Inscryption — Ambition well justified [Now Gaming Extended]

Now Gaming Extended is a series of short impressions similar to regular Now Gaming, our other weekly digest. It is much longer and usually written by one writer per article.

*Spoiler warning: while the following text and screenshots do not include any direct spoilers, it does touch on what the game is, in a vague manner.

Making a marketable game to justify its ambition

This is going to be a short one, since it’s near impossible to give my thoughts on Inscryption without spoiling the game. Even an indirect explanation of its true nature would somewhat ruin the experience. And that’s one of the things that amazed me about this game, the fact that the creator and the publisher were able to market this game as, I would say a “mainstream indie game” while hiding its true identity.

To rephrase it, I would imagine the dev deliberately crafted this game so that it is still possible for the publisher to market it. Quite an astonishing feat to make a game with an ostensive sales pitch, yet still making it a “Daniel Mullins” game, as in, a game from the creator of Pony Island and The Hex, both of which are known for its “subverting the expectations” narrative structure.

Inscryption‘s store description is, “an inky black card-based odyssey that blends the deckbuilding roguelike, escape-room style puzzles, and psychological horror.” In order to justify this description, the dev has to put in the work to actually make it a competent deckbuilding game without relying on narrative gimmicks, and I applaud this mature creation, especially having played Mullins’ previous works, notably The Hex.

The Hex

I loved The Hex, but it was hard to explain the game to other people, because explaining the game will pretty much spoil the experience, and not explaining its true nature will do little to entice a new audience. There wasn’t an upfront sales pitch other than the vague store description. Simply put, the game had to rely on word of mouth and the creator’s name value in order to sell it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially considering it was a smaller project.

However, I would imagine Inscryption is too big of a project to just rely on word of mouth, with its bigger scale, the amount of resources put into it, and the number of people involved. It has to be a marketable game to justify its ambition. And making the game marketable as a deckbuilding roguelite – one of the most proliferating genres at this point – while maintaining the narrative artistry, is a brilliant move. Inscryption found a nice middle-ground to stay relevant, and I can’t give enough praise for this deft creation.

I can’t say much without spoiling it, but I loved what the dev did with the card system throughout the course of the game. That’s the other thing, by selling this game as a card-based game (which it is), those who were attracted by the premise are more likely to appreciate what it tries to accomplish with the idea. I like how it’s leveraging the ARG aspect of the project to expand upon the narrative as well.

I do understand that some who are not familiar with Daniel Mullins’ work will be thrown off by what the game actually is, so it is a tricky road to cross. Anyhow, this is easily the most creative indie game I’ve played this year, and if you like this game, I recommend The Hex to give it a try.

by. Ryuki Ishii