Title: Mind’s Eclipse
Platform: Steam (reviewed), Mac, Linux, Itch.io
Developer: Mind’s Eclipse Interactive
Publisher: Mind’s Eclipse Interactive
Release Date: January 25, 2018
tl;dr: It’s a reader’s and exploratory player’s dream game.
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Your eyes come into focus, slowly, revealing a once pristine hospital room now covered in assorted debris and – of course – a dead body. This is the scene that kicks off the sci-fi visual novel Mind’s Eclipse. Whilst fairly linear, the game offers a compelling story, putting you in the shoes of Jonathan Campbell as he attempts to uncover the events that have landed him in the hospital of a fallen utopia called The Core, after a mysterious plague has wiped out pretty much everyone else.
The most notable aspect of the game is without doubt the art style. Borrowing from classic sci-fi choose-your-own-adventure book covers and a noir style that does an exceptional job of not only adding to the game’s dark, methodical atmosphere in an understated way, but does a lot of work in building the themes that make the narrative so damned enjoyable. Much of the art style is used to underline the fractured mind of Jonathan – not so much in a psychological way, but in an almost moralistic sense, with illustrations relying on the contrast of the black and white that make up the environments as the player learns about the mysterious plague called The Sickness, that has pretty much wiped out the inhabitants of moon base, known as The Core.
The gameplay itself is fairly straightforward, inviting you into a mixture of visual novel and point-and-click with the player able to access a map and choose a new area to go into. Each new area you arrive in places you in a fixed position, allowing you to interact with objects. Items have different reactions, with data terminals, tablet devices, and dead bodies all used as way of accessing archived emails and audio messages. Other objects, at specific times, conjure memories hidden away in Jonathan’s amnesia addled mind. It’s an incredibly simple layout that – if you’ve played visual novels or point and click adventures – you’ll be all too used to.
Though, my only qualm with the system is that on rare occasions you’ll need to interact with every object available before you can move on. The issue with this system is that if, as I did, you find the object that moves the story along before you find everything else, you get the information you need, but can’t actually leave until you’ve found everything you need to. These moments make up a very small portion of the game but each time it happens it can be rather frustrating and only works to break up the story’s flow.
Similar to SOMA, Mind’s Eclipse deals with some fairly hefty questions in its plot. Challenging the player to consider what it means to be “alive,” and perhaps more interestingly, how much selfish wants are dressed up in good intentions. Both these ideas are manifested in what can only be described as one of the most terrifying figures I’ve seen on a screen in the game’s antagonist – if you want to believe that – COSy. Made up of only a face that very unhelpfully has sprouted other moaning faces on the side of its skull.
It’s not COSy’s job to scare you, though it does this job very well. Instead its job is to be the yin to your new AI – L’s – yang. It’s these two entities that seems to be caught in an invisible guerilla warfare for who Jonathan is. With COSy waxing lyrical about how the doctor is a saviour and L trying to spark an understanding of how the preservation of life can be a dangerous thing. Whilst these two characters are the ones you’ll spend the majority of time conversing with, each offers such a powerful argument, one borne from emotion and the other of logic, that it offers a well laid out series of conversations that does well to keep the player on their toes throughout.
But it’s also the use of just these two characters, COSy and L, that the game’s narrative shows its limitations. With a struggle for Jonathan’s trust being at stake, I had hoped that the story would have changed depending on who you begin to side with. Now, there are moments of this – not so much giving the player a choice of what to believe, but there’s a steady development of Jonathan’s character that may not be dependant on what the player wants to believe in, but shows his loyalty swaying one way or the other.
Unfortunately, much of the groundwork that the game does in creating tension in what Jonathan will do boils down to a single choice you make at the end of the game. Now, at the time, the choice seems like a fitting consequence to the game. Though, on later reflection, the game does so much work to sway your opinion one way then the other, that having the game rest on a single decision is something of a let down.
For a genre that’s usually the gaming equivalent of a one-way street, Mind’s Eclipse does its best to decorate its world with enough sub-plots, that even though you can go through the whole game without exploring it, there’s so much in there that you’ll want to see how each plot unfolds. The subplots include a series of letters between two lovers, a group of messages of a family hoping to escape the base before they die, the musings of a revolutionist whose influence is growing, and the letters between a priest and the religious leader of The Core who debate whether The Eclipse is possible or not. The branching stories help in developing your understanding of the world you explore, and whilst you can go through the whole game without having to read the majority of what you find, the imapct the narrative has on the later stages would be nowhere near as effective without understanding the effect that The Sickness and the The Eclipse has had on the people before Jonathan wakes up.
Add to these stories an environment that been painstakingly put together and Mind’s Eclipse is very much a treat for the eyes and the… well, mind. With environments decorated with pro-Eclipse propaganda that warns you about The Sickness, emails referring to speeches that call for revolution, and wonderfully weird inclusions of things like the Living Toy shop and VR bars that people to to fuel their virtual reality addiction by modifying their memories or using other people’s memories. There an incredible amount of depth and world-building for players to explore if they take the time.
Mind’s Eclipse offers an incredibly fun story for players to explore, along with a classic art style, a thought out handle on some seriously dense issues, and a handful of side stories that help to build up the importance of the actions Jonathan takes in the game. Look, there’s a lot the game could do better, with the binary choice at the end of the game allowing you to ignore any development you may feel that Jonathan has gone through in the game, but even with that, Mind’s Eclipse offers a classic sci-fi mystery outing in a visual novel style that works perfectly for it.
- Excellent art style, both with characters and environments
- Worthwhile story that unravels slowly
- Jonathan Campbell is a genuinely interesting character, as are the majority of the other characters that show up in one shape or another
- Some of the side stories fizzle out without really resolving anything which is a bit of a let down
- After such a great story, having the ending rely on a single decision is underwhelming
- Although rare, the parts that need you to collect everything in a room can be a little frustrating, especially for such little payoff in terms of story
There’s no official age rating for Mind’s Eclipse yet. Though, with tonnes of dead bodies, spooky character designs, and fairly heavy subject matter, it seems that Mind’s Eclipse would be for older teenagers and adults.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.