“We don’t need to have just one favorite. We keep adding favorites. Our favorite book is always the book that speaks most directly to us at a particular stage in our lives. And our lives change.” – Lloyd Alexander
LudoNarraCon 2021 (LNC) is a FREE digital convention hosted on Steam, with a focus on celebrating narrative and storytelling in video games and the talented and dedicated people that make such titles. You can read an in-depth overview of the event here!
Part of LudoNarraCon event sees developers exhibiting their games and making playable demos available for the duration of the event. This year there are over 30 demos and the following is a list of my top ten, with mini-reviews!
Top Picks from LudoNarraCon 2021 Demos
Spiritfarer is a cosy management game about dying. As ferry master to the deceased, players can build a boat to explore the world, care for spirit friends, and guide them across mystical seas to finally release them into the afterlife. Raising the question of what can be left behind?
From this demo, it seems that Spiritfarer is an adventure game, management, building and crafting sims, and moving interactive fiction all rolled into one. There is so much on offer, inducing ship enhancements, character upgrades, currency, growing crops, fishing, cooking, and doing tasks for shipmates, it is bound to have a wide appeal. The emotional overarching narrative is accentuated by the stories of the delightful characters and their unfinished business that help the player get to know them.
On top of all this, the flighty, mellow and sometimes melancholy soundtrack is beautifully evocative and the stunning artwork with a detailed cartoon style and thoughtful atmospheric colour palettes really work to bring this experience together. This is definitely not a demo to miss!
Chicory: A Colorful Tale
Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a top-down adventure game in a colouring book world where players can draw on anything. Use painting powers to explore new places, solve puzzles, help your friends, and change the world!
In this jovial and quirky demo players get to explore as Chicory’s assistant who picks up the titular character’s brush after the world loses its colour and she is nowhere to be found. Accompanied by relaxing guitar melodies, players paint their way through the black and white world, there are intriguing environmental puzzles to be solved, gift containing customisation items such as bows and beanies, and a challenging boss fight rewarding a paintbrush upgrade! The demo even allows players to try the co-op mode! This is an entertaining and unique offering amongst the LudoNarraCon 2021 demos!
A Space for the Unbound
This prologue for the upcoming game A Space for the Unbound is a slice-of-life adventure set in rural Indonesia in the late 1990s. It tells a story about overcoming anxiety, depression, and the relationship between a boy and a girl with supernatural powers.
This title makes a real emotional impact and touches on a range of complicated themes including self-discovery, loss, friendship, insecurity and emotional and financial strain, amongst others. It is a deceptively casual experience that reveals itself to be much deeper and more turbulent than it first appears. Beautiful in a variety of ways, I would happily recommend A Space for the Unbound Prologue to anyone with heartstrings to pull on!
A full review of this demo can be found here.
Unpacking is a zen puzzle game about the familiar experience of pulling possessions out of boxes and fitting them into a new home. In a cross between Tetris and House Flipper, players are invited to create a satisfying living space while learning clues about the life they’re unpacking.
This demo provides two unpacking experiences and four different room for players to organise and does a great job of illustrating what the finished game will be like. It is relaxing but strangely engrossing with little to no pressure besides having to get items in the right place, but this is very loosely defined allowing for some creativity and variation. Each set of boxes, and the isometric rooms they are to be unpacked into, reflect the era indicated at the start of the puzzle. Time progresses with each house move but consistency of key items inform players that the owner remains the same. All of this, teamed with laid back, retro, electronic tunes and some beautifully detailed pixel art make this an utter joy to play.
Song of Farca
Play as Isabella Song, a hacker PI, in Song of Farca. Corporations and criminal gangs have carved Farca city up into zones of influence, and the police and the state do nothing, leaving residents no choice but to turn to private investigators. Isabella may be under house arrest but that won’t stop her from uncovering crimes that the police have turned a blind eye to due to pressure from the mafia – her job is to hack, analyse and question!
This demo has players finding and rescuing a robot dog named Sir Derpalot in the captivating detective simulator. It has a clean UI and intuitive controls with which to direct the detailed gameplay and range of mechanics, from hacking cameras to interrogation. Another highlight is the vibrant and detailed aesthetic, with the character art being particularly striking. Additionally, the high-tech themes are complimented well by the energetic electronic soundtrack. The Song of Farca Prologue will surely peak players’ interests and makes a wonderful introduction to the full game. This is a treasure amongst the LudoNarraCon 2021 Demos.
