Sceal, or accented in the game as Scéal, is an Irish folklore game published and developed by the indie game studio, Joint Custody. I was provided with a free steam key to review and give my thoughts about the game, so let’s get to it.
Scéal follows the story of a lost soul wandering through a small fishing village trying to piece her memories back together. You play as this lost soul named Iona, guided by the mysterious Raven Of The Dead, Branna. Branna will serve as your guide and give you your missions and hints about what you need to do in the game to help you regain what you lost, but for the most part, Scéal is pretty straightforward with both its gameplay and story, so I was able to catch on to how to play within a matter of seconds.
Majority of the game is a point-and-click or drag and hold adventure game. Iona has a little floating heart icon that hovers near her body, if you grab and drag it in the direction you want to go, Iona will literally follow her heart to navigate the village. The only thing that was a little weird at first was navigating the different roads using the sign posts, but after I understood how it worked it was all pretty easy.
The play area is quite small, and traveling from one end of the village to the next takes about a minute or two to cover the entire play area from top to bottom. There are different paths you can take that leads you higher up into the mountains, or lower down towards the sea and the docks, and you will use those paths to reach the story missions to complete the different objectives.
The missions consists of removing curses from buildings, collecting Branna’s feathers, and helping Iona piece together her lost memories. Majority of these tasks are done by clicking on the appropriate object and then painting the color back into certain objects. Painting objects is as simple as left clicking the object in question and then moving the mouse over it to clear away the fog. You rinse and repeat this action in a couple of different ways until you complete all of the objectives in the chapter, and then you move on to the next chapter to pretty much rinse and repeat those actions as the story unfolds.
In total there are three different endings, and three chapters. This may sound like a lot of content, but after playing the game and moving as slow as possible, I was able to unlock all of the achievements, play through all the story content, and play all three game endings from beginning to end every single time within about three hours.
If you play at a faster pace, I imagine someone could do a speedrun and do the exact same thing in about 30 minutes to an hour. Although the story for Scéal is extremely short, the gameplay is simple, and the world map is extremely small, the charm lies in the execution of how the game is put together.
This game is a work of art, and should be enjoyed as such. You shouldn’t play it just to have fun and be blown away by its gameplay innovations (because that won’t happen), but instead you should take your time, play through the story and enjoy the music and the scenery.
Everything in Scéal is either hand drawn or hand painted, and the environments pop out and unfold like a children’s storybook as you travel across the village. So as you pass by a house it will pop up and stand up straight, then slowly fold down and collapse into the distance as you continue on passed it, and then the houses, trees and other objects will unfold and pop up as you get closer.
The entire village is covered in a subtle fog, and as you approach an area and then stand still, the fog will slowly lift and fade away until the current area is revealed and filled with color. There is also a day and night cycle, weather cycles, and story events that also changes the environment’s appearnce, so sometimes it is fun to just float around, explore and observe all of the different changes.
There are subtle little things added as well, such as high winds in the mountains or during storms that will push against Iona to blow her away and push her along to aimlessly drift away with the breeze if you let her, or other music cues that build and expand as you interact with the villagers and gather them around, creating a chorus of vocals and instruments that join in as the town’s people gather together to create complex and beautiful melodies. The music soundtrack is probably where Scéal shines most, because it is filled with Irish folk songs and vocals performed by Lorcan Mac Mathuna, Aislinn Duffy and Florence Glen, that plays throughout the game and ties each story event together as the overall plot unfolds and you progress through the different chapters of the game.
Combine the above mentioned features with poem style storytelling that flows and rhymes with each line of text, and you have a folklore tell that is bound to impress. Scéal reminds me a lot of the animated movie Song Of the Sea, because it has similar themes and music that draws from classic folklore.
I did find a few glitches where the game would randomly slow down and start to move slow for no reason; another glitch where Iona’s heart vanished from the screen (but I could still navigate without any problems); and a glitch where I seemed to fall through the middle of the island for no reason and escaped the play area, where I then magically teleported and completed my objective and somehow moved on to my next mission, resetting my position back at the docks. It was a rather strange glitch.
Although Scéal is very short and the story is extremely simple, I rather liked it for what it was and how the visual aesthetics were designed to immerse you into the story and the small village, and the plot unraveled like a children’s pop-up book to reveal three different endings.
If you love Irish, Gaelic and Celtic folklore stories and you don’t mind paying out about $5 USD for it, I would recommend you give it a playthrough. I suggest not playing through all three endings in rapid succession like I did because the game quickly became boring and repetitive.
I suggest spacing each playthrough out over the course of different days to get the most out of it. If you are on the fence about grabbing this one, then it is probably best to wait until the game goes on sale for a cheap low price so that you can grab it at a discount. You can also download a free demo to test the game out before purchasing it.