Saturday, 4 June 2022

Missed Classic: La Abadía del Crimen (1987) - Won! and Final Rating

Written by Mariano Falzone


Sir Sean Connery analyzing the final rating.


My days wandering (running for the most part) around the abbey are at an end. Will Guillermo and Adso solve the horrid murders? Will I keep my sanity? Will the final PISSED rating be ordained by God or the Antichrist? Let us find out…


And so I Go Again, One Last Time

In my previous post, I talked about how I finally understood how the Obsequium bar worked. It was kind of too late, though, as I only had one more strike before it depleted completely and I got kicked out of the abbey for the trillionth time. So, to cut my losses and avoid future frustrations, which this game has taught me it’s an expert on providing, I decided to start from scratch one last time, doing my best to keep my obedience up to par. And I’m happy to say I got to the point I ended my last post with more than half of my Obsequium bar intact, and it took me little more than an hour.

So, a short summary of the story so far:

  • Day I: The monks Guillermo de Melk and his young apprentice Adso arrive at the abbey. The Abbot greets them and tells them a monk has been murdered.
  • Day II: In the morning, Guillermo no longer has his glasses in his inventory. Someone stole them. At church, the Abbot says that the library is off limits, but we can meet its guardian, Malaquias. On the way, Severino, the resident herbalist monk, says that something off is going on, and that someone doesn’t want the monks to think for themselves. At the entrance of the library, we get the key to a secret passage.
  • Day III: At night, a monk steals the book from the Scriptorium, the one the first murdered monk was working with, but leaves the scroll beside it. We rush off from our cell and get the scroll. In the morning, the Abbot says that Berengario, Malaquias’s assitant, has disappeared. Then we meet Jorge, the so-called wisest man in the abbey, who delivers a creepy message about how the Antichrist is really really bad and the “last days” are coming.
  • Day IV: Berengario is found dead. Severino, the herbalist, says there were stains on his fingers and tongue. At some point, Bernardo, the Pope’s emissary, arrives at the abbey. He takes the scroll from us, and then gives it to the Abbot, who takes it to his own cell.
  • Day V: At night, on the church altar, we find a key left by the Abbot, presumably. In the morning, before praying at church, Severino comes and tells us a strange book has appeared in his room…

After praying, my intention was to follow Severino to his room, but the Abbot orders us to go to him and tells us that Bernardo is leaving the abbey today. If it weren’t for the guide published back in 1988, you’d think that this emissary of the Pope serves no purpose whatsoever. But, whatever, he leaves.

I try to go to Severino’s cell, but I don’t really quite remember where it is, so before I can find it we’re called to dine at the refectory. It’s only the Abbot, Guillermo and Adso at the table. The murderous spree is making the abbey a lonely place to be in. After supper, the Abbot immediately rushes off and orders us to follow: “We must find Severino”, in another of those instances where, if I don’t keep up the pace and follow him closely, he’ll scold us and the Obsequium bar will deplete a little bit. We get to Severino’s room door and the Abbot exclaims: “My God! Severino has been murdered and locked in his cell!”.


Severino lasted more than we’d predicted.


As soon as he finishes his sentence, we’re called to church. Once there, Malaquias the Librarian shows up, goes to his place and utters probably my favorite line of dialogue in the game thus far: “It was true, it had the power of a thousand scorpions,” which ends up being his famous last words as he dies in that ascending-to-Heaven awkward way we’ve seen in the game before.



Malaquias ascending.


Okay, so what was this all about? The guide fills in the blanks of the story for us. That morning, Malaquias overheard Severino telling us there was a strange book in his room. So the librarian followed Severino, murdered him, locked him in his cell and stole the book. At supper, the Abbot was worried that Severino didn’t show up, so they went to look for him and found him dead. In the meantime, Malaquias decided to hide the book in a secret room inside the labyrinth, and just couldn’t resist flipping through its pages. Dying, he reached the church, but on the way lost Guillermo’s glasses and the stolen key (I didn’t know he was the one who’d stolen the glasses, and the stolen key must be from Severino’s cell). So the game keeps confirming that there’s no way to beat it and understand what’s really going on without a guide.

Night comes and it’s time to go get those glasses and stolen key. The key is on the table at the entrance of the library, so that’s easy. The glasses, though… are in the northwest room of the maze. So yeah, I look for a solution to the maze on the web. To be fair, there was also a map published with the guide back in 1988, but a solution suits me better at this time. I’m not too fond of frustrating mazes in games, especially not those where your range of visibility is a circle of light around your protagonist’s assistant.