No Longer Home
Developer: Humble Grove
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Available on: Steam
No Longer Home lets players immerse themselves in the lives of Bo and Ao who must let go of the life they’ve built due to circumstances beyond their control. Players can learn about Bo and Aoi’s dreams, frustrations and fears.
This prelude/demo is a very relaxed and pensive experience that focuses on the endearing relationship of Ao and Bo as they are about to part ways. This is emphasised by the meditative and ethereal drones that make up the soundtrack. Players explore the isometric environments as Bo, conversing with Ao and interacting with objects to trigger memories or thoughts about the other protagonist and their behaviours. The game’s colourful art style with block shapes and simple designs really draw focus to the narrative, the immersion is further accentuated by the realistic and well-implemented sound effects such as horns and sirens outside in the distance. Overall, this a pleasure to play and I am eagerly anticipating the full game.
Svoboda 1945 Liberation
Svoboda 1945: Liberation may be set after WWII but it is not set during a time of peace. It takes place on the Czech borderlands and attempts to shine a light on the scars of the past and the many forgotten injustices. It interrogates the player about ethics and morality raising questions such as whether they’d let events play out the same way if it were their own families involved.
The visual novel mixes photography, historical documents, FMV and hand-drawn art to great effect. It is being created in collaboration with the Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences and is based on real events and testimonies. The inclusion of more ‘real’ aesthetic elements helps connect the player to the experience in a more emotive way. There are also moments of a wonderfully authentic and moving soundtrack and minimal but well-implemented sound effects. Overall, this is a highlight amongst the LudoNarraCon 2021 demos and it suggests that an original and emotionally charged game is on the way – definitely check this one out!
Not for Broadcast (Episodic)
Self-described as an immersive, high-pressure, propaganda sim, this game sees players take control of the National Nightly News, as a radical government comes to power. They must control what the people see and determine what’s Not For Broadcast.
This game embeds FMV into a 3D game environment with a unique effect. It offers engaging and engrossing gameplay that is easy to get lost in due to the amount that needs the player’s attention. It has a definite and challenging multitasking element to it that is highly satisfying. The television content is well made and amusing with a competent and diverse cast. Additionally, the voiceover is very entertaining and quite comical in places. This is without a doubt one of the more unusual of the LudoNarraCon 2021 demos and is absolutely worth a look.
Beacon Pines is a cute and creepy adventure game within a magical storybook. Players take on the role of both the reader of the book and its main character, Luka. Exploring the town to find word charms and using them to change the course of fate!
This choose-your-own-adventure mixes elements from a range of genres, from visual novel to RPG and adds a fun and original word-based mechanic in the form of charms. The writing is quite charming and would feel at home in a fairy tale with its whimsical descriptions and emotive dialogue. It has adorable characters and a delightful world to explore, all shown through the stunning, painterly artwork and endearing animations. The soundtrack is relaxing and varied with lovely guitar and piano tracks gracing the demo. Likewise, the sound effects are immersive and atmospheric. This is a standout demo and certainly not one to miss!
Minute of Islands
Minute of Islands is an art- and story-driven puzzle platformer, that claims to turn the classic hero’s
journey on its head! Players can explore strange and wonderful islands and dark labyrinths whilst guiding young mechanic Mo on her quest to repair a world on the brink of collapse. However, despite possessing the powerful OmniSwitch at her disposal, she may not have enough to fix the damage hidden beneath the surface …
The intriguing sci-fi story provides the backdrop for themes of trauma and anxiety in this highly recommended demo. The narration is superb, with just the right amount of spooky sombreness to match the tone of the writing. A stand out element is the artwork which has a cute, cartoon-style whilst also being very visceral, moody and evocative. In terms of gameplay, the platforming aspect is fun but does not present much of a challenge throughout the demo. This title deserves a notable mention amongst the LudoNarraCon 2021 demos.
Overall, there is a fantastic selection of demos available this year and these are the best of a good bunch! All the included titles demonstrate the value of narrative in games but with enough variety that there will be something for everyone. If you haven’t already started checking some of these titles out, what are you waiting for?
For more LudoNarracon 2021 related content, take a look at:
LudoNarraCon 2021’s New Supporter Pack and Exclusive Game!