“Every body allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female.” – Jane Austen
Letters: A Written Adventure is an award-winning word-based puzzle-platformer about friendship and growing up by all-female development team 5am Games. Players take on the role of Sarah Frei as she navigates the content of years of communication with her pen pal, overcoming obstacles and making tough decisions that will be instrumental to Sarah and her future.
Developer: 5am Games
Released: 9th February 2022
Price: £11.39 – £13.49
NOTE: Letters: A Written Adventure comes with a content warning about family disfunction, peer pressure, verbal abuse and potential mentions of suicide, cults and drug abuse.
This game is being reviewed as part of the Indie Game Collective (IGC) showcase.
The game begins in 1997 as eleven-year-old Sarah Frei writes her first letter to her new pen pal, Katya. Over the years they use letters and online messengers to stay in touch and talk about all sorts of things. This includes Sarah talking about the trouble she has with her family and often requires the player to make some very difficult and emotional choices.
The choices can be very poignant and the simple act of picking one word over another can have quite an impact on proceeding events and even the course of Sarah’s life. There are multiple endings to Letters: A Written Adventure and various ways to reach them. None of the various narrative branches feel weaker than the rest, they are all beautiful and moving and will easily captivate the player and encourage replay.
Letters: A Written Adventure is set amongst the letters Sarah sends and receives as well as images and messages on her computer screen. As she traverses the many lines of text she encounters a range of obstacles, however, by throwing specific words at them she can cause changes that hopefully allow her to pass. Sometimes words are already available for use and are highlighted but most of the time they needed to be created. Other usable words can be created by kicking away part of a longer word to leave something new behind. For example, by kicking ‘im’ from the word ‘immortal’, the player is left with ‘mortal’.
Often the obstacles are characters, these are varied with a range of appearances and personalities, some of them representing real people in Sarah’s life. The player needs to consider how the individual will react to certain words before trying to gauge possible consequences for the decision, this makes for a very immersive and engaging experience. There are also larger events, some resembling boss fights, such as an incident with a Trojan horse virus, these help give the player a sense of progression and achievement, adding to the challenge and fun of the game.
Despite the slightly intense narrative themes and the importance of the player’s choices in terms of Sarah and how she develops as a character, the game is actually a pretty relaxing experience. The pace is pleasant and leisurely and there is no pressure put on the player to progress faster than they wish to. There are also a number of interactions that have no bearing on the story and are simply there for fun such as being able to dress a teddy bear in different outfits by throwing certain words at it.
Letters: A Written Adventure uses a mix of art styles to great effect. The hand-drawn style is sketchy and refreshing next to the pixel art graphics and more detailed digital art. Players see the style in which Sarah and her surroundings are drawn change as she ages and progresses through the narrative, a lovely visual demonstration of her growth and the story development. Despite this, there is a consistent cute cartoon feel to all the styles that provides some consistency and helps tie the visuals together.
The game’s soundtrack is varied and emotive, ranging from jolly Sims-esque sounds to melancholy blues right through to dramatic, tension-building tracks. Each piece of music is implemented brilliantly, sitting in the background during the more casual moments and rushing to the forefront where appropriate, directing the player’s emotions and building the overall atmosphere. Sound effects are quite minimal but include sounds from the different characters and ambient noises that are used well to help further immerse the player in the experience.
Overall, Letters: A Written Adventure is a fun and moving game that will captivate players with its emotional and branching narrative design and its unique blend of aesthetics. It is a short game and will only take around two hours to complete but the multiple endings and story paths provide heaps of replayability allowing for many hours of playtime in total. This game mixes a number of genres to unique effects, including visual novels, puzzles and word games and I highly recommend it to fans of all of them.
For more word-based fun take a look at the following reviews:
Prose and Codes – A New Literary-Themed Word Game – Anagraphs: Newly Released, Free Word-Game with a Twist – Haimrik – A Literacy-Based Adventure!