I just can’t get enough of Alchemy-themed games, it would seem. In addition to my well-established love of the Atelier series of games – JRPGs in which an alchemist has to create her way out of troublesome situations – I’ve enjoyed every one of the botany/alchemy games that Artifex Mundi has put out. Lost Grimoires is the newest addition to that miniseries, joining the first two Grim Legends titles and the Eventide series by putting the player in control of a woman who uses her expert knowledge of the natural world to craft the potions and poultices that allow her to overcome every obstacle in her path.
Criteria 1: To what degree do the puzzle screens look like a thrift store vomited on my monitor?
To the most minor degree. This is the first title I’ve played from World Loom Games, but they’re obviously extremely skilled at the fundamentals of HOG design. The game isn’t exactly packed with hidden object scenes, but the ones it offers are – with a single exception – utterly gorgeous. The developers have created natural locations for hidden objects to appear in, and play extremely fair with item sizing and placement. I come to Artifex Mundi games for stellar HOS construction, and this title does their track record proud. Only one screen is badly-drawn, with an assortment of giant thimbles and objects that don’t match the lighting or geography very well. Honestly, it’s not even that bad a screen – and I’d probably give a pass to a game made entirely out of screens like it – but since the rest of the game’s HOS are so beautifully drawn, this single mediocre one stands out like a sore thumb.
Criteria 2: Are the searches justified by the premise/story?
There are a good mix of HOS types here, with most of them completely justified within the plot. Sure, there are a couple of 12:1 scenes, but by and large the developers have gone the extra mile and come up with ways to ensure the HOSs feel like part of the world. There are mini-puzzle screens and integrated screens, but by far the most impressive are the construction screens. I’ve always been partial to HOSs in which the player is asked to grab all of the parts of an object they need, and Lost Grimoires offers some of the best I’ve ever seen. The key to their success is a wonderful presentation flourish, where all of the pieces the player has found appear on the screen as parts of an exploded diagram, which then flies together, forming the object they’ve created. It’s a small detail, but it really makes the player feel like they’ve accomplished something at the end of a HOS.
Criteria 3: How well do the various puzzles and object searches meld together to form a coherent whole?
Lost Grimoire features one of the best-told stories I’ve seen from a hidden object game. It hits a lot of familiar beats – an orphaned child, family secrets, royal conspiracies – honestly, with the alchemist main character this winds up feeling more like Grim Legends 3 than The Dark City did. While the beats may be familiar, the execution is anything but. The game is broken up into a series of three-screen areas, each one with a number of puzzles to solve and HOSs to complete before the player moves onto the next one. This keeps the story moving along at a great clip, with never more than ten minutes or so going by before the next plot revelation. This means that the player will never have to do much backtracking, or suffer from a bloated inventory which had them trying to figure out which of fifteen items they’re supposed to use in order to solve a given puzzle.
Most puzzle solving is done through the alchemy mechanic, which is a fantastic creation. Rather than having the player return to crafting stations over and over to assemble the game’s dozen-plus recipes, they simply collect reagents and then transmute them into a useful item through a standardized puzzle interface. In each one the player is shown a set of interlocking rings with spheres on them representing the five key elemental forces – every alchemical product requires that the elements be arranged in a certain order to be completed, and it’s up to the player to spin the rings and swap the spheres until the puzzle matches the hint image. It’s not a completely original puzzle – I’ve played version of it in plenty of other games. The genius of Lost Grimoires, though, is the decision to assign a specific puzzle to represent a repeated action, and then present the player with increasingly difficult iterations of that puzzle for the entirety of the game. It makes the player feel like they’re using a real skill to interact with the game’s world, one that improves as they make their way through the game.
Lost Grimoire: Stolen Kingdom is a great game. The art is universally high-quality, the puzzles fit perfectly into the world the developers have created, and the story kept me intrigued all the way through. I don’t know if this is going to be the first title in a new series, or just a one-off adventure, but I look forward to whatever the developers have planned next, since they’ve shown that they can put out a top-notch hidden object game.
Curious about the playthrough that led to this review? Check out the first video below!
(Disclaimer – A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher)