November 30, 2016 7:27 PM | Christian Valentin
In dialogue choice-driven games, your words define you. Through your conversation, you can be a noble hero saving the galaxy, a good friend, a selfish father figure during the undead apocalypse, a suave spy. The challenge lies in choosing what to say.
In Sethian, you do have to choose what to say, uncovering the secrets of a lost civilization through your queries. But first you have to learn how to say it, because question, answer, and in fact the majority of the game's UI is presented in an alien language. It's a text adventure from another world.
Sethian's premise is simple. You're on an distant colony, following in the footsteps of a previous researcher, and your only means to dig deeper is through an ancient computer AI. But the AI only communicates through "Sethianese", so to achieve your goal, you must master how to speak back and read the otherworldly dialect.
Fortunately, you have the notes of that aforementioned researcher as your guide. With the handwritten notes that explain basic syntax, sentence construction, and a dictionary, Sethian unfolds as a fascinating puzzle-adventure hybrid. At the start, the game can feel overwhelming, thanks to a minimalist multi-page display of odd symbols. Dots and dashes and weird runes and squiggles and geometric shapes and similar variants, and it's all utter nonsense to your untrained eye.
But slowly, gradually, you acclimate. You learn how input questions. How to properly format a question. How to ask who, where, how inquiries. How to state "I" versus asking about other nouns like a building or an event. How to mark a work as someone's or something's title. How to combine phrases to create a new concept that doesn't have a word in the language. And soon, that array of symbols isn't nonsense. You can formulate a directed question and understand the response. It's quite fitting that Sethian released around the same time as the first contact movie Arrival, because this is probably the closest analog, a game of alien linguistics.
Of course, understanding is only half of Sethian. A great mystery awaits to be solved. What happened to the colony's people? What is the ascension? It's an interesting tale, made more engrossing due to you having to consider what an odd phrase might be saying on context and how you need to ask to learn more.