Winter Voices is an episodic title by indie developer Beyond the Pillars.  The game, of which the first three parts are available for download on Steam for $4.99 each, is a unique roleplaying game that is unlike anything that I have  played before.

Players used to big budget titles may be more than a little put off by the graphics that Winter Voices offers:  while crisp and clean, they are distinctly grounded in a Flash-like aesthetic that feels more suited to a free gaming website like Kongregate than on a downloadable for-dollars service like Steam.  The game is old school isometric, which isn’t necessarily bad, but is jarring in a modern setting.

Character creation consists of selecting one of three professions (huntress, weaver, or volva), assigning fifty skill points across six stats (humor, will power, memory, perspicacity, charisma, and intuition), and selecting a portrait and avatar.  The game also boasts a Final Fantasy X style web of skills, but these are unlocked as the game progresses and your character levels up and are not available to customize immediately.

The description of character creation should tip you off to the fact that Winter Voices is not your average monster slaying high fantasy roleplaying game.  In fact, as far as I can tell there are no real monsters to slay, no loot to grind for, and no fetch quests to run.  Instead, if the demo is any indication, the game is the story of a young woman who is trying to confront her inner demons after her father passes away.

Combat is turn-based and set on a grid.  Battles each have an objective (“escape the room”, “approach your father”, etc.) which are more puzzle-like than hack & slash.  The enemies and obstacles that your heroine faces are manifestations of her own inner turmoil, not fantastical creatures.  Often, between combat rounds, a portion of the story will be played out and you will have to make one or more selection from a dialog tree in order to advance the fight.  Winning a battle involves meeting the objectives by moving around the grid and using your skills to evade enemies, mitigate damage, and so on.

Winter Voices is an odd little title.  It is a roleplaying game that defies genre traditions and explores thematic ground that is rarely trod upon by modern developers, and for this it must be applauded.  Unfortunately, the game looks and plays like it is dated, and was ultimately too slow-paced and not very fun.  I appreciate what Beyond the Pillars are aiming for, but some more work is needed to make their game a must-buy for me.

Link: Steam
Price: $4.99/episode
Available: Now

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