Every so often, I’ll play a game that makes me fall in love with an entire genre. Baldur’s Gate 2 opened my eyes to old-school cRPGs, early Fire Emblem games opened my eyes to tactical strategy titles, and The Longest Journey showed me just how entertaining adventure games are capable of being. Then there’s The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav, an adventure game that does the exact opposite by showing me just how awful adventure games are capable of being. It’s a painful slog through atrocious dialogue, awful storytelling, loathsome characters, and counter-intuitive puzzle design, and while I regret the time and money I spent on the game, I can’t help but appreciate it for showing me just how many elements a game in the genre can get completely wrong.
The story is stupid beyond words
In Chains of Satinav, you play as Geron the bird-catcher, an incompetent idiot who basically stumbles his way into saving the world. Kind of. See, nothing in the story ever comes easily, and even things that are established are quickly undermined with sudden changes, making it impossible to ever tell if anything you did actually mattered. In an early part of the game, it’s established that a fairy can’t leave a certain place or else her “soul will dry up.” Later, she explains that fairies who lose their command over magic don’t die, but are instead “consumed by darkness.” Not too much farther into the game, Geron explains to another character that she can’t use magic or she’ll “either die or lose her soul.” Was Geron not paying any attention? Did the game randomly decide that death was a possible consequence even though it was already established that it wasn’t?
This isn’t the only kind of storytelling incompetence to be found in the game, either; as though the decidedly tedious and mediocre story wasn’t bland enough on its own, characters will often speak about things that they have no way of knowing. At one point, I lied to my companion about a murder, telling her that the person was fine to spare her from the sadder truth. Not five minutes later, the two of us are discussing her murder as though I had disclosed the truth to begin with. This isn’t an isolated incident of people magically learning things they shouldn’t know, and this much inconsistency is absolutely inexcusable in such a story-heavy genre.
The characters are even worse
Geron is the worst character I’ve ever had the misfortune of playing as. He begins the game moping about how everyone sees him as bad luck thanks to his ability to break inanimate objects with his mind (and one sentence about him being luck that a seer said right before being burned at the stake). Seriously. While this moping is at least understandable in the beginning of the game when every single character except one treats him horribly for no real reason, he soon stumbles upon a fairy with little to no knowledge of the outside world. Being a completely blank slate, she not only has no fear of him (in fact, she actually seems to like him quite a bit from the very beginning), but can also use magic to repair the things he breaks despite the whole “she can’t use magic or she’ll die” thing. Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense, but I was willing to let that one go.
What I couldn’t let go is how Geron then proceeds to treat her in the most selfish way possible, yelling at her, commenting about how he wishes he could get rid of her, and generally being a horrible human being toward her for no reason even though she’s the first person who doesn’t treat him with hatred or fear. It makes no sense whatsoever, and even if it did, playing as Geron is thoroughly unpleasant; at one point in the game, you have no option but to cruelly lie to her and continue lying. This isn’t optional. You have to treat her horribly for no reason or else stop playing the game, and when the option to tell the truth finally appears, he doesn’t actually follow through. To be fair, he does go through a mopey phase toward the very end when he realizes just how awful he is, but this comes across as halfhearted and insincere, not to mention every bit as irritating as his selfishness. Put simply, Geron has the emotional range of a hormone-addled tween.
But wait, there’s more!
Do you like puzzles that alternate between being bland busywork and counter-intuitive padding? If so, then this game was made for you. Not only do most of the puzzles consist of running around endlessly, combining items in strange ways (even for an adventure game) and then using them on everything in sight in the hopes that something will trigger and allow you to progress, but some of the puzzles seem designed solely to confuse. For example, there’s a puzzle that requires you to look at a wheel with twelve buttons representing the gods of the world and use the numbers on a tablet to count from the “first god” to figure out which to press. Problem is, you have to count left instead of right. Counting right is a person’s natural instinct since that’s the direction that we write in, so having to count in the opposite direction is a weird requirement that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. That’s hardly the only puzzle that seems designed to be awkward, either, and this is the kind of thing that permeates the entire game.
In-game hint stuff helps a little
Daedelic clearly knew that their puzzles made little sense, too, because they added in a hint feature that shows when items can be combined or used on the environment. This saves you a little time, but some of the more awkward puzzles aren’t benefited by this at all since they tend to revolve around the order you press things/move things in rather than combining items. The prompts that indicate when items can be combined saved me a little time, though, so I’m glad that they’re there despite being worthless when you most need the help.
Teleporting is also nice
Much like Gray Matter and other more modern adventure games, double-clicking on an exit point automatically teleports you there instead of forcing you to watch your character slowly shamble across the screen. This may be an insignificant detail for most, but Chains of Satinav is so bad that even a single example of good design is a welcome relief. When stranded in the deserts of mediocrity, even the smallest drop of water become a precious thing because of its scarcity.
Things just happen
Okay, I have to go back to the story and characters (or to be more specific, the characters’ behavior) for a second. Another thing that really bothered me was how things just randomly happen to move the story along. For example, you spend much of the game being told that there was one gate to the fairy world that was closed for the good of all mankind. Then you suddenly discover a second gate that the people who closed the first gate were aware of, but apparently didn’t bother to try closing. Seriously, you can’t make this kind of thing up. There’s absolutely no consistency to the characters’ behavior.
The Dark Eye has no real significance
If you’re not familiar with it, The Dark Eye is a German role-playing game with its own unique world attached. The whole thing is very much like Dungeons and Dragons and The Forgotten Realms, really. That being said, The Dark Eye has no actual reason to have been used in this game despite its title; aside from a few pointless exclamations and comments about the gods, it’s just something that sits in the background for no reason. They could have stripped everything pertaining to TDE out without impacting the game at all, so it comes across as Daedelic using its name recognition to ride on its coattails. It’s understandable given how horrible this game is, but that doesn’t make it any less sad.
There are white cells with less padding
Another thing I found incredibly irritating about Chains of Satinav is how padded out it is. Instead of having the game’s pace be its top priority, you’re forced to run around doing all kinds of random chores for people when it makes little to no sense. As an example, toward the end of the game you have to see the king in order to get permission to do something that will help you save your town from a flock of evil/possessed crows (again, you can’t make this kind of thing up). Instead of seeing that what you’re doing directly helps everyone, however, you’re refused entry to see the king until you run around and create a potion that removes the crows from that one small area despite the fact that admitting you would accomplish the same thing on a larger scale. It’s just shameless padding.
Bad animation, great art
As you can see in the video above, the animation in Satinav is hilariously bad. Character dialogue, which makes up at least half of the game, is especially bad, with characters only having two or three “moving lip” frames. As a result, everything looks incredibly choppy and amateurish. The background art, on the other hand, is a resounding success. Everything has a very painterly, detailed quality to it, and if Satinav has one saving grace, it’s definitely its background art.
There’s one good track in the entire game
When I first started up the game, I was greeted with a main menu theme that was tranquil and memorable, almost like a lullaby. I expected this to be indicative of the rest of the game’s music, but was instead disappointed to see that the only track interesting enough to pay any attention to was that single lullaby-type song. Everything else was meaningless, soulless filler that was forgotten the moment it was finished playing. Needless to say, I was incredibly disappointed.
Here’s what you should do: