it impossible to complete every quest in one playthrough, since the quest-giver can die at any time. You’ll have plenty of failed quests by the endgame, but with a little luck, the Stranger might be able to help out most of the villagers before their time comes.

Although the game isn’t too challenging, there are a number of factors to the cave that will keep you on your toes. The Stranger can’t stay down in the cave indefinitely: every time you venture inside, you have only ten minutes to progress as far as you can. The further you go, the more time you need to sacrifice in order to fast-track to the latest stage; the same rule applies to hopping between stages inside the cave, which you’ll need to do for some quests.

There are a few loopholes to exploit depending on what quests you can complete early on, but once you solve the first set of caves, you’ll earn the option to stay down there indefinitely. Whether you remain in the cave or not, the game day ends once the timer reaches zero; someone in Vidar dies, and you risk losing all your progress on a particular quest. The game’s rules can be very unforgiving, so choose your approach carefully!

Calling Vidar’s plot “heavy” is an understatement; if you love to play as the perfect protagonist who can overcome any obstacle, then this game is not for you. The Beast is Death itself—you can oppose it, and in some cases even postpone it, but in the end, you cannot escape it. That being said, what makes Vidar a game worth playing is how it handles this inevitability.

Each villager has an unbelievable amount of background invested in them: they each have names, occupations, faiths, hopes, fears, and relationships to each other. They handle their situation in different ways, sometimes by reaching out to loved ones, and sometimes by shutting out the world. They mourn the deaths of friends and even occasionally chuckle at the deaths of enemies. The Stranger gets to see human mourning at its worst as well as its best.

Of course, the most important character in this life-reflecting game is the PC: the Nameless Stranger. Some of the more nihilistic villagers (and players, perhaps) are bound to ask why the Stranger is trying to help people at all. There’s no escape from Vidar, yet while the village slowly empties, the player struggles to bring relief and closure to the lives of people he hardly knows. The Stranger is an odd protagonist, but he also happens to be one of the most realistically heroic figures in gaming.

The player stands as a Would-Be Hero: someone who helps other unconditionally, but who isn’t above or below the people he aids. There are no life-saving gifts, no sacred weapons, no Chosen One message; just one person trying to do the right thing till time runs out.

Vidar launches on Steam’s Early Access on January 31st.