Player Comments on The Book and Devil's Altar

As always, I'll grossly spoiler everything about this story because that is the best part about writing reviews. And as always with Ninja’s stories, I heavily enjoyed the writing itself. It’s gritty, grounded in reality, and uses the fewest words possible to get to the essence of things. Take this (part of a) paragraph, for example:

‘Mountain peaks, as far as the eye can see, greet you with their snow-tipped caps, welcoming you into their embrace, clouds of mist hanging near most. Thankfully, the mountain trails haven’t been covered by the white dust yet. It’s a siren’s temptation, however; conditions are harsh, wildlife sparse. Doom awaits.’

Within four lines, both the image and ambiance are established. It’s no wonder writing like this sucks you right into its world: Ninja’s extended universe full of secret organizations, mystical divines, and treacherous personalities.

On the other hand, I had some trouble with the setup of the story itself. Now, this is where I must admit Ninja is suffering from his own success, as his many previous stories I greatly enjoyed have won him a much higher (and perhaps unfair) standard. Let me explain:

The first pages built up these three characters, all archetypes of your typical fantasy adventure party, only for them to be disposed of within moments, quickly replaced by some maid who didn't have a lot going for her. The dialogue and characterization she had were simply overshadowed by the many flashbacks and internal monologue that formed the brunt of this entry.

As the story neared its ending, Katia betrayed us, another reason I felt sad the dump choice at the start was a fake one. But the betrayal didn't have much impact. I was too engrossed in my character's own existential ponderings to care much about her, let alone her changed colors. Others have already written about the 'infodump' choices, and I think that's due to the prioritization within this story. The narrative was too much in its own head to shine its rays upon the outside world, and I didn't like the headspace much. But perhaps that was the point of this all.

That being said, I greatly enjoyed the dilapidated fortress, and especially all its deathly endings. You absolutely nailed the mysterious and ancient danger, only held together by the will of an undead emperor chained to his throne, the two volcanoes and pools of magma, and the single pedestal with a priceless piece of paper. Overall, a really solid entry to this contest.
-- enterpride on 2/2/2021 1:04:13 PM with a score of 0
I enjoyed this story. It opens with action and a bit of mystery about the main dude, which becomes the major plot underlying a story about an artifact. Self-conflict, flashbacks and inner commentary on events and objects keep the story grounded in his perspective.

The rest of this review has spoilers.

There were 3 pages with tangential info which I felt were jarring for revealing info the MC didn't know, breaking from the rest of the story in that way. Only katia (reality) was immediately applicable. "meanwhile" seemed pretty removed from the current story, and I might suggest cutting that page entirely out. "katia" and "katia (reality)" might be revealed to the MC, but not at the time when the options appear. It's splitting hairs now but I also think it'd be nice to explicitly call these out, e.g. use the link text "background: katia".

The other critique I have is that some of the moral choices presented were morally inconsequential, not being brought up again later in the story. That includes whether you warm up or act cold to katia early on, and whether you free the slaves or not. Mostly the latter, since it was set up as a moral choice.

Other than those minor details, everything was smooth.

There was one flashback sequence which reused 'she' for a different person, leading the reader on for a sentence or two until they figured out the context switch. It made the transition feel more sudden, as a flashback should.

All the epilogues were satisfying as was the morality quest that was framed around the artifact. I thought the lava tunnels underground connecting the two volcanoes was a cool mention, and the shadowy figure in the book still has my interest after finishing the story. Overall, it's a solid story worth reading.
-- Nightwatch on 1/27/2021 2:19:29 AM with a score of 0
This story was a real treat. Before I say anything about the actual plot, I really liked the meta discussion about your own decisions within the game, e.g. "not every decision needs a hefty internal debate. Sometimes you just gotta pick the path and move on. Simple as that." While reading there was definitely some internal debate, because some of the choices seemed like a coin flip (and interestingly enough, this was also something mentioned in the story). I made a couple mistakes but got to the Siren's Song epilogue in the end, so I'll just talk about that path.

I really liked the main character and the overarching theme of his journey. I read the last 2/3 of the storygame all in one go, because the idea of closure pulls in the reader just as much as it pulls in the character. I felt really attached to the plot itself, and found my own feelings echoed by the hunter, especially by the end. What is the conclusion, what's the point? This existential dread sets a grimdark tone much better than some gruesome slaughter would. Anybody can read this story and empathize with the hunter. So the plot here was an absolute 10/10. I was hooked all the way to the end, because I wanted closure as much as the hunter did, and I was also curious as to how it would come about. It happened in a very satisfactory way, coming full circle to the beginning in a way that, while not good in a stereotypical "you saved the kingdom and the princess, huzzah!" kind of way, was very fitting and in line with the tone of the storygame.

I only wish that the story had some more characterization or worldbuilding around the other characters. For example, the section of lore about the Nine seems out of place, because they don't really matter to the story or have any meaning. Some more worldbuilding could've given them a greater purpose in the story.

The style itself is also very good. The descriptions of fight scenes in particular stood out, because they felt primal, instinctual, and had very good flow with the rest of the writing.

Overall, this is a really great dark fantasy story, and an example of how something can be dark and depressing without being edgy or grotesque!
-- WizzyCat on 1/11/2021 6:16:38 PM with a score of 0
A beautiful piece of work, quite the experience.

It had all the aspects of a great story: elegant writing, immersive plot, smooth flow. Great piece within the contest timeframe.

One of the most appealing aspects of this piece, I would say, is the characters. They certainly felt alive, behind every move a motive, a reason. This coupled with really vivid description creates a really nice cast of realistic characters one can have a feel, a connection with.

Moving on to more tangent aspects of the story.

Main character and others: A good main character is the spark of life to the story. In this one, you can really symphasize with him, the emotions were catured nicely by internal thoughts, dialogue, and actions. Considering the fact that this is an anti-hero, while reading the deeds he commited felt justified, or even good, perhaps. Taking the time to step back and think about the overall plot, there's a lot more gray space.
The other companions, Jaina, Maxx, and Richter were all nicely visualized in my mind. Ninja seems to have the ability to weave an image with just a few lines of description, a handful of dialogue. All told in the perspective of the MC, though, there's the beautiful shift from positive to negative, nearing the end.

The story(slight spoilers): The story is set in a lorddom, and opens up with a bit of action about you "getting rid" of a society led by some rebel that's ruining the reputation of your lord. You either take the life of the rebel, or hold and wait. Following the mission, you along with your companions are assassinated by unknown assailants, which leads to the discovery of the dark tome, and what the lord actually wanted in his mission.

I got the "siren's song" epilogue. I have to say, this is a very satisfying, well thought out story. Definitely one of my favorites, 8/8 :)
-- PerforatedPenguin on 2/2/2021 10:29:05 AM with a score of 0
The writing in this story is very descriptive and robust. It has an effect on pulling your attention in, or at the least making everything feel alive.

One thing I must say is that the characters feel quite real in their actions and motivations. There's even a few times in which the choice I was presented with was something I had to think very carefully of. I didn't want to find my adventure ending prematurely before I could learn and understand more after all.

In short, this is a story that the writer should be proud of. This is a strong entry to say the least, and one I would recommend experiencing.
-- TharaApples on 1/19/2021 4:43:32 PM with a score of 0
Really enjoyed this. A proper dark fantasy adventure. Highly recommended.
-- Northwind on 1/12/2021 2:06:11 PM with a score of 0
Just had to log in to rate this and say it may be the best story I've ever read here. 8/8, you should be proud of this.
-- Ineffable on 1/12/2021 8:57:06 AM with a score of 0
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