Maraiyum: Rise of the Setting Sun by Humdrum Games is something like a cross between a choose-your-own-adventure and an RPG. You can level up skills that determine whether you'll have the experience to take certain actions later on; there are also many different scenarios you can take, and every choice you make has a consequence.
Mostly, that consequence is: you’re going to die. Whether it’s in 2 turns or 20 turns.
Unlike your typical choose-your-own-adventure, you can’t bookmark your decisions and retrace your steps to find better outcomes. And instead of having 2 or 3 choices per page, you'll get about 16. They all build on top of each other, to the point that it’s tough to figure out what variables you need for a favorable outcome.
Maraiyum: Rise of the Setting Sun’s defining feature as a game is also the thing that sinks it.
Here’s the setup: you’re a distant member of your country’s royal lineage, forced into hard labor by your despotic relative. The army gets sick of his shenanigans and stages a coup; they need a figurehead with royal blood to give their government legitimacy, so they install you on the throne as their puppet. You try to keep the country going (which is in turmoil, thanks to your idiot relative’s less-than-stellar leadership) and survive for a year while various military and political forces try to take you down. You use the skills you learn every week, some which allow you to make governing decisions, others which simply keep you alive.
The first few times you'll play the game, it will feel like choices are many. And the game is obviously meant to be played multiple times (the option to skip dialogue you’ve already heard being a godsend). But the more you play it, the more restrictive it feels. The margin of error in your choices is very, very small. Level up the wrong skill during the wrong week and you might screw yourself over. You can go back and start over from a week if you’ve saved, but the cause-and-effect relationship between your choices and their consequences means that it’s hard to unravel which choices were incorrect and which ones you should have made instead. There never seems to be enough time to develop all of the skills you know you’ll need in the future.
It’s a bummer that the gameplay is so frustrating because the story is great.
The world Humdrum Games has created is full of political intrigue, rival factions, and moral and ethical quandaries. Every character has an interesting, distinct personality, and it can be difficult to choose between 2 people you like who are on the opposite sides of an issue.
The setting is also wonderful. It’s a Middle Eastern-influenced land in a genre that tends to stick to the King Arthur era of fantasy, and the art, though pretty basic, lends a lot of meaning to the story with characters’ reactions and facial expressions. The music furthers your immersion in this absorbing world. I would love to spend more time there but in another game.
Not this one. The final straw was the number of bugs. There are times when the game freezes and won’t let you go further if you select a particular action (which is particularly annoying when you’ve narrowed down the choices and the action you want to take is the one that *won’t* end in you dying.) The developer has been pretty responsive on the Steam forums, but getting a fix in a few days is a tough pill to swallow when you’re playing a game that mostly relies on you to keep a continuous train of thought and finish it in one sitting.
The other unfortunate issue with the game is that the ending don’t always make sense. When you die, you get to find out what happens to the empire you’ve been leading and the other nations you’ve been dealing with. But the endings are clearly limited, and they don’t account for every set of actions you might have taken. Sometimes characters who died during your playthrough are shown taking over the empire, or enemies that have already conquered areas of the world are said to have conquered those areas again. In a game that usually pays very close attention to its story, those oversights are substantial. The endings are supposed to be your consolation prize for the fact that you’re going to be killed so often, so for them to not make sense ruins some of the fun of the game.
I want to recommend Maraiyum: Rise of the Setting Sun; I do. I was utterly charmed by the writing and the storytelling. And maybe in a few weeks, I’ll be able to go back and try it again with a clear head, and all the gameplay puzzles I’m stuck on at the moment will make perfect sense. But right now, I’m burned out on it. It is too repetitive, too frustrating, and too obtuse for me to tell you, go ahead and buy it.