Fortunately, though, after a short trip through the dark north part of the maze, we get to the northwest room, which is completely visible.



Those are some big glasses.


I rush back as fast as I can, because Adso at some point will tell you that the lamp is running out, and if it runs out you die instantly, just after a mysterious voice says you’ll never be able to leave the maze. We get near the church just in time for dawn, and the Abbot doesn’t notice a thing. After praying, he tells us that the following day we will leave the abbey.

Now, I have two keys in my inventory, one of Severino’s room, the other of the Abbot’s. First I go to the herbalist’s cell to investigate the scene of the crime. Though he was supposedly murdered and locked, his corpse is nowhere to be found. I guess he just ascended as well. Instead, I find a pair of gloves which I promptly pick up.



We’ll miss you, Severino, you fought the good fight.


Then I quickly go to the Abbot’s room and get the scroll just in time to be called to the refectory. When I pick it up, Guillermo reads it, now that he has his glasses. A text in Latin appears in the dialogue box: SECRETUM FINIS AFRICAE, MANUS SUPRA IXX IDOLUM AGE PRIMUM ET SEPTIMUM DE QUATUOR, which I think roughly translates to “The secret of the Finis Africae, the hand above the idol is revealed by the first and seventh of the four”...or something. This phrase is lifted directly from Umberto Eco’s novel, except for the addition of “IXX”, which is perplexing to me and I’ll never know why it’s there.



We meet again, scroll.


I arrive a little late to supper, and the Abbot scolds me for it, but I have Obsequium energy to spare. There’s not much else to do for the rest of the day, only one thing: get the lamp from the kitchen yet again. Yup, I guess the logic is the lamp only lasts for one night of use, and then you need a fresh one that magically appears in the kitchen? In any case, I only suspected that because it’s written in passing in the guide, in the hints for one of the earlier days. So I get the lamp, go to church, and then to our cell.

And this is it, the final night. Using the solution to the maze, I get to a lit room with a big mirror and three places to stand in front of it. This is supposed to be the antechamber of the secret room, the room of the “Finis Africae” mentioned in the scroll. Now, the secret last room is accessed by traversing the mirror, and the phrase in Latin is supposed to be a hint on how to do that.

Googling the Latin phrase, I found websites talking about the novel and the translation there. In the novel, the protagonist has an a-ha moment when he notices that it’s not “revealed by the first and seventh of the four” but “revealed by the first and seventh of QUATUOR,” that is, the first and seventh letters of the word “Quatuor”. So, Q and R. When looking up all of this, I didn’t keep reading the guide ahead, trying to keep some semblance of puzzle-solving.

Oh, and don’t forget that the time is still running. If I don’t do this fast, dawn comes and getting out of the maze is near impossible. Which happens one or two times before I get to go through the mirror.

I get in front of the mirror in the center position and I tap first the Q and then the R keys on my keyboard, but nothing happens. But then I tap them both at the same time, and voilá! The floor disappears and Guillermo falls to his death, with the you’ve-fallen-into-the-trap text showing up. The same happens when I try it at the right-hand position. Finally, doing it at the left-hand position, I don’t die and I get to go through the mirror to the secret room.

And there is Jorge, the creepy blind wisest man, and he greets us with: “It is you, Friar Guillermo… Come in, I was waiting for you. Here is your prize.” He puts the book on a desk.



Moral of the story: never trust a Borges reference.


Once I pick the book up, this scene plays out:

JORGE: It is Aristotle’s Coena Cypriani. Now you will understand why I had to protect it. Every word written by the philosopher has destroyed a part of Christendom’s knowledge. I know I have acted following God’s will… Read it, then, Friar Guillermo. Then I will show it to you, boy.”

ADSO: Venerable Jorge, you cannot see it, but my master is wearing gloves. To separate the folios–

And the scene is suddenly interrupted by the aggressive coming of the day, so Adso rushes off. I thought that at least here, in the climax, the clock would stop ticking. But no, so that means that going from my cell to the library, through the maze and across the mirror has to be done as fast as possible. Oh, and the Coena Cypriani was not written by Aristotle, actually, but it’s a mistake that’s not that big of a deal. The book in question in the novel is a different one, and the change here is weird. I mean, it was already obvious it was a game of The Name of the Rose, I don’t think they would have gotten in deeper trouble if they’d maintained the mysterious book’s title.

