The rave reviews for Pentiment shocked me seeing how niche the game is. I was not really sure when I’d play it, but glad I finally did. It’s a unique experience that’s hard to explain, but hard to recommend to everyone. Basically avid readers, yes, everyone else, it depends. The surprisingly good Vampire Survivor convinced me to give it a try.
Such an Interesting Art Style
The whole illustrated story book, gothic style is unlike any other game I’ve played. There’s no voices, other than some singing. All the conversations take place in crazy varieties of calligraphy. It’s a nice touch that the style of the calligraphy changes depending on who is talking and their station in life.
The downside to all those fancy letters is that they are much harder to read on my Steam Deck. I’d recommend any interested players opt for playing on a laptop or PC. It’s much easier to appreciate those fancy letters on bigger screens.
It’s a great game to run via Xcloud due to lower performance requirements. This is an ideal game to play with Game Pass Ultimate, but probably not on a phone screen. Despite the harder to read text, I ended up playing most of the game on my Steam Deck due to the convenience.
The game even keeps the illustrated book style up in transitions between menus. It’s a great commitment to the art style of the game. I’m usually not a big fan of games that have no voice overs and force reading. The high scores for Pentiment convinced me to looked past that.
The amount of reading is one of the reasons I can’t universally recommend to everyone. It’s also the main gameplay element of the game. Sure there’s some small activities or puzzles, but the vast majority of the gameplay is in conversations. Not everyone has the patience for that. At times, I know I didn’t.
Making the Pentiment Story Mine
Beyond the unique art style, the story is a big strength of the game. It follows Andreas Maler, an artist working for Church Scriptorium. There’s no preventing the main events of the game, but a lot of the surrounding events I made mine. In my playthrough, I chose Andreas’s background as studied in Italy, majoring in Theology and interests in the occult with a side of hedonism.
It was fun to use bible quotes against uppity members of the church. I also kept up with some of the pagan occult interests of town folk. Those Italian studies also kept me in the loop with any Italian books or notes. My hedonist talents led to my Andreas hooking up with a nun. I like that my choices opened some conversation options, while closing others.
Changing the Pentiment Story with my Choices
Forcing story altering changes is a specialty of this game. It’s at it’s best when choosing what leads to follow in murder investigations. Choosing one lead over another advances time, losing the option to follow other leads. Nothing like wondering if I pinned the murder on someone innocent.
I ended up choosing the people I didn’t like the most in the story as the prime murder suspect. True, I found the most evidence against them, but was that due to my bias? With no time to follow all the other leads, maybe I found what I was searching for when I wanted them to be guilty.
Developers confirmed there’s no way to prove any of the suspects did it, just different levels of evidence. Guess I don’t feel so bad about possibly getting someone innocent killed. Still hard to avoid the twinge of guilt when the executioner swings his sword.
Seeing Story Changes Over the Decades
Each new act of the story progress time by almost a decade. Kids grow up and old townsfolk die. This adds to the weight of story choices. Some were dead due to my choices while others grew for better or worse due to other choices. I liked to see the ripples my choices caused.
For example, I’d like to think my suggestions to Martin led to a turn around in his personality. In reality, things are more complicated with that troublesome kid/adult. I was also able to help the blacksmith find true happiness in his life over time. There’s tons of smaller stories like that packed in the game.
There’s Definitely Some Slow Bits in Pentiment
All of that is good, but I found myself sort of falling asleep in the downtimes when not investigating a murder. Some of the small talk with townsfolk was not my thing. I just have the habit of not wanting to miss out, so I’d talk to about everyone.
Thing is, even who you talk to is mostly a choice. Once I realized it was perfectly fine to miss many of these conversations, I enjoyed the game a lot more. Important story threads typically point you in the direction of important people to talk to. Some of those people will, then point to others.
Talking to everyone is not required and is perfectly fine to avoid. Just wish I learned that freedom earlier on instead of letting parts of the story drag for me. By the end though, I realized the game, as a whole, is something I’ll never forget. The ending mural is the sum of all the story choices I made over the course of the game. I did sit in aw as the game scrolled through it.
I love that the masterpiece Andreas strived for throughout the game ended up being the lives he touched by the choices I made. It’s still crazy to think this unique game even exists. Such a niche concept that’s hard for me to recommend to everyone, but I do think everyone should try it since it’s on Game Pass.