“Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what it was once needful for the wise to know.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Firebird is a narrative adventure road trip filled with Slavic folklore. Players travel North in their truck, meet an eclectic, and not-always-friendly, bunch of characters and face the mysterious creatures that inhabit the hostile and sacred lands.
Developer: Ludogram, FibreTigre, Quentin Vijoux
Released: 2nd August 2023
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Available on: Steam
Firebird is primarily a visual novel as it is heavily text-based but it does provide a lot of interactivity. Players make decisions in terms of which direction to travel, which things to say and which actions to take. There are a lot of opportunities to make choices which results in quite high replayability as players can then see different paths, locations and endings. It is possible to make the ‘wrong’ choice and reach game over but this is not punished and the player is returned to the most recent save point (usually just before the decision was made).
One of the more interesting aspects of the gameplay, which is quite unusual for a visual novel, is the requirement to manage resources. These include petrol, money, and keeping the truck in good repair which adds an extra layer of challenge and excitement to the game and is a really fun addition.
Amidst crime, folklore and superstition the protagonist, Mariska, makes a deal with a young girl named Vassilissa to return her to her village in the North. Set in Russia, the detailed and descriptive writing does a fabulous job of depicting the cold harsh environment faced by the main characters as well as the stunning landscapes they come across. The dialogue was equally well-written with intriguing and engaging conversations that felt believable. Overall, the story was very gripping, with bribes, dodgy loans, and mystical creatures to name a few, there is always a new twist or event to keep the player interested!
Firebird has uniquely stylised visuals with a hand-drawn illustrative, yet slightly sketchy, cartoon art style and cool, muted colour palettes that help convey the bleakness of the environment and some of the story elements. Some of the images do not match the text descriptions that well which can be a little offputting but for the most part the visuals are very satisfying and depict the story well. The soundtrack, whilst not overly stand out, is filled with melodic lo-fi tracks and more dramatic numbers. The pieces fade to the background and are not intrusive but match each scene very well and add to the overall atmosphere. Well-implemented sound effects also increase the sense of immersion and further bring the world to life.
Firebird is a fantastic example of interactive fiction, it tells an engaging and varied story filled with interesting characters, plotlines and Slavic folklore whilst also providing a heap of interactivity and replayability. The choices feel meaningful and have impact and the resource management aspect is a fun addition to the experience. A single playthrough will take about 2-3 hours to complete and has regular save points meaning it can easily be enjoyed either in one sitting or played in smaller chunks. The unique art style is another highlight and, for the most part, does a great job of illustrating events and bringing the game world to life. I really enjoyed this game and would happily recommend it to fans of visual novels, especially those looking for something a bit different with a good amount of interaction.
If you enjoy games with a touch of folklore you might also like these titles:
Kabaret – Play the Monster in this Stunning Interactive Fiction – New Point-and-Click Adventure, Mira – Through the Woods – Horror in Norway