At its best, Storynexus is a fun platform for story games. I enjoyed Fallen London but I got bored by the grinding and I with all the vagueness I never had a particularly clear idea of my character. The third IF Comp 2013 game I’ve played, Hanon Ondricek’s Final Girl, is a different kettle of fish.
The Storynexus medium typically has the player travel between different nodes, increasing or decreasing skills and undertaking tests of these skills, as well as playing randomly drawn event cards. Final Girl uses some of these features to good effect while other parts felt a little bit clumsy.
The aim of the game is to take on the role of the surviving character in a slasher flick. Interestingly, it begins in the midst of things with what appears to be the conclusion of things, before a dramatic reveal. At its best, it’s high stakes and dramatic. At it’s worst, there’s typical story nexus repetitive scenes. Tonally, the game is slightly tongue in cheek but contains genuinely horrifying moments.
The strong character focus of Storynexus is manifest in Final Girl with the sidebar of equipment, knowledge and stats. At any moment the player can review what they currently know. This is a good thing for solving the mystery (you wouldn’t see this elegant presentation of remaining survivors in a typical parser game, for instance).
Storynexus allows for a lot of random elements, and this was most evident in the random identity of the bodies you find. This increases the chance of seeing new content on replays as even if you take the same path as before, you’ll see new flashbacks.
The flashbacks accompanying each body you find were a neat way of telling the backstory, setting up prior tensions, revealing hidden places and fleshing out the large cast of teenage victims. Unfortunately, here as in some other points in the game, there was Storynexus weirdness where the player had to click through some placeholder screens to get to the next bit of content. This inelegant handling is presumably a temporary fix for some issue, as it appeared throughout the title.
When crossing from one side of the lake to the other (through the woods or across the lake) there were a lot of very repetitive card scenes that could have been shortened and kept the desired effect. Overall the cards were weakest part of the game, with a lot of very similar forest cards. I wish there was some more variety to the stalker attacks: usually I fled and then rolled away and repeated until it worked. Some other options or more area-conditional attacks (like the boat and chainsaw attacks) would have been welcome.
There was a bit of oddness with the second scene, where the player waits by the car for the sheriff. On my first playthrough I was able to wait in the sheriff’s car and take a moment to calm down. On all subsequent playthroughs entering the car proved to be fatal. Perhaps it was a poorly indicated random chance thing.
The writing was competent and often inventive: Ondricek obviously knows the slasher genre well: the title itself is a reference to the name of the common element in many horror films where the final survivor is the least overtly sexualised girl of the film. The knowingness and strength of implementation make Final Girl more than just a pastiche. While it’s not certain whether the protagonist wants to escape or uncover the mystery, the player is definitely rewarded for trying to get to the bottom of things. Replaying is even made easier by the meta-game intro-skip on successive playthroughs, which was a very nice touch. Likewise, the ‘reviews’ at the end act as a concrete reminder of what the player has achieved and what they might achieve better on replaying.
The slasher film genre is ethically dubious. Typically, women in them are punished for their licentiousness while simultaneously being presented in a deeply sexualised way. Final Girl‘s one-stepped removed approach allows the player to enjoy a game in the genre more easily as many of the elements are strongly lamp-shaded and the story focus is on the female protagonist’s resourcefulness and agency. I’m not convinced entirely about the shaming element to the virginity loss flashback (I’m not sure how straight were supposed to take the message you only had it once to give). The other characters (male and female), though drawn from stock roles, are fleshed out in small ways through the flashbacks and so some effort has been made to present the victims as people as well as numbers in a literal body count.
Overall, Final Girl is a successful experiment with the Storynexus medium to give a fun slasher-genre experience. The typical Storynexus repetition is present but not overwhelming so and having effectively unlimited actions meant that the game moves along at a quick pace you’d hope for in a thriller. The translation of the horror film tropes to such a different kind of medium was impressive and there was a certain kind of joy to be had in recognising familiar filmic elements in the unfamiliar medium.