Nepenthe is a narrative driven RPG drawn entirely in crayons. It was part of the itch.io bundle for racial justice and equality. Whilst browsing hundreds upon hundreds of games in the bundle, this one caught my eye because of the unique art style so I decided to give it a go.
The game starts out with you being asked to deliver a letter. You are a simple, bald mailman who must cross an ocean to deliver a letter. You get caught up in a storm and end up shipwrecked with no memory. A guide will help you get on your feet and then you’re free to explore! The island you explore is inhabited by friendly monsters and the odd human. Everyone confuses you for a monster, so you must explain multiple times that you are not a monster, you’re just bald.
There are two modes in this; Adventure Mode, which is the full game, and Story Mode, which allows you to walk through the game without involved battles. I played adventure mode and the battles are fun, if sometimes a bit long. For my subsequent playthroughs I chose story mode so I didn’t have to play the same battles over again. Attacking is rhythm based, requiring you to press either Z or X at the right moment, and defending an attack is bullet hell style, where you have to move about to avoid obstacles.
This game has a great atmosphere to it. I love the unique crayon-drawn art style of it and there’s a really good variety of music included. The game makes you feel uneasy for doing the ‘wrong’ thing (and I did a lot of the wrong thing on my first playthrough). It’s also full of minute details and sarcastic humour. If you’re someone who loves inspecting every little detail, then this game is perfect! If you can walk up to something, you can probably inspect it and get a small comment. This gets brought to the extreme when you enter a room full of beds. Every single bed in that room has a different comment attached to it.
For my first playthrough, I stole someone’s pick axe, then they tried to kill me, so I fought back and then I just couldn’t stop killing people. My playthrough ended up just being a mass murder spree. This is probably the easiest way to complete the game, requiring no need for puzzle solving. Just bluntly run around murdering everyone. I killed an old lady’s guards when she got angry at me, then I killed the old lady, then her son came along and found her dead.
Running around blindly killing everyon is not a very satisfying way to end the game and most confrontations are either avoidable or have alternative ways to get out of them without fighting. For example, I fed a spider some rotting meat and it decided I tasted too terrible to consider eating.
The game’s other endings aren’t quite as simple as “don’t kill anyone”, there’s some pivotal points where you need to do the right thing. There’s a man you can meet early on who seems to spout absolute gibberish, but he turns out to offer you very important clues towards how to get the best ending.
My second playthrough actually ended up being a lot longer than the first, it turns out there’s a lot of extra content depending on what decisions you make and a lot more to the lore than it first seems. My first playthrough, I didn’t even know what “Nepenthe” was. Even on your second playthtough, you are extremely unlikely to get the best ending. There’s a little trap to prevent you from getting the best ending, but you won’t realise it’s a trap until you see the ending. Once you get ending 2, you’re well filled in on all the back story and you should know enough to get the best ending.
Nepenthe was a great experience and with a well thought out story. The game world links together really nicely and there’s a great sense of humour throughout and tons of attention to detail.