Review: Dialogue: A Writer’s Story – An Unexpected Exploration

Dialogue: A Writer’s Story is an intriguing indie game by Tea-Powered Games which follows the story of Lucille, a young writer struggling with her fantasy/sci fi novel. As the title suggests, conversation is creatively adapted into game form, presenting the player with challenges and goals relating to thoughts and questions. The game sports interesting characters, who, through dialogue, a story evolves that is wonderfully unexpected.

This game is similar to a visual novel as it has cartoon-style art accompanied by dialogue options that are chosen by the player which take the conversation in different directions. However, many aspects make it unique and set it apart from visual novels, so I would not label it as such. For instance, there is more to the gameplay than simply clicking different responses, which was what I expected. An example of this is the ‘thought’ system, in which Lucille has thoughts or questions and your goal is to navigate the conversation so that the questions may be answered. This is an interesting mechanic and adds more player involvement. It allows you to learn more about the characters around you in a more dynamic way. You can also unlock different ‘focuses’ which allow you to play in different ways; for example, if you equip ‘know-it-all’ you can skip some dialogue and navigate the conversation much faster and ‘consider’ allows you to take more time to choose responses. These creative mechanics turn real-life aspects of conversation into a game in a very clever and successful way. You unlock more of these focuses and new mechanics as you progress, so keep playing to find out what else Dialogue has to offer.

It is an easy game to play and though I was slightly confused about how to navigate the conversation at first, it only took moments to figure it all out. The controls are pretty self-explanatory, with directional arrows to aid you and colour co-ordinated responses. Another aspect of this game that I was pleasantly surprised to find was the colour-blind setting, which replaces the colours with symbols, which is a very considerate feature. The levels are short, making it the perfect game to jump in and out of when you have spare time. It is a short game, ending sort-of abruptly, but that is perhaps because I sped through the game without replaying scenes, which the game allows you to do. The game has great replayability, with the game itself stressing that nothing in dialogue is ‘miss able’. The game gives you opportunities to go back and revisit levels to find anything you might have missed before continuing. It is optional too – you can go back or just continue the story, which is fantastic.  Once I had completed the game, I found that I had missed many unlockable scenes, so it was fun to go back and play these along with unlocking new focuses which I had also missed. It was interesting to see how the conversations played out when choosing different options to the ones that I initially chose.

The story is of course central to this kind of game. You follow Lucille in her day-to-day life, interacting with neighbours, friends and parents and focusing on her novel, but the story is more than it seems – fairly quickly I was introduced to something mysterious and the game took a more fantastical direction. This was a very unexpected but welcome surprise and it motivated me to continue playing. I want to avoid spoiling the intrigue so I encourage you to play the game to discover these surprises for yourself.

Another unexpected bonus of this game is voice acting! This title is voice-acted by talented actors. Using real voices can be a hit or miss, with bad-voice acting ruining immersion and making characters appear robotic or annoying. However, with Dialogue it is a hit, as quality voice acting allows the conversations to become more realistic. Hints of emotions can be detected not only in the character’s movements but in their voices, which is helpful when trying to direct the conversation to the topics you need/want to hear more about and helps the characters feel like real people. Voice acting adds another level of finish to the game and I’m very impressed with this feature.

This is a very relatable title for writers, especially when it comes to the struggles of genre, finding a publisher and perhaps more significantly, the opinions of family and friends concerning your writing or status as a ‘writer’. Lucille faces many challenges in conversations with her family and as the player you can choose whether to keep the peace or defend yourself and your novel. The game also explores science and research, as Lucille comes into contact with several researchers and science has a large role in her novel, so even if you are not a writer, you may still relate to the characters of this game.

Whilst trying to avoid spoilers, the most profound and surprising aspect of this game is what it tells you about YOU. The options you choose are commented on in some way, and you will discover that you perhaps tend to do certain things in conversations that you may have been unaware of. The game explores many topical issues, such as the complexities of writing a novel and media distortions when it comes to research.  There is also commentary on relationships, biases and work-related struggles, making it a very interesting and engaging game to play.

It is hard to criticize a game like this, as there isn’t anything similar enough to compare it to and it is unfair to hold it to the standards of finish expected of games from larger, wealthier companies. The few critiques I have are very minor, such as repetitive (though pleasant) music and a few small mistakes such as subtitles not matching the spoken dialogue on a few occasions. On the whole, the game is amateurish, but in my opinion, that is part of its charm and a welcome break from mainstream games. This title radiates personality and it is clear that the developers have put a lot of time, effort and their own individuality into the making of it and this is part of the reason why many indie games seem more personal in nature and it is something I really enjoy experiencing while gaming.

If you’d like to check out Dialogue: A Writer’s Story for yourself, you can do so on their website here.

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