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Anvil of Dawn ended for me, alas, not with a bang but with an invisible maze that I just couldn’t goddamn figure out. There’s some kind of connection between pressure plates and the walls and for whatever reason I just can’t get my head around the exact nature of it–even with a walkthrough I’m stumped. It’s pretty much the last puzzle in the game–I’m at the end of it, but I just can’t get through and I’m not sure it matters enough.

I’m not sure if this diminishes how much I enjoyed playing the game–certainly there’s a bit of frustration in something which you just can’t beat. I’m thinking as much of Knock-Knock, which I owe Robb Sherwin a review of (guess that’s what I’m doing when I’m commuting today) and Eric Brasure’s tribulations with Dark Souls–he all but breezed through the game only to find the final boss impossible.

In the case of Anvil–in the case of all three games I’ve mentioned, come to think about it–there’s some thematic irony in leaving it unfinished. While Anvil isn’t going to go down in history as one of the great unsung game narratives of all time, the writing staff actually understands a little bit about Theme, and there’s a strong undercurrent of determination in the face of the evil–okay, sure, not the most original theme ever, but the game handles it well. Your land is on its last legs, essentially–you’re on the mission in a desperate attempt to stop the Evil Dude on an all-but-hopeless mission, and every encounter is a response to this, with your character often having to convince everyone else that the cause is not hopeless.

And there’s some unexpectedly dark shit: You pick your character out of a party of five possible adventurers, intending to set off as a group, but another character conspires to delay you for a few hours, the old “distract the enemy force with a small army and let one guy slip through unnoticed” trick. As the game progresses, you come upon the other adventurers, and they all pretty much die in front of you. You come upon one–a character that I’d picked in my first attempt–tortured and hanging on a St Andrew’s cross for fuck’s sake. It’s horrible.

And that horror leads to a very dramatic effect, an interesting one: While you also come across a few NPCs who’ve been brutalized by the enemy forces, you had the opportunity to play–maybe even did play if it’s your second or third time through–one of these other characters, and there’s a palpable feeling of there but for the grace of God go I. It also adds a not unwelcome note of fear to the proceedings: The character on the cross, for example, was caught and tortured in and is warning you away from the very next dungeon that you have to go through in order to continue your quest–and yes, it’s a fucking tough one. Without being overwhelmingly difficult–except for the final bit, it’s somewhere around Lands of Lore level–it manages to create a very brutal, very oppressive, very desperate atmosphere.

Yeah, I really liked Anvil of Dawn and I’m sad I couldn’t manage to beat it.

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