Chronicles of Mystery's story starts several centuries earlier as the Knights Hospitaller, rivals to the Knights Templar, attempt to hide an ancient artifact that holds a terrible power. One careless moment later, the last of those tasked to secure it manages to shutter it closed, but only after everyone else had died from witnessing the secret within. Fast-forward to today, and Sylvie Leroux, a young archaeologist in Paris, receives a call from her uncle urging her to return to Malta where she had grown up. Her uncle excitedly tells her of his latest discovery: a secret underground temple that may tie in to her own work. Hoping that it may have the proof that she needs to validate her own findings, she quickly travels to the island only to discover that her uncle is missing.
Getting around is as easy as it is to click on items to add them to Sylvie's bottomless pockets, which fit everything from string to metal detectors. Right-clicking on an item in her inventory, which is shown on the bottom of the screen, will bring up a closer look and allow her to interact with or combine items. Also located on the same bar is a huge question mark. Clicking on that brings up all of the "hot spots" on-screen to help cut down on the amount of pixel-hunting that players need to do, although the manual calls this a "hint" guide, as if it were doing something that several more minutes of squinting couldn't achieve, such as solving a puzzle. Moving the cursor to the top of the screen brings up the save and load functions, along with the menu option for exiting the game. The resolution is locked at 1024x768 and I couldn't find any way to change it, but the visuals don't really need the full power of a top-end system.
The world of Chronicles of Mystery is a small one, and the player will be doing a lot of backtracking to get to where he needs to go or solve certain puzzles as they are found. Many of the scenes look fantastic, whether it is a study filled with books or the mundane interior of a car, though the 3-D models used for the characters vary in quality because of the low-detailed textures that they wear. Some scenes look radically different when the story revisits them during the day or night, which is a welcome touch, although many areas have that "filler" feeling by offering nothing more than one or two token hotspots. One area even has two hotspots that might appear to lead to undiscovered locations and more secrets, but I soon realized that they were either red herrings or leftover items from a more ambitious design.
Players looking to get into a solid interactive story will find that the voice actors do a decent job with the occasionally bloated dialogue. Sylvie's voice actress delivers a solid performance even if her lines were sketchy, but some of the other characters will make you cringe. Mispronunciations of words such as "renaissance" or faked accents don't help the rest of the cast make much of an impression, and it's not hard to pick out who the potential heroes and villains are, which makes the story predictable. The music is serviceable, so it's isn't irritating or feel out of place with the puzzles or the setting.
Most of the puzzles have logical solutions, such as using shears to clear brush and weeds, using stones to jam certain mechanisms, and dropping in a few sleeping pills in someone's drink to get him out of the way if only for a little while. However, there are one or two puzzles where the solutions depend on repetitive trial and error by mashing everything together in the inventory until something works, having to go out of your way simply to perform a simple task, or randomly running into a condition that has changed although there's no way for you to know that something had happened elsewhere in the world.
One puzzle had me running over a scene with a fine-toothed cursor, only to realize that a particular NPC had left, which allowed me to do something that I was previously unable to do. Of course, I spent almost half an hour trying to figure out what I might have missed since I had eliminated every other option until I decided to leave; when I returned later, that NPC was gone. Instead of manipulating the event so that the player could figure things out, the game decided to change the rules without hinting to the player that this had happened.
Another puzzle required me to clean a dirty button, which sounds simple enough. The solution was a convoluted series of steps involving a branch and a wet napkin found a block away. I couldn't figure out why I needed a branch outside of the building when there were bushes with long branches near the puzzle area, or why I needed to clean the button at all because I could see what the design was, and I knew that it was the button I needed by process of elimination. As luck would have it, though, a wet napkin sitting on a table from the night before proved to be the key to saving the world. Really?
I could go on about the bizarre solutions that the game sometimes wants the player to pursue, but after playing adventure games for so many years, I've come to accept the odd and strange ways that developers have used their particular logic to provide challenges, and Chronicles of Mystery isn't as bad as some others. Most of the puzzles tie into the story well enough without becoming intrusive or out of place. The story, however, doesn't fare as well.
After getting off to a decent start with some fascinating props and a few interesting locales, the thin characterizations reveal only that Sylvie must have a limitless bank account for international travel and is fortunate to have enemies who aren't as smart as they think they are. It avoids having to depend on the oft-abused Knights Templar for its Crusades-era mysteries, leaning instead on their rivals, the Knights Hospitaller, for inspiration. This was a welcome change of pace, since the Hospitaller order did not share the same kind of lethal PR that the Templars did, courtesy of Philip IV of France.
Even this was not enough to save the story from its own lapses in logic, such as Sylvie's visions from the past, which are never explained. In one scene, a somewhat disreputable museum manager finds Sylvie in an off-limits location. It's obvious that the stolen artifacts that had been there are gone and that she was left behind by whoever took them. The only way into the room was through the museum or through the window, and the stolen artifacts were in boxes that were big enough to store scooters. Instead of turning over Sylvie to the police or create a scenario where she can escape or talk her way out of the situation by turning it back on the would-be thieves, the story calls for the manager to simply let her go because she smells like fish and is probably poor. In other games where the villains are a lot less trusting and smarter, Sylvie's days of globetrotting would be over. Most of the game takes this convenient approach to just about everything that our archaeologist encounters, often forcing the player to rationalize an explanation or simply accept that she's the luckiest person on the planet. Working through a potential puzzle to avoid the situation altogether could have been a better alternative.
Players expecting a challenging tale of mystery may also be surprised by the somewhat short game when veterans may find themselves at the end much sooner than they had thought possible. Even at its most exciting, the game fails to provide a memorable puzzle for the player. After solving one last twist, making her grand discovery, and reading what Sylvie must do to set things right, the player is treated to a final movie that leaves behind more questions than resolutions. Instead of feeling like I had saved the world and eagerly looking forward to Sylvie's next adventure, I was left with little else besides a quick ending to a weak story and only the credits to end the tale.
Despite how it is resolved in the end, Chronicles of Mystery's rocky start doesn't mean that Sylvie's adventures are over, and as a budget title, it might be an ideal introduction for newcomers to the adventure genre. Chronicles of Mystery: The Scorpio Ritual manages to partly succeed in introducing the world to a clever and adventurous character in Sylvie Leroux, and while she's got a long way to go before she can catch up to Niko from Revolution's Broken Sword series, there's enough potential for future installments to see her on a much longer episode of hidden secrets and ancient mystery.
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