Trilby, the classy, gentleman thief and star of 5 Days a Stranger is back, but this time he is a different man. No longer a burglar, four years after the events of the DeFoe manor, Trilby has become an agent for STP, the Special Talents Project (if you have not heard of it, you are not supposed to know it anyway) and we join him as he receives news that the evil he fought back then may still be around.
Trilby is not the only one who has changed during the years between 5 Days a Stranger and Trilby's Notes. The most notable change would be the user interface, which is a throwback to the 1980's, before the mouse-driven control system, when the text parser was still widely used. This may come as a bit of a shock to people who were either too young or were just not into adventure games back then as it is something completely unfamiliar to them, but in reality it is not bad at all. Yahtzee's explanation of the inclusion of such an old control method was because he wanted to pay homage to those old games that paved the way for future adventures, but mainly because the story of Trilby's Notes reads exactly like that, a collection of notes written by Trilby, so to him it felt more appropriate for the player to in a sense "write" the notes along the way.
Despite what you may feel concerning the justifications behind the text parser, it works. It recognizes quite a few words, so you can type several different kinds of phrases when you want to perform an action. This is a welcome addition, because trying to guess what a game's author had in mind when designing a puzzle can be a terribly frustrating thing. Still, some of the puzzles demand a better than average knowledge of English in order to be solved, so some players may not be too fond of the inclusion of the parser. And regardless of anything else, there is no denying that the point and click control system eliminated some annoying problems related with the parser, after all, there are only so many times you can type "open door" before it becomes tedious.
As far as the puzzles are concerned, with a couple of notable exceptions, it can be said that they could have easily worked with a mouse cursor system as well. Still, that was not the real reason the parser was implemented so we can look beyond that. The puzzles themselves are for the most part logical, and that is a welcome change over 7 Days a Skeptic, the previous game in the series. Still, sometimes it is not clear what you are supposed to be doing next, yet thankfully this problem is not as common as in the aforementioned game. Last thing concerning the puzzles would be the fact that the design of one or two of them is slightly suspicious, and it feels that their only point is to make the game longer. The following example of such a puzzle can be a bit of a spoiler, so read at your own peril: Why exactly are we not able to pick up the wine bottle the first time we see it? At least most puzzles do not suffer from this problem.
If there was one aspect of the "X Days a Y" games that made them really stood out, then that would be their atmosphere, and the latest installment in the series is no exception to this. The setting of the game, a hotel, is suitably eerie and its rooms and hallways are appropriately disturbing. The graphics are easily the best of the series yet, with more detailed characters and animation than ever before. That is not to say that they can be compared to commercial games, as they are somewhat lacking even when compared to some of the better looking independent games, but they do their job exceptionally well. The quality of music is also a step up from the previous games, with some haunting tunes that fit perfectly with the game's mood. It is worth mentioning that the themes have been written exclusively for Trilby's Notes and for that reason are a lot more fitting than in previous games, and we also get to hear them a lot more often this time around. Some themes do get slightly repetitive after a while, but it is still better than absolute silence. Due to all the above, Trilby's Notes is easily the scariest and most disturbing game of the series yet, and may even really frighten you once or twice.
Another interesting new feature of the game is the inclusion of two worlds which seem to mirror each other, "our" world and a much darker and dangerous one, in which you are transported during certain parts of the game. This will probably remind you of the same feature in the Silent Hill games, and can be seen as homage to that classic horror series. One more thing that may remind you of the Silent Hill games is the number of locked doors that can never be opened, something that can be slightly annoying for people that like to explore all areas. Still, in a game based so heavily on exploration such as this one, it is probably for the best. In any case, the two worlds in this game intertwine, and for certain puzzles, you may find that for example opening a door in one world means that the correlating door on the other world will be opened too. This makes for some interesting and entertaining puzzles, and it is also a quite original feature for an adventure game.
But perhaps the most important part of the game, as was the case with 5 Days a Stranger as well, is its story. Characterized by a complete lack of humor, with only the exception of two occurrences of dry sarcasm, it is darker, deeper, better-written and definitely more disturbing than the story of both 5 Days a Stranger and 7 Days a Skeptic. Spanning almost 2000 years and offering a multitude of different characters (many of which are playable, in black-and-white flashback sequences), the story of Trilby's Notes not only covers any loose ends left by the previous games, it also manages to raise a multitude of questions on its own, yet also succeeds in answering all of them before the game is over, in a plausible fashion.
If there is one flaw with the game's writing, then that would be the supporting characters. Trilby himself is well-developed, but everyone else feels like a stock character, from the damsel in distress to the maniac antagonist with no real motive behind his actions. Still, the storyline of Trilby's Notes is plot-driven and not character-driven so this is to be expected, to a point at least. Some people might argue that if they were interested in plot they would rather watch a soap opera like Dallas, but we are still talking about an independently developed computer game, so in the end the story of Trilby's Notes works.
In the end, Trilby's Notes is the most accomplished game of the series yet, both from a technical point of view, as well as with regards to the quality of its story and writing. I mentioned the curse of the sequels in the review of 7 Days a Skeptic, but I should also mention that there is another unwritten and less-known rule about the third part of a trilogy, which states that part is usually the best one. That is definitely the case here, so if you liked the previous games, you should definitely play Trilby's Notes, and you will be glad to hear that Yahtzee has mentioned that he will release a fourth and final part as well.
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