Review – The Living Puppet

This is the third of three submissions by Chinese authors that I have reviewed as part of this year’s IFcomp, and it is head and shoulders above the other two in terms of translation. The other two stories, The Murder in the Fog and The Fifth Sunday, were murder mysteries, but this one is more in The Twilight Zone horror category.

The format is the same as the other two works: text is displayed with a typewriter effect and requires a lot of button pressing to see a page of text. At the end of a page, there is a binary choice. I believe this game only offers to choices, but the second choice varies depending on the first one, so there may be more than four combinations. It takes some time for the text to display, so I only got through two runs of the game.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

The story focuses on Li Shaoxian and her boyfriend, Wu Sheng. In this world, puppeteering is a very serious professional with magical overtones, and a key determinant of success is the puppet itself. At the start, we hear about Su Mu, who has a top grade puppet comprised of exotic materials. Sheng isn’t wealthy, so he has to get by with a somewhat beat up puppet.

One day, Sheng’s master drops by and leaves him a note, instructing Shaoxian that the message is for Sheng’s eyes only. So, the first choice is whether Shoaxian gets a look at the message or not. Shortly afterwards, a box arrives with a fancy new puppet. So equipped, Sheng rockets to the top of his field. On the home front, the relationship between Sheng and Shaoxiao suffers, though.

Later in the game, there is another choice to make, and whichever way it goes, we learn the significance of the note and are presented with a short epilogue. It turns out that what makes the new puppet so special is investment with a human soul; in the two variants I read, in one case it was the soul of the master and in the other it was Shaoxiao’s. From that point, the puppet and the soul donor are linked, so in the variant where Shaoxiao has inadvertently placed her soul in the puppet (by having broken her word and having looked at the note), she is the one who suffers when she throws the puppet into the fire.

Evaluation

Story: 7

Voice: 6

Play: 5

Polish: 8

Technical: 5

JNSQ: 0

Preliminary Score: 6.2

 

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