There was a time once, long ago, where the time a game spent in development was a good indicator of the level of polish you could expect from it. Blizzard’s stance of releasing “when it’s done” was a great example of this, showing that they were (once) dedicated to releasing games only when they past their rigorous standards. But then Duke Nukem Forever happened, Early Access games seemingly stayed that way for forever, and title after title that’d been delayed multiple times released to extremely underwhelmed audiences. The prestige with a long development cycle has most certainly past, but I am still intrigued by games that, for whatever reason, still manage to see the light of day after such a long time in the oven. Storyteller is the result of over a decade of development by Daniel Benmergui and whilst not all of that time was likely spent on the game itself it does have a certain labour of love feel to it.
Storyteller doesn’t have a narrative per se, instead you’re put in charge of a storyboard of vignettes. Given a title to the story, set of characters and places you’re set to task designing a narrative that fits the bill. The story’s panels are fully interactive with each other, the outcomes of one flowing down to all of the other panels that follow it. How they interact though is the core challenge of the game as the different characters have different motivations, desires and actions depending on how you choose to craft your narrative. Whilst this isn’t exactly a novel idea (FRAMED comes to mind, although it released quite some time after the dev started working on this one) it’s implementation is charming and, above all, just plain fun.
The hand drawn art style is just lovely, feeling like those comics you’d see kids drawing in the margins of their school books. The muted colour scheme fits well with the medieval setting of the game, allowing the small splashes of colour here and there to really stand out and highlight the elements that you should be paying attention to. I also really enjoyed the foley work with certain interactions. like when one of the characters turns into a werewolf or when one of the characters decides to get up to no good.
As with any typical puzzler Storyteller starts out pretty simply, showing you the ropes by presenting you with easy challenges that only take a handful of tries to complete. This also helps establish the foundational knowledge you’ll need for the harder challenges later on as each of the characters aren’t fungible. To be sure, most of them are quite malleable in terms of what they’ll do given any particular situation, but all of them have things that they will/won’t do and you’ll need to know this in order to solve most of the harder challenges.
It’s also worth noting that any assumptions you have about how characters should interact is likely going to lead you terribly astray. There were a few puzzles I got stuck on because I thought things had to work out in a particular order and when I got stuck I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. But once I started messing around with the various character interactions it became clear that my views didn’t like up with the developer’s logic at all in some circumstances. Once you know that though it’s usually pretty easy to figure out which interactions you need to test and then use the results to solve the puzzle.
The main gripe I seem coming up time and time again with Storyteller seems to be its length, with my playthrough clocking in at just on 2 hours with most being just short of that. In some respects I agree, it’s definitely a short experience even by my standards, but at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Far too many indie games make the mistake of padding out their game length to double this time and usually end up being extremely boring as a result. Storyteller, for me at least, strikes a good balance between length and repetition with its current set of mechanics.
I do however think that a sandbox mode, coupled with the Steam workshop or a similar ability to share custom stories between players, would be absolutely amazing for this game. I can understand that the dev hasn’t tested all the kinds of weird and wonderful edge cases that could come up in putting something like that out to the general public, but at the same time I think anyone engaging with that mode would be well aware of the potential shenanigans that they might find themselves in.
Storyteller is a brilliant and succinct experience, bursting at the seams with a delightfully cheeky charm to it. The emergent narratives that you’ll develop on each page are simple and (usually) hilarious little vignettes that are fun to muck around with. It is a short experience, which seems to be a major turn off for some, but for filthy casual players like me the ~2 hour experience is probably just right. Adding in a sandbox story mode or custom story creator mode would likely see this game have near infinite replay, but the jury is still out on whether that’ll ever happen. For a game I had no idea about until I saw it released Storyteller was a great surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Storyteller is available on Nintendo Switch and PC right now for $22.49. Game was played on the PC with a total of 2 hours playtime and 9% of the achievements unlocked.