The Huntsman: Winter's Curse is an RPG/visual novel hybrid that is an average representation of both genres, doing enough good things to offset some of the issues it has as well. The end result is a pleasant enough experience, but not one that most people are going to play more than once.
There are some pretty positive takeaways from my time spent with Huntsman (which was released previously on the PC in chapter/installments). It has a lot of similarities to a visual novel or a narrative-heavy experience like the Telltale Games titles. You never really walk your character around, though you do at times have access to a map where you can choose where to go. Generally speaking however, the map is limited to either your primary quest or your side quest. If you move onto a new chapter/book, you lose access to any uncompleted side quests.
The story has a storybook quality that reminds me of games that start in similar fashion, such as Child of Light or Lost Sea. You play the role of Elisabeth, a determined young woman who was raised on and puts a great deal of stock in fairy tales and their generally happy endings. She has faith that the best can come of every situation, even when things are going poorly. Partway through her adventure, Elisabeth is introduced to Marcus, a man who possesses magic and a willingness to help our protagonist on her journey to save her four missing brothers. His personality is almost the exact opposite of Elisabeth's, expecting the worst out of most situations due to his own dark experiences.
It is an interactive story with some decision-making along the way, though the narrative is by and large on rails and one where your decisions do little to alter the outcome of what is next to happen. Just as this approach to branching narrative is somewhat shallow, so are the progression and combat options that make up the RPG portion of the game. Your characters will gain experience and new items (often from doing side quests) that improve their stats, allow you place skill points as you see fit (though the skill tree is somewhat simple) and to swap out pieces of equipment. Each piece of equipment comes with a card or two attached to it, and sometimes an additional effect (which is never explained and for which there is no evident help or tutorial guidance, leaving me to wonder just what 'weak' or 'burdened' mean, even after completing the game).
Each of these cards plays into the combat system. When combat occurs, your character(s) will face off with a creature (or multiple creatures) and order of operation plays out on a timeline near the upper left corner of the screen. This part of the game plays out rather well, as some skills allow you to move up the timeline while some negative impacts can cause you to slide backwards (such as being hit with a skill that has stun, or using an attack that has a slow modifier to it). Each time a character's turn is up, a random collection of the cards your items can generate appears. You then choose which one you want to use. Most of these are attack cards, but there are some defensive and healing ones as well. Battle then plays out in turn-based format until victory conditions are met. It is a simple and lightweight system that I generally enjoyed.
In fact, that last sentence can be applied to just about every aspect of Huntsman. Leveling up is fairly simple. Combat is straight forward. Story progression is not complicated. Huntsman seems to know what it is - a fairly shallow but generally entertaining experience that tries to blend a couple of different genres together and succeeds more often than not in doing so. The visual style and music are distinctive if somewhat simple. Even the characters follow the same formula as I liked them, even if they were generally somewhat cliched and their story entertaining if not terribly memorable.
This is a relative pleasant indie title that is unfortunately held back from a better score due to some issues beyond its relative lack of depth. Simply put, there were not a ton of bugs, but there were enough notable ones that they stood out when they occurred, especially when you consider that this is by and large a relatively simple title. For example, I spent nearly twenty minutes trying to figure out how to advance past the hedge maze in one of the chapters. I apparently chose the wrong option, and it put the game into a buggy loop where there was no way to proceed. The only reason I figured this out is I asked a buddy of mine who was reviewing the game for another site if he had run into the same issue, and he said he had and to just quit to the main menu and do that part over again.
There was another point later in the game where one of my companions was supposed to leave my party and then be replaced by a new one. Except, the original companion never did leave and the other one - though there were references to him in the story as being a combatant alongside Elisabeth - never actually joined me. Once again there was a spot where I had two choices to make, and I suspect that the one I chose was not fully tested. Additionally there were three times during combat where the menu options simply froze. The music played, the characters continued their bouncing ready-stance animations, but no matter what button I pushed or direction I pulled the sticks, nothing would happen. Like the earlier hedge maze bug, I was forced to hit options and exit out to the menu and restart. Thankfully the game makes frequent use of checkpoints, and in all four instances I only lost several minutes of gameplay, but these bugs were all rather distracting and showed off some unfortunate rough edges. None of these issues were deal breakers, but all of them were momentum killers.
Last but not least in the quibble department, there are a handful of smaller usability issues. I mentioned before the lack of description on the different states items can put your characters in, but the combat menu also feels a little jumbled. When one of your cards is highlighted in a fight, dialog boxes pop out to the left - usually overlapping other cards in the process. It would have made more sense to perhaps have those as tabs or ribbons above the menu item. Also, I find it odd that side quests often having you traveling to prior locations well away from where your characters are at. It doesn't really make logical sense from within the flow of the narrative. Last but not least, sometimes dialog boxes simply disappear before you can read them, firing up a loading or transition screen even though I am not hitting the advance button. It doesn't happen, maybe only a half dozen or so times, but it is kind of annoying.
The Huntsman: Winter's Curse has some interesting ideas, and I can appreciate that it blends RPG elements with a unique card battling system that compliment the visual novel-like story. None of these elements are particularly deep, but they are enjoyable enough to want to see the game through, even when a handful of smaller bugs do make it harder to complete the game properly.
Desert Owl Games, LLC
Desert Owl Games, LLC
Article by Nick