Interactive story-telling is somewhat en-vogue in gaming right now. In a title like The Wolf Among Us or The Walking Dead, for instance, there is a focus on storytelling and decision-making rather than traditional gameplay mechanics. The Shopkeeper takes that idea and pulls back even further in terms of interactivity, becoming a short-form choose your own adventure, where just a handful of different choices will guide the story in one direction or another.
The Shopkeeper presents us with a young businessman looking for an Antique to impress his Mother-in-Law. The titular Shopkeeper tells the story behind each item for sale in his store, and through a series of dialogue choices will explain the consequences of choosing one gift over the other. Pick the incorrect gift and the story will repeat itself, until the correct gift and conversational choices have been made and the credits roll.
The story is very short and simple, taking only five minutes for one attempt. Of course, you won’t find the right present right away, so you end up in a sort of Groundhog Day déjà-vu cycle. Although you can only select from a handful of different gifts in the antiques shop, and only around nine different dialogue trees, this still throws up probably thirty or so possible combinations that can played through, and three marginally different endings. Many of the choices won’t change things dramatically, but a minor change in tone or voice, or one different line of dialogue lets you know perhaps you are moving in the right direction.
The problem is that the story is never particularly explicit. Even when the so-called “best” ending is achieved, you can’t really be sure what happened or why that approach was more successful than your previous ones. Being such a short story, you would have hoped that the writing would have been a little tighter and the conversations less nonsensical. This is probably down to the fact that the game must change depending on the combination of choices you have picked, but it feels like there aren’t enough different reactions to what you decide. This results in each subsequent play through feel too repetitive, and it becomes frustrating.
Despite the fact that professional actors with extensive television credits have been used in-game, the delivery is quite poor overall. It all sounds very stunted and at unnatural, which adds to the feeling that each choice and reaction don’t flow together very well. The acting also lacks any real emotion and even when someone might be getting angry or desperate, there is a distinct lack of depth in the vocal work.
The sketchy art style doesn’t really suit the serious and stoic story-telling employed throughout the title, either. The muted colour palette at matches the sombre mood, but the cartoony backgrounds and character models betray the tone of the tale. There is also the inclusion of a notepad for reference, but the notes held within seem to have very little to do with your play through of the game and instead seems to represent the inner monologue of the Shopkeeper himself.
The Shopkeeper is a very uneven experience. Sadly, none of the elements seem to mesh together particularly well. There are also issues with the feeling that most of the choices you make don’t have much impact on the direction of the story. For such a short game where choice is the only real mechanic, your choices need to provide a lot more feedback and actually be significant. Instead, the minor plot differences, disappointing voice acting and sometimes incomprehensible writing combine to create a somewhat frustrating experience. The promised freedom of choice and replayability in this interactive story book is, unfortunately, paper-thin.
No hand-holding promotes actual thinking
Your choices have little impact
The game is very short, repeat playthroughs repetitive
Voice acting is poor