Original upload date: March 5th, 2018
Reupload date: April 9th, 2018
Had to do some quick grammar edits, and I could not publish my changes for some reason!
Here's a quick little game that I picked up over the weekend; The Shrouded Isle is a game where I was finally able to live out my lifelong dreams of being a creepy Victorian-era cult leader.
In this quick indie management simulator, you play as the high priest of a cult that resides on a secluded (almost shrouded?) island. This island is ruled by you, and the five major houses that each resemble, and are responsible for, their respective values to the cult: ignorance, fervor, discipline, penitence, and obedience.
Let me start off by pointing out the seemingly obvious: the art style fits the game exceedingly well, and is overall done very well. Which surprised me a little, considering the game has the color pallet of stale mustard. The music really adds to the feel of this secluded island, and it’s really beautifully done. Each season has its own theme, and each of the songs is magically eerie. With the above, and the fact that you can't see any of the villagers eyes feels perfect for the tone that this game is trying to create. The art and feel of this game is what it does best, which is really great! However, while the gameplay is fun, it can be lacking in some areas.
In your first play through, you know nothing other than that your god will awaken in five years, and you must appease him by ridding the island of all sinners. Every season you must sacrifice a sinner to appease your god. Immediately, you are thrown right into the game after a brief, but visually pleasing cutscene. When I got to the management screen, I said out loud to my computer: "okay, now what?". There isn't a whole lot of direction in where the game wants you to go, which can be really nice since this game is supposed to be open-ended, but a brief tutorial would've been nice to understand how the game works.
As the head priest, you must balance out these five cult values to keep the rest of the island under control by choosing an adviser from each house, and then command them to do things such as build monuments, whip sinners, or burn unholy books. Each three month season, you inquire about your potential advisers and learn about their virtues and vices. By doing this, you can determine who might be a sinner on the isle. Each virtue and vice is randomly generated each game, and can either make or break the entire game. If anything, the random number generator is the real god in this game, and it can be kind, or absolutely fucking ravaging. Which adds to replayability in the sense that no game is ever going to be the same, but suffers from the same problems that games like Darkest Dungeon have: you might get dicked over so hard that it might not be fun enough to replay.
Lucky for this game, I'm almost masochistic when it comes to playing video games. If I'm not suffering, am I really enjoying it?
After picking what you hope will be the best five (or four good ones, and an obvious sinner), you must command them to serve the island. The actions of your advisers will impact the island community based on their virtues and vices. For example, if you have an adviser that is full of fervor, the overall fervor of the island will increase whenever you order that adviser to take an action. However, let's also say that the same adviser is wildly disobedient. While fervor for the island is increasing, the overall island cult obedience to the high priest goes down.
The Shrouded Isle launch trailer
One thing that really stands out in the gameplay is at the end of each season, you have the opportunity to sacrifice one of your advisers to the cult god. Going back to our sample adviser, while they may have increased fervor, they had a major vice, and they turned out to be a pervert, which has decreased overall obedience. Sacrificing that adviser might be a good idea. If they had a major vice regarding a certain value, sacrificing an adviser is a good way to balance out the cult values. However, the trade-off is that the respective house of the adviser you are sacrificing will resent you for killing one of their kin.
Which adds another mechanic: keeping the major houses from hauling your own ass onto the sacrificial slab.
The five major houses on the isle each resemble an important aspect of the island. One house manages all the mercantile stuff, another one is the guardsmen of the isle, one who grows all the food, the builder family, and then the family that makes religious laws? I wasn’t entirely sure what the fifth family did. Either way, you as a the head priest must keep them all happy by putting their kin as active advisers, not inquiring too much about the various vices that each family member has, and settling disputes between houses that may arise.
One thing that bugged me about the game was that it seemed like every house was almost hypocritical to the value they were supposed to be responsible for. For example in one play through, almost every member of the house in charge of handling obedience had a "disobedient" vice. This seemed weird to me, wouldn't it make sense to make sure that most of the family members in each house didn't have contradictory vices to what the house stood for? Especially in this hyper-religious cult island-getaway paradise?
I had a ton of fun playing this game. While it does occasionally pull some bullshit with the random number generators, and sometimes gameplay can be a bit repetitive, it is still a fun game. It now also comes with a free expansion called Sunken Sins, which adds extra events, and contagions to your villagers, which adds a whole new level to gameplay. The $9.99 price tag seems a little high for a game that is this short, but is honestly worth it.
The art is very well done, it’s really interesting to see where you end up each playthrough, the gameplay is fun, and I sat listening to the amazing soundtrack for hours while the game ran in the background (which honestly warranted the purchase on its own).
Overall, I would absolutely recommend this game! You can check the game out on Steam, or the Humble Store! The game is on sale fairly frequently on both platforms, and I would recommend considering a purchase.
I would also recommend checking out the developers over at Kitfox Games! They're a six person team based out of Montreal, and are doing some pretty impressive stuff!