It’s safe to say in the realm of games, that I have not really played anything else like The Novelist. It follows the Kaplan family as they stay in a house during the summer. Dan is the main character and a novelist, his wife is a stay at home mother and artist, and their son is starting to grow up and develop as a child. Each character has a big problem. Dan is starting to really struggle with his writing, especially with his current book. The wife wants to desperately get back into the art world, and is thinking about leaving Dan. Their son is struggling in school and starting to feel like he doesn’t belong in the family. You as the gamer play an unknown force that moves around the house and is trying to influence what happens to the family.
Each week a situation will arise. Each member of the family will have what they want to happen. You discover this by looking for clues around the house, and reading the memories of the three people. Once you have discovered what each of them want, you then get to choose the outcome. So for instance the wife’s grandmother dies. She wants the husband to come to the funeral. That same week the husband is asked to give an interview about his book. The son that week also wants to go to an air show. If you choose to have the husband go to the funeral that means the husband and son will be disappointed. You can also pick a compromise in these situations so that at least one other character will get part of what they want, but one of the three will always be let down.
It requires you to really balance how much effort you put into satisfying each character. You can in fact focus on the family, but this means that Dan’s book will suffer and you can even get an ending where he gives up writing all together. On the other hand the book could be your focus, but the wife might leave Dan as a result. Balance is the key word to trying to please everyone.
There are two gameplay modes, story and stealth. In story the spirit can free roam to look for clues and read memories because the Kaplan’s can not see it. In stealth you have to actually stay out of sight, if you are caught the game ends and picks up from the last save. Stealth doesn’t really seem needed to me. It adds challenge, but The Novelist isn’t really about the gameplay as much as it’s about the story of the family. Stealth just doesn’t add that much to me.
The other issue I have with the game is that some of the desires vs compromises just seem a bit silly. One week the son’s reading will start to suffer, while the husband wants alone time, and the wife wants more family time. If you choose the son it says that every morning Dan, and his wife sit down with the son, tutor and spend time with him. Yet somehow the wife can still end up angry that the family isn’t doing anything together that summer. Little moments like that clearly don’t make sense.
Despite those few moments the game is still really interesting. Trying to get a “perfect” ending (good ending for all three characters) became a bit of an obsession of mine because every time one of the characters would suffer I honestly felt for them. You want the Kaplan’s to be happy, and you can relate to them. There is also something to be said for experimenting with the endings. What happens if you just focus completely on the son? Can Dan be happy even if he stops writing? It is also fairly harsh, there is a certain reality that has to be faced, that the entire family cannot get everything they want.
The game is not perfect, as mentioned stealth seems completely unneeded, and a few of the compromises make no sense. It is still very interesting and has a vast number of different outcomes to keep it worth playing multiple times. If story driven games are something you enjoy I would highly recommend it.