STAFF REVIEW of Echoes of the Fey: The Fox's Trail (Xbox One)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Echoes of the Fey: The Fox's Trail Box art Many people enjoy massive open world games where they can explore to their hearts content with little direction of what to do and where to go. Then there are others, like myself, which enjoy simple and linear experiences now and then. Sometimes I want to sit on the couch and relax, not having to worry about shooting people online, racing against the pack of cars or futuristic vehicles, or solving mind bending puzzles. There’s a time and place for every type of game, and it seems Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail may have found a unique niche for a certain type of gamer.

Developed by Woodsy Studio, Echoes of the Fey is essentially a linear visual novel that you interact with, telling a story from point A to point B, though you are given some minor choices in between. Apparently this is only the first episode in a planned episodic series, which is obvious once you see the final dialogue that, when presented, sets up the next episode, whenever that may be.

Echoes of the Fey is incredibly rich in backstory and lore, to the point that you probably won’t have any idea what’s going on until you’re an hour or so into it. Doing my research, apparently there’s even a prequel episode that gives a little more backstory about the main protagonist, Sofya, which would have been a great inclusion in this release, as you’re simply thrown into the world of Oraz with a massive amount of information being hurled at you.

There was a war between humans and Leshin, an Elvin-like race, but it seems there is finally some peace in the land of Oraz, at least temporarily. Tensions are high and peace is clearly fragile at the moment when these two races are forced to interact with one another. You are Sofya, a human private investigator with a deep secret, working with her Leshin partner, Heremon. Together they are investigating the mysteries of their city, Vodotsk, when they are approached by a mysterious woman who asks them to search for her missing son, who she refuses to believe is dead.

During your investigation you’ll unearth many secrets throughout the pages and pages of dialogue that will eventually become a chore to read through. At certain points in conversations, you’ll be given dialogue options of what to respond with or how to react. I’m not sure if this changes the finality of the ending itself, as I believe it’s a set ending, but it gives you an illusion of gameplay. These dialogue options allow you to further interact with different characters, unearthing more information and exploring relationships with each character. It would have been helpful to have some sort of logbook to reference each character and Sofya’s direct relationship with them.

The overall story is much more involved and incredibly complex than what’s described above, but that’s the overall premise of the narrative for your motive and reasoning. There is so much dialogue and lore that you will most likely feel overwhelmed with all of the terminology, relationships, characters and more, I know I did. I can’t stress how dialogue heavy Echoes of the Fey is, which is normally a great feature, but I found it difficult to follow along at times. The fact that there are outside materials related to this story and characters should prove how in-depth the writing for the world of Oraz really is, and even though the graphics may appear amateur, the story is surprisingly a mature tale, even throwing some adult situations into the foray should you find them.

As for the gameplay, there really isn’t much, as this is more visual novel than “game”. Sure, you move Sofya across some 2D planes within the city, pressing ‘A’ when you want to enter one of the dozen or so buildings, but that’s really about all you’ll be doing when you’re not sifting through the pages and pages of dialogue. You are able to explore the few corners of the city of Vodotsk, though don’t expect to search for any collectables or secrets within. The core gameplay has you talking from one character to the next, trying to exhaust all the dialogue options with each person you come across, or simply hiding in the shadows in cat form.

Oh yes, Sofya can magically turn into a cat on demand, a secret that only her partner Heremon knows. He begs her to keep it from everyone else, as it will put her in grave danger if anyone found out about her powers. She’s a chirpy young woman though, not one to listen, and doing what she wants, so obviously she reckless and can wander around in cat form as well. Even though you have this power to shapeshift on demand, there’s only a handful of uses for it. Sometimes you’ll be able to only enter a building in cat form, sneaking through a window (via dialogue) so you can eavesdrop on the people inside. It feels as though this mechanic is simply thrown in and serves no real purpose in terms of gameplay.

There are a handful of sidequests that you can partake in should you wish, most of which are fetch quests and extended dialogue. These few quests add a little length to the game, but there’s no real reward for doing so unless you want more lore about the characters and world. Sure, you’ll earn a few coins here and there for doing so, allowing you to purchase a handful of items, like a wig or clothing dye, but these simply change Sofya’s cosmetic look ever so slightly.

I feel as though the developers knew that this was the story was extremely dialogue heavy, as there’s a button you can hold to fast forward dialogue boxes at an incredible pace should you desire. I didn’t expect a certain romantic path to be a viable option, but I guess I played my cards right, and low and behold, I found an extended scene with Sofya and partner in their underwear, with some very obvious clues as to what just occurred.

The more time you put into it, engrossing yourself into the lore, world and characters, the more you’ll get out of this game, just be prepared though, as it’s a lot of reading. To help combat this, there is some voice acting included, though I heavily want to point out “some”. For some reason certain sections of dialogue are completely voice acted, other parts with none, and some with just a few words. I don’t understand why the disconnect and inconsistency, and I highly believe that if the whole game was voiced, I wouldn’t have had such a hard time following along.

When you do have voiced dialogue, the voice acting fairly good for the most part, not what I expected from a smaller developer, which is why I was disappointed that the whole journey wasn't narrated. There were some other minor things that kind of bugged me, as some of the dialogue on screen were different words than what was being voiced, or one character spoke while the other was silent. Consistency, either way, would have helped with the immersion and believability. The animation for the characters when speaking is very limited, only having subtle movements and their mouths, which does not seem to be synced with their dialogue either.

Even though Echoes of the Fey only lasts a handful of hours, it felt a little too packed with lore at times. There’s so much dialogue included that it can be a slog to get through as you have so much to read, especially when sometimes it’s voiced for you and other times not. Given that the entry point has a low cost of $7.99, it’s worth a shot for those looking for a story with rich lore and backstory with the hopes of subsequent episodes in the future. If you’re big on reading fantasy novels then Sofya’s journey should intrigue you, but if you’re looking for interesting gameplay, or any gameplay for that matter, then you may want to skip this glorified visual novel.

Overall: 5.0 / 10
Gameplay: 3.0 / 10
Visuals: 4.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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