This is a review of “Sub Rosa: The Seven Deciets of Confessor Destine,” an entry in the 2015 Interactive Fiction competition whose authors are Joey Jones (Master Writer) and Melvin Rangasamy (Master Programmer). Usual disclaimers apply. This review is based on a version downloaded on the 8th of October, and not the most recent update.
The setting for Sub Rosa is a fantasy world that is sufficiently different, from either our own world or the standard sort of fantasy world that one might encounter, to require extensive introduction. This infomation is imparted partially through of environmental features, noticeably a number of paintings to be found in a hallway, but principally from an extensive browsable selection of books in the titular Confessor’s library. As far as I can tell it doesn’t appear to be necessary to read every single book to give oneself a reasonable chance at understanding what’s going on, but they do add background detail, or to be more accurate, colour. Initially the player is merely flummoxed with a series of cryptic but highly detailed asides, the hope presumably being that the mystery of it all will be sufficient motivation to hang in there until the conclusion.
This gambit is partially successful, but at no point did it feel as though the adventure was taking place in a universe that consisted of much more than a house and a big desert. Even after I got past the first location, which took about twenty minutes due to my underdeveloped puzzle solving abilities. Once I got as far as I reasonably could have done, I turned to the walkthrough, which revealed quite a lot more than I had been able to discover unaided. Not, perhaps, a one for the novice.
[Rechecking the walkthrough for this review, I observe that it has seemingly been updated to better explain one of the puzzles, involving a singing bird and a brick wall. The explanation merely strengthens my opinion that you would have to be some kind of mind-reading Machiavellian savant to figure it out. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing as such.]
The writing is crisp and clear, and the code seems to be well polished and free of obvious bugs and ambiguities, with the exception of a frustrating tendency for the game to think I wanted to do something with a book I was carrying when what I actually wanted was to interact with an object which was, not always uncoincidentally, mentioned in the book’s title.
I admired this game for its conceptual originality and for its extreme difficulty, but paradoxically (and this is such a difficult line to walk) I also found it rather unwelcoming.