Anyway, I load back and do it all as fast as I can, and then the scene continues…

ADSO: Venerable Jorge, you cannot see it, but my master is wearing gloves. To separate the folios, he would have to wet his fingers with his tongue, until he received enough poison.

JORGE: It was a good idea, was it not? But it is too late.

Now the lights go out, and only the circle of light around Adso remains. Jorge rushes off, and, not wasting any time, I follow him through the previous chamber, the maze and into the room where I’d found the glasses before. There is Jorge, standing still, and Adso exclaims: “He is eating the book, master!”.



Books nurture you, but not this way.


The scene then suddenly cuts to the writing-on-a-manuscript screen to narrate the ending, which is quite a nice bit of text. I won’t be able to do it justice by summarizing it, so here it is, in its translated glory:

Disfigured by anguish, by the harassment of the poison that was already coursing abundantly through his veins, the old man's once venerable face looked repulsive and grotesque. 
 
We could have caught him calmly, but we rushed at him vehemently. He managed to wriggle free and clutched the book to his chest to defend it. I held it in my left hand, while with my right I tried to hold up the lamp. But I brushed his face with the flame and he let out a choked sound, almost a roar, dropping pieces of paper from his mouth. His right hand dropped the book, reached for the lamp and, with one blow, snatched it away from me, throwing it forward... 
 
The oil spilled, and at once the fire broke out on the parchment, which burned like a bundle of parched firewood. It all happened in a few moments; a flame rose from the books, as if those millenary pages had been waiting to burn for centuries and were enjoying the sudden satisfaction of an immemorial thirst for Ekpyrosis.

The abbey burned for three days and three nights, and the last efforts were of no avail. On the third day, once the wounded healed and the corpses that had been left outside the buildings were buried, the monks and the rest of the abbey's inhabitants gathered their belongings and left the still smouldering plateau like a cursed place.

Guillermo and I rode away from the place on two horses that we found in the forest. When we reached Munich, I had to part from my good master, not without tears. After giving me a lot of good advice for my future studies, he took me in his arms with the tenderness of a father and said goodbye. I never saw him again.

Now, on the threshold of death, the more I reread the resulting story, the less I know whether or not it contains a plot distinguishable from the mere natural succession of events and the moments that relate them to each other. And it is hard for this old monk to know whether or not the words he has written contain any hidden meaning, or whether they contain more than one, or many, or none.

But perhaps this inability is a product of the shadow that the great approaching darkness casts over this already old world.

It's cold in the scriptorium, my thumb hurts. I leave this text, I don't know for whom, this text, which I no longer know what it speaks of.


Time played these sessions: 2h 40m
Total time: 10h 40m



The very last screen.


Final Rating

It’s been a bumpy ride, for sure, and it’s time to see how the game holds up after being thrust through the grinder of the PISSED system.


Puzzles and Solvability

As you may have guessed, this is the worst aspect of the game by far. Lots of dead ends and reloading, everything is timed, with little and sometimes no clues to what needs to be done or in what order. Some gameplay ideas are smart and fit the story, like needing glasses and gloves to read the book, the “Q and R” puzzle, and even the Library as Maze, but the execution overall is frustratingly unhelpful. And don’t get me started on how punishing the game is on your Obsequium bar. If it weren’t for the guide, which became kind of the official manual, it would be impossible to progress through it. But I believe I must judge if the game stands on its own in this regard, and I can’t say it does.

Rating: 1


Interface and Inventory

The controls with which you move Guillermo and Adso are somewhat of a pain at the beginning, but it gets easier over time, and I frankly think it was a clever way to solve the movement conundrum design-wise with the resources they had at the time, clunkiness and all. The dialogue showing up in a marquee-style box with moving text is also an interesting design choice. Although it’s not the classical way to convey text, it’s not that difficult to read and doesn’t get much in the way.

The inventory is a little weirder. We have 6 slots for Guillermo that are shown on screen, and reading the manual tells you that Adso can also pick up two items, though they are never shown on any inventory bar. But which items Guillermo or Adso get to pick up make no real sense story-wise. Why can only Adso pick the librarian’s key and the lamp? Why can’t he pick any of the other items? The same goes for Guillermo. The items themselves are interesting, but you can’t examine them nor get much information from them. What you see is what you get.

Rating: 3


Story and Setting

The setting is one of the game’s strongest points. The abbey itself is wonderful, with lots of locations carefully realized, and the medieval quality of it all is very well conveyed.

