June 9, 2015 11:00 AM | John Bridgman
Discordianism is not something I'm too familiar with. So my experience playing Ossuary, the dark puzzle adventure game from Future Proof Games, is more of an outside look into something I don't quite grasp. I think this is how a lot of folks would be seeing the game from, so the question remains if it's something that can appeal to folks who aren't totally familiar with the referential concepts the game delves.
Ossuary sets you in the role of someone freshly deposited in the titular place of bones, and you are set out to find out the truth and lies of your new possibly Hellish existence. I say possibly because while it has the markings you might expect of a place of punishment, the place has a sort of dry sarcasm about it. The role of the place of bones itself seems to have a level of interpretation about it that you can also piece together as you gain more information.
The concept of sin and virtue is discussed a lot in the game, as you unlock abilities to interact with the other denizens of the Ossuary in the form of sins. These give additional dialogue options or are used to solve puzzles, as, for example, making a guard feel wrathful makes them open a door early on to get you out of their hair. It's a clever little interpretation on puzzle-solving, and fits in with the more social influence the puzzles tend to have.
The puzzles tend to be dialogue based more than anything, and the most elaborate ones are mainly more bureaucratic in a way, requiring you to go from one NPC to another and asking the right questions in order to progress. This adds to the rather intriguing sarcastic feel about the world you're set in. I'm certain almost anyone can identify with the frustrations and difficulty of having to deal with person after person to get something relatively menial accomplished.
In fact the game often addresses menial tasks as unnecessarily complicated, which I have to assume is intentional. NPCs have a tendency to talk awkwardly even when they request you do something for them, and it all comes together in an experience that is intriguing while at the same time skirting the edge of being a genuine nuisance. It's a fine line but the game walks it well, avoiding becoming annoying while still having you to do the mundane or absurd.
The game has a consistent aesthetic visually, though it will probably be quite off putting for some people. Character sprites are geometric shapes with legs, while their portraits in dialogue are of fairly varied quality. Some are simple and dull while others are more detailed and expressive. There seems to be no real significance to which characters receive more detail, which may also be intentional, but it doesn't strike me as being anything but random in all honesty.
Meanwhile, the way Ossuary sounds is definitely a strong point. The background music is haunting and builds slowly, never really dramatic, but simply there, and ominous as it grows stronger and weighs down on you. With a chilling wail to its chorus, the music is fitting and builds the ideal atmosphere the game is trying to achieve. The sound your make as you walk around, each footstep a crunching noise that stirs up imagery of just what it might be you're stepping on; this is, after all, the place of bones. When you talk to an NPC, the speech sound cue is otherworldly and slightly unsettling.
I almost want to say that Ossuary is funny, but I'm not sure that's quite the way to frame it. It's got a sort of dark humour that is probably best described as sarcastic or ironic. The Hell-like world you find yourself in has some ironic parallels to the more jaded views of reality and I think it works well to make you question what it is you're experiencing as you work your way through the game. Still, I did chuckle to myself a few times as I played at some of the characters and their more interesting requests. The two political groups, both of whom operate on a militant platform of "Evil Is Bad" is amusing, for example.
In the end, I cannot in good faith say whether Ossuary accurately explores Discordianism. I do however, think it's an entertaining and thought provoking adventure game which fans of the genre will appreciate if they don't get turned away from it by its aesthetics. It's macabre and cynical, and it has some good puzzle design that plays well to what the game is trying to accomplish mechanically.