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2016-05-25

Ouroboros v1.0 (by Sierra Lee) Review

Title: Ouroboros
Release date: 2016-05-20 (2016-05-02 for Patreon backers)
Developer & publisher: Sierra Lee

Have you ever played "The Path" - a game by "Tale of Tales"? In that game you were one of Little Red Riding Hoods, whose objective was to always stay on the path and go to the grandmother's house. However, that was not a proper way to play the game - in order to get most of it, you had to enter the forest and there be met with delightful surreal imagery and hidden encounters. Actually, "The Path" was not much of a game, but rather an exploratory experience, released way before anyone even heard of "Dear Esther" of "Gone Home". If you have ever had a pleasure of playing "The Path", you'll be right at home with "Ouroboros"... not because it's an exploration game, but rather because the game is a lie.

Sierra Lee, the creator of "Ouroboros" seems to love defying the player's expectations. It was already very noticeable in the early demo of her other game "The Last Sovereign" (which even in its demo state blew my socks off) and the trick is repeated once more to great success in "Ouroboros" (I'll shorten the title to OS from now on).
Evil will never win!
OS is an adventure game with some small elements of RPG. Despite being made in RPG Maker MV, it's not a full RPG game, as there are no levels or experience - all your strength comes from equipment and permanent stat upgrades. Actually there isn't even any point in fighting enemies. Random mooks patrol the game world in a traditional jRPG style, similar to "Lunar" series, but it's actually more prudent to avoid them, instead of wasting time battling them, as they will eventually respawn anyway. You cannot even actually die. Our protagonist Etreyan is immortal and, upon death, will immediately respawn right before the fated encounter that claimed his life, with no penalty. That is purely intentional, because OS is a true adventure game that only pretends to be an RPG.
Goblin charge!
At first glance, the plot appears to be the most simplistic affair. The evil Vizier, together with his goblin minions, commits a coup d'├ętat and takes over the castle of Belgiar City. Etreyan infiltrates the castle to defeat the Vizier and save the beautiful Princess Cescilla, whom he has a crush on. Of course, no plan survives the first contact with an enemy and the infiltration ends with Etreyan killed and his body dumped in the woods. Obviously, due to his immortal status, he "gets better" and now has to collect resources that would let him mount the second, more successful, rescue attempt. In this endeavour he will get the help of three beautiful women: childhood sweetheart Amiel, feisty adventurer Teira and sulky witch Emantha. If Etreyan plays his cards right, he might even get a happy ending with one of these girls, or even the Princess herself.

Only, this whole description above is a lie! Just like in "The Path", follow the given guidelines, defeat the Vizier, rescue the Princess and... fail the game. Sierra Lee wishes you to break out of the rut and do what Etreyan wants, rather than what you as a player want to do. In a way OS is a meta game, not dissimilar to works like "DraKoi". The only way to win is to break the game, even though every NPC tries to "put you back on the path". You'll know that you are doing something right when the actions of NPCs start misaligning with Etreyan's actions, because you are not following the Script anymore.
A woman after my own heart.
It's very hard to discuss OS without spoiling something important, but in the interest of reviewing this game it's important to tell that the victory conditions are closely tied to time-loop mechanics. It's impossible to win the game in one loop and the absolute minimum of required loops is three (though four are needed to experience everything the game has to offer). I really like that the game makes you think, because all the RPG elements that would usually be used to guide you are maliciously unhelpful. There is a small drawback that sometimes it's not very clear where you need to go and what you need to do, but at the same time the game rewards exploration and you can spend as much time as you want trying to figure things out and repeating as many loops as you want. OS doesn't punish you for that.
Breaking the rules.
Once the game gets on track (or rather off track, as it may be), the personalities of important female characters suddenly reveal themselves in their true glory. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating, because none of the characters are particularly deep, but a sudden change is both as startling, as it is real. Amiel has been stuck in her goody-two-shoes housewife role for so long, that she desires to explore the polar opposite of a character archetype beholden to the darkest and most perverse urges. Teira used to be a happy-go-lucky daredevil, which leads to her becoming introspective about her life and the meaning of existence. On the other hand, Emantha has managed to reach some sort of an inner equilibrium that let's her be calm and composed.

OS is not a long game, because Sierra Lee created it while taking a break from her main projects "The Last Sovereign" and "Noxian Nights", and if this is what she can do with a small side project, I'm eagerly waiting for the release of her main games. It took me about 5 hours to complete the game, but that time included some flailing around and being lost.
Classy smut.
Just like all Sierra's games, OS is an eroge and features text-only sex scenes. It's a bit disappointing, as I cannot really get into text-only sex in video games, but the author commented that she would like to update the game with CGs later. On the other hand, the writing in these scenes is superb, just like in the rest of the game. When it comes to writers currently working in creating RPG Maker eroges, Sierra Lee is definitely one of the top, if not the top dog. Unfortunately, once you strip the innovative game design and the unusual story from the equation, the core plot is... not that great, and I have already mentioned that the characters are pretty shallow. Still, for a game the developer created during her chill time, "Ouroboros" is a marvelous little effort.

P.S. I have totally no idea if Sierra Lee is a guy or a gal. Sincere apologies if I got the gender wrong. I got confirmation that Sierra is female and changed the pronouns in the review.

Links of Interest

Official release post on Sierra Lee's blog
Sierra Lee's Patreon
"Ouroboros discussion" on ULMF forums
"Ouroboros" discussion on Legend of Krystal forums
"Ouroboros" walkthrough
Play "Ouroboros" online

Final Verdict: 72 %

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