Now, the story… I mean, the plot is awesome. It’s The Name of the Rose, for Antichrist’s sake! The problem that I find here is that, if I hadn’t known the story beforehand or consulted the guide, the plot would make little sense. There’s not enough information on the game itself to show what’s really going on. It’s as if it assumes you’ve already read the novel or watched the film, and maybe most people had done that back in 1987. I guess that, with the limitations of the time and the ambitions the developers had, it’s the most they could do.

Rating: 5


Sounds and Graphics

There’s not really much going on in the sound department, but what’s there is… nice, I guess? The 8-bit Bach playing at the beginning and end manuscript segments set the tone quite beautifully. There’s only one other piece of music that’s played in this version of the game, and it’s an 8-bit reinterpretation of the song Crystal Palace by French folk band Gwendal. I highly doubt they paid royalties for using it, but it sounds great. It’s played after you’re idle standing still for a short time, and it suddenly cuts silent if you move, so it’s annoying that you can’t just walk through the abbey with that playing once in a while.

What you do get while walking is little thump sounds for the footsteps. We also have the alarm whenever you have to go to church or the refectory, and while sometimes annoying and, well, alarming, it serves its purpose. There are also some beeps when you pick or drop an item, nothing fancy.

And we get to the graphics, another of its strong points. There’s not much I can say that I haven’t said already. The abbey looks absolutely gorgeous, you can tell it was obsessively and lovingly crafted. The day and night color palette change is well done and adds to the beauty. The characters are rendered well enough, just as their animations, though some of the monks look very much alike and can create some confusion.

Rating: 7


Environment and Atmosphere

The highest point of the game is definitely in this category. The mood through it all is what mostly kept me going through the frustration of the game’s flaws. The environment feels alive, the tension is palpable. The dread of being caught by the Abbot at night, the little cut scenes, even the dark maze, it all adds up into a dreary yet magical atmosphere.

I would say, though, that the unforgiving aspect of having everything timed and needing to go as fast as possible from one place to the next acts in detriment to what the game is trying to accomplish. You could say it adds a little to the tension, though, but ultimately the atmosphere somewhat suffers from it.

Rating: 7


Dialogue and Acting

The text of the game can be divided into the big manuscript chunks of text at the beginning and the end on one side, and the dialogue on the other. The manuscript text is quite good and well written, and it also offers info to fill in some gaps and adds to the overall atmosphere. The dialogue lines are fun, but there are not enough of them. I would’ve liked to speak more to the monks, and some descriptions of items would’ve been nice too. This relates to what I was saying about the story before. The text that’s there is fine, and it makes me want more of it, especially when there are not many clues on what to do.

Rating: 4


1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 7 + 4 = 17/.6 = 45.


And I’m going to add 2 bonus points for Historic Importance and Influence (in the Spanish-speaking world at least), so that adds up to a total PISSED Rating of 47. Laukku got the closest with his prediction of 40, congrats!



La Abadía del Crimen is an incredibly ambitious game that falls short on many fronts, but I must say I’m generally more fond of works that strive for originality and experimentation, even if they fail to some degree. And I’m glad the guide existed to help me hold on to my sanity.

I haven’t played any of the enhanced versions or remakes of the game, but I’m pretty sure many of the flaws I encountered in the original version are tackled and overcome. So if I had to recommend the game, I’d say go straight to the remake (it’s free!) unless you’re really interested in 1980s video game history and want to see the original in its own splendor.

Thanks again to the Guild’s moderators for the chance to play and review this classic, and to everyone reading for following this bumpy playthrough!


6 comments:

  1. congrats on beating this fiendish game ! Also thanks for the remake mention, I dind't know it was free, will probably try it someday !

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    1. Thank you! And you're welcome, I'll play the remake too eventually, seems they did a great job with it. That is, after my abbey murder fatigue wears off a bit :D

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  2. Given its unforgiving gameplay and puzzled, it pleases me to see that the game got a rating higher than I was expecting.

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    1. Yep, I'm pleased too! With all its flaws, it's still an astounding work.

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  3. The graphics really are gorgeous, and it is a shame certain very poor design mistakes were made. Just running the timer more slowly and being more lenient on the distance you had to follow could have greatly improved the experience.

    And thank you for playing it, it was a great insight into a game I would not have known about otherwise.

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    1. You're welcome! I hope the remake and enhanced versions changed the timer aspect, it's one of the most obvious areas in need of improvement.

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