In our discovery section, we like to uncover weird indie games. But “visual-novel-ish” RPG About an Elf might be a bit too odd, even for us.
A highly fashionable, magical elven princess, small enough to ride an adult cat: that’s the sparkly image presented to you by Meringue Interactive’s first game About an Elf. I thought I was in for an unforgettably weird and inventive explosion, but what I got was something more carefully designed, a Quixote-esque tale that sadly fizzled out before it made a lasting impact.
About an Elf is a self-proclaimed “point-and-click-ish, RPG-ish, visual-novel-ish game”, which basically means it’s a visual novel masquerading as an RPG, with slight bouts of interactivity.
You might look at the game’s hyperreal, post-modernist look and assume it’s style over substance, which would be (mostly) wrong – as the game can be (quite) endearing and has (some) fun writing. Protagonist Princess Dam, for instance, is the best thing about the game. She has one of those good-games-character-designs that makes you want to control her. (A Princess Dam mod for Bayonetta would be nice, if anyone’s listening). Plus, anyone who can pull off pointy elf ears and not look lame deserves credit.
Dam’s a great character, unabashedly quixotic, with the whole game being told to her cynical friend, Dido, as a story of her escapades to create an “Eltopia”. She rewards Dam with gummy bears for her enjoyment of the story, but making a wrong choice will lead to a fictional demise and lose you one sweet, sweet ursine gummy for your obvious liberties in supposed non-fiction. (A riff on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’s “no no no, that’s not the way it happened”, perhaps.)
While Dam is amazing, About an Elf’s story is an unsatisfying one, as it doesn’t really go anywhere. At one moment it appears the story would hinge on a silly plot point and that would be its punchline à la Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm, but sadly there was no Davidian ending in sight.
For battling, Dam has access to Magiballs, the strangely marble-like entities with names like Archimedes, Benjamin, and Galileo. When used in the “kinda-RPG” battles, Magiballs will reveal your enemy’s weakness, manifest as a crystal ball vision aka video clips that show you which Magiball to use.
At first, this seems an inventive mechanic, but after a while, the clips make less sense and an increase in Magiballs only results in further frustration. I’m still not sure how a close-up shot of a dog is related to the water element of Archimedes. Perhaps a bit of text to help pinpoint the meaning of the visions would help to alleviate the not-fun randomness?
What’s disappointing is that About an Elf is simply not as exciting as its intriguing art and wild premise. It feels like the electric creative spirit on display is shackled by a repetitive, sober sensibility.
If the game had a brisker film-length pace, or perhaps was filled to its current length with more thought-out gameplay, it could’ve been a much better experience. Ultimately, the game exists within a weird limbo of having too much and yet ironically not going far enough.
In the end, About an Elf is still an interesting game, and one made by only two people, which is an accomplishment in itself. Even though I’m disappointed it hasn’t made more of a lasting impression, I’m happy to live in a world where something offbeat like About an Elf simply exists. Here’s hoping Meringue Interactive make another game to further the exploits of Princess Dam.