I was born in 1981 and spent the better part of my late teens as a recluse. On any given day of the week you could find me in various AOL chatrooms, shooting the shit with internet friends who had slowly become closer to me than the real life ones. There was just something about the anonymity that made it easier for my socially awkward self to come out of his shell. If I wasn’t making small talk with netfriends, I was usually venting my frustrations over on LiveJournal or immersing myself in a video game fantasy world.
Needless to say, I related to Cibele on just about every level.
Clearly I’m not a young, anime obsessed pink haired girl, but I dealt with parents who frequently argued, real life friends who felt I was abandoning them to stay home and chat online instead, had the odd realization that I’d developed long-distance feelings for someone over the internet, and even met my current girlfriend of 5-years through an MMO.
Cibele is a true-story narrative experience from the perspective of a teenage girl named Nina (based on the game’s developer, Nina Freeman). She’s just moved to New York City to attend college, and usually spends her free time online within the fantasy MMO Valtameri. Recently, she’s become quite close to her guild leader Ichi, and over the course of roughly 90 minutes you’ll explore her desktop, listen to their back-and-forth conversations, and watch their relationship unfold. You might even feel uncomfortable in the process.
Similar to rifling through your parents’ personal belongings in Gone Home, you can click around Nina’s desktop to read her poetry, journal entries, web blogs, and chat logs, and view a variety of her actual photos that update between acts. It was shocking, though not surprising, to see these photos start off innocent enough, then transition in to more mature scantly clad selfies.
It’s important to remember that the relationship between the two socially awkward people is foreign territory, and probably something anyone can relate to that’s been through at least one partner. A lot of the emotion comes not from reading Nina’s desktop documents, but the actual conversations that play out during the game’s Valtameri sessions. In retrospect, browsing Nina’s desktop made me feel awkwardly voyeuristic, which was neat, but I didn’t really get anything more out of it than I did the vocal conversations and FMV cutscenes during its three act structure.
The flow of the game goes from Nina’s desktop to controlling her Valtameri character, Cibele. In the game itself, the two pair up and run dungeons together while you listen to her chat with Ichi. The voice acting is hit or miss, with some lines being delivered well and others clearly being read from a script, but it’s fine and doesn’t break the immersion at all.
You actually play the MMO by clicking on enemies and watching the two auto-attack them to death until a boss creature spawns, repeating the process until the conversation is finished. The art style stands out quite well, and I applaud Valtameri’s unique creature designs and memorable soundtrack. Some may find the idea of clicking enemies until they die to be boring, but I actually felt like I was playing a game within a game. Valtameri resembles a real video game world with neat levels–albeit extremely bite-sized–which immersed me in Cibele’s narrative quite a bit more than simply reading seemingly irrelevant details on Nina’s desktop. I don’t say that as a jab at the game, since it exists to further promote herself as an actual person, not just a game character, but again, it didn’t do much to further the overall narrative for me.
With Cibele being a narrative experience–and a short one, at that (which is fine, really)–it’s difficult to go in to the plot’s intricacies without spoiling everything. I will say that the game offered little more than what was given in its description, and its abrupt, inconclusive ending left me both wanting and unsatisfied. I still connected with the game on a personal level, and recommend it to any fan of narrative-based games or visual novels, but I felt like I had read an entire book that was explained in full on its back cover, or watched a movie that was wholly explained during its brief trailer.
Regardless, I still congratulate the developers for tackling mature subject matter in a unique way. I’ve never played anything like Cibele, which is more than I can say for most games, and that’s saying something. I just wish it explored the after-effect of its climax rather than disappearing in to the credits.
*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I did spend a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if it’s worth playing.