I wasn’t playing videogames in the 80s (I wasn’t alive yet) but I know the forefathers of the RPGs I play now were text-based, choose-your-own-adventure type games. Strip down the visuals and fighting from modern games, and at their core, they’re storytelling devices. That’s why I loved playing Open Sorcery, a text-based RPG in which you play as a magical firewall, in a world in which magic and technology are indistinguishable.
I heard about this game on the Cybertwee Facebook group, which is a constant source of cute techy content; it’s like cyberpunk’s cuter, younger sister. Joining was one of the better decisions I’ve made. The premise is based around the idea that any sufficiently advanced technology would seem like magic, especially to normal people. In the world of Open Sorcery, code is intertwined with runes, servers with crystals. It’s a really evocative premise, especially for someone like me who loves both fantasy and computers.
You are play as a fire spirit bound by code to be a firewall for the houses of your creators, a local school, and a nursing home. For such a short game, I’m impressed by how many different routes can be played; even after my third playthrough (augmented by comments and walkthroughs on Steam) there are still abilities and elements I haven’t figured out how to find, yet.
The game mechanics involve you scanning each area daily (in-game time not real world time) and how you react to potential threats. Malevolent spirits, or viruses, hover in the area and attack the residents in the area you’re sworn to protect. You can choose to fulfill your duty to your creators, explore and develop sentience, become a being of pure fire power, or any combination thereof. You can gain elements, such as wind or earth, if you interact with other spirits, or grow your relationship with your creators who will begin to trust you more.
There are very few visuals in the game, maybe four total, but the game never felt weak or thin because of it. You are playing as a computer program, so it follows that you wouldn’t be able to see as humans do. The text paints a vivid image of the entities you interact with, so images don’t feel necessary.
While I was playing this, I was totally engaged. I spend a few hours on my first playthrough, walking around the house refusing to release my phone until I finished. At only $3 on the iTunes store, this is an accessible game for both those nostalgic for old school RPGs or players who appreciate good storytelling in games.