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Shy


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Rating: 4.8/5 (25 votes)
Comments (2) | Views (6,689)

Shy

Dora

Content Warning: This game deals with some subject matter that may be upsetting to some people.

And now for something completely different. Shy by Jacob Prytherch is a Choose Your Own Adventure style horror story available only for Kindle (use the free iOS, Android, Mac and PC Kindle apps if you don't own one!) with a very old school style. In it, you receive a phone call from your brother Kenji, who begs you to find him, telling you he only has five hours left. He's always been a little eccentric, with a keen belief that there's more to the world than you can see, but he's not really given to jokes, and when you arrive at his apartment to discover evidence of a troubling investigation into a local legend. It's clear Kenji is serious trouble, but you don't even know where to look, and the entire city and surrounding countryside is teeming with darkness both human and otherworldly you may not be prepared to face. To play, just read the story and then navigate to the page you want when presented with choices. Be warned that you will need to keep track of your own inventory and other bits of information, so pen and paper is advised... told you we were rocking it retro.

Largely, Shy operates on the honor system. You're frequently told you can only visit a location once, or that each action you take eats up a certain amount of time, and it's up to you to be honest and follow the instructions when such conditions are met. Handling your own inventory isn't as cumbersome as it sounds since there are only a handful of items to find, so most of the emphasis is placed on figuring out what the right choice to stay alive and get the best ending is... easier said than done since Shy is ruthless about killing you off, in some ways more intuitive than others. Unfortunately, when taken in its digital format, Shy is clunky to play in some frustrating ways. Rather than simply giving you a page number to go to for your choice, on multiple occasions Shy will actually phrase its choices in riddles... "To make your way to the abandoned house, turn to the page that is the last three digits of its post code". In theory, this forces you to pay attention to detail, but in practice, it's frustrating because you never know what detail will be used like this so there's no way to predict what you'll need to write down to remember. If you're playing on an actual Kindle, you can't just press the previous page button to go back and check information because that moves pages in numerical order and your choices bounce you wildly around the book. Even the desktop app doesn't completely negate this, though making bookmarks and keeping track of actual page numbers helps.


Despite these frustrations that make its execution less than perfect, however, Shy is still a wonderfully engrossing little throwback to classic paperback interactive fiction. Yes, there's a definite tendency to give fatal consequences when you least expect it, meaning you'll have to start from the beginning unless you're cheating, but, well, that's sort of what these game books were like. Getting all of the conditions for the best ending still feels like it's going to take some trial-and-error, but Shy still manages to craft a compelling and unsettling atmosphere out of Japanese folklore and setting. I can neither confirm nor deny an irrational fear of "Grudge ghosts" once lead me to sleep with every light turned on while my husband was away on business one evening, but Shy recreates the sense of disorienting rules and rituals that often govern Japanese horror very well, making it a solid if not wholly original addition to the "J-horror" genre. The decision to make the protagonist male seems a little odd, since there's no reason to have a predetermined gender within the narrative and not having one would better allow all types of people to immerse themselves in a story that's supposed to be happening to "you". Largely, however, Shy is very well written, and tends more towards the creepy and unsettling than the violent and shocking. Despite its rough edges, Shy is a great freaky homage to a classic genre, and the sort of thing we'd love to see even more from in the future.

WindowsWindows:
Get the full version (Requires free Kindle app download)

Mac OS XMac OS X:
Get the full version (Requires free Kindle app download)

Download on the AppstoreBuy it via the free Kindle app (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad)


Google PlayAndroid:
Get Buy it via the free Kindle app

2 Comments

taigaole March 4, 2015 7:22 AM

I read the preview on Amazon and decided against purchasing. However, I hope JiG reviews more unconventional games/gamebooks like this in the future.

Reply

I bought this a little while ago, and just finished it yesterday. I'm not a super gamebook connoisseur, but I have read a fair few, and I've collected some that stood out as being either unusually inventive or of above average quality. I think that Shy is both of these. I have a few minor, personal niggles with some unnecessary stereotyping of Japanese culture, but Jacob Prytherch really nails the spirit of modern Japanese horror movies, and his writing style overall in Shy is polished and detailed, without being overly descriptive.

I love the use of clues as terms in simple(ish) mathematical problems to discover which entry number you need to turn to, to "prove" that you've read the relevant passage and picked up on the clue, which I haven't seen used nearly as often as it could be in other books. While it also could be overdone, I think Jacob's got it just right, here. Early on, the clues are used pretty soon after they're found, so I had remembered most of them without needing a note. And having learned the lesson, later on I made a note any time a number was mentioned. A hint for others planning to read this book: when I say any time a number is mentioned, I mean *every* time; dates, times, postcodes, the number of items in a group, or times that someone repeated an action. Any number. I also like the "optional" side missions in the middle section of the book, which can net you useful tools or information before you head into the final section, while still leaving it possible to get the best ending without collecting them.

That's important, because you can easily stumble into the final section without meaning to, and once you're in, there's no way back. The only real negative about Shy, for me, is the preponderance of unintended consequences which is mentioned in Dora's review. Several times you will find yourself choosing an apparently innocuous option, only to find your character drawn further into a situation than you'd imagined would happen. Some of this is to be expected, given the mystery/horror subject of the story, but I think it might be a little much at times. However, this is easily remedied with some light virtual finger-keeping in the pages. In the Android Kindle app, the progress slider even marks the last three locations which were jumped to/from, which is about all I felt I needed as I read through. That, and remembering the few "hub" entries from which most of the other sections branch out and then eventually return to; luckily (deliberately?) these are placed so that they occur on nice, round numbers.

The author has subtitled Shy as the first in an ongoing series; I do hope that there will be a second book on the way at some point, even if it isn't another J-horror themed story like Shy.

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