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Tale of Tales’ The Path
Reviewed by Oct 14th, 2009

Someone told me about this game and I was intrigued. There was apparently no real gameplay, no fighting, no monsters, no puzzles. You play as one of six sisters who have a sick and bedridden grandmother off in the woods. Of course, there are wolves in the woods, so it’s important not to stray from The Path. Clearly, this is based on Little Red Riding Hood, and the wolves aren’t necessarily wolves, and temptation just might get the better of the girls.

Before purchasing, I read a bunch of reviews of this, which ran the gamut from “This is the best game ever/a piece of art!” to “This game suxx0rz and is the most offensive thing ever. The creators should be burnt at the stake.” The negative reviews were particularly interesting, since they made it seem basically like it was a rape simulator in which Pedobear was running around screaming “You gonna get RAPED!” at a bunch of innocent children. Not so. This is not a game about rape. I repeat: This game. It is not about rape. Not in the literal sense, anyway, and even when rape in the literal sense is implied (and it is), I still think it is meant metaphorically. But I will get to my interpretation of the game later.

Besides the regular website to buy the game, there is also a story website that is mostly a bunch of graphics and weird teasers for the game. Around the site, the game itself is called “a short horror game,” “a game of growing up,” and a “Slow Game.” The length depends wholly on how much time you spend roaming about in the woods. It’s possible to go straight to grandmother’s house of course, but what fun would that be? Also, you get a “Failure” ranking for doing that. There are six girls. You choose one and set off on your way. The forest area is tiled so it basically goes on forever, and the map feature leaves much to be desired. It’s really better to just roam anyway. You can pick flowers (there are 144 you can collect), interact with weird items like bathtubs in the forest, pick up stuff, and sometimes you meet other characters, some friendly, some not. Usually not so friendly, but there is also a mysterious girl in a white dress who flits around and can lead you back to the path.

When they say this is a slow game, they mean it. I keep seeing comparisons to Silent Hill and, while I suppose it’s disturbing, it’s not disturbing in the same way. I remember watching a Making of Silent Hill 2 video in which the creators talked about the beginning part of that game, where James arrives in Silent Hill and has to run through a path in the woods for quite some time before arriving in the actual town. They said it was a risk, but it added to the character’s feeling of isolation. And it did! There was no combat in this part, though you don’t know that the first time you play through and there are all sorts of weird noises to scare you. This is the closest real parallel to Silent Hill I can make. But you feel safer as James because he’s an adult and eventually he gets weapons with which to defend himself. What you have in The Path are six young girls, unarmed, naive (which, it turns out, is even more dangerous than not having weapons), and absolutely helpless.

There are a lot of complaints I have to get out of the way. Firstly, my laptop plays pretty much any game I try to play on it without hitch, except this one, which lags tremendously. I ended up changing all the settings and running it in windowed mode instead of full screen just to get a tolerable framerate. It is not graphically amazing in the photo-realistic sense, so I can only guess this is because of all the visual filters (Silent Hill 2-like grain and a lot of blurring and sunlight effects). Also, and I’m sure this is intentional, movement is excruciatingly SLOW. Especially after you’ve encountered… what it is that you encounter (and there are various possibilities for each girl)… and then have to hobble your way to grandmother’s house. Also, every one of these kids appears to shop at Hot Topic. I understand it’s supposed to be stylized and they are reaching out to the goth kid demographic, but come on… The music is both good and bad. Good because it changes dynamically and adds to the atmosphere; bad because it gets repetitive and old really quickly, and after my first ending I just put it on mute. The character designs remind me of the first Clock Tower for PSX, in the sense of not being realistic (I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but that they are stylized in a way that might put people off the graphics).

Anyway, whichever of these Little Red Riding Hoods you choose can encounter a wolf or not, and once you get an ending, you can play through as another girl. Each girl has different places she can visit, though it’s the same forest and even with new things in it, it can seem pretty repetitive and slow, but remember, this is a Slow Game (is that a genre?).

As I said, this is not a game about getting raped and murdered. Arguably, only one of the events really seems like it’s implying rape. Everything is pretty open to interpretation. This is an interactive story based on early versions of Little Red Riding Hood and it has a moral, maybe several. There is of course the “Don’t talk to strangers” thing, but I think there is a lot more to it than that. Maybe that’s what you take away from the Little Red Riding Hood story; that if you talk to strangers, bad things will happen, but in this, you are also reprimanded by staying on the path. Basically, you can’t win. First I thought the moral might be “Shit happens,” but then I rethought my stance and it seemed more like, “Life sucks, then you die.” I rethought that one too, thinking more on the “this is a game about growing up” angle. The Forest girl in the white dress is like the Catcher in the Rye: she can guide you back to the path once you’ve lost it, and the girls are like the children playing tag in the rye: they are totally unaware of the dangers (in their case, the cliff; in the girls’ cases, dangers in the forest). The cliff in The Catcher in the Rye supposedly represented loss of innocence and becoming a disillusioned adult, something that depressed Holden in the book. Likewise, the girls in this game are naive and innocent, but the forest is like the cliff: in one way or another, they lose their innocence there.

If you go straight to grandmother’s house without encountering any wolves, you fail. You have missed out on life, basically (and you haven’t grown up). If you are the curious sort and you get lost in the woods and encounter “wolves,” literal or metaphorical, bad things happen. Then you die. Success in this game involves getting killed in some way and then going to grandmother’s house, which is sort of a nightmarish vision of hell. It’s pretty grim, yeah, but I think it’s all metaphorical and the house is just a nightmare.

The gameplay is a bit irritating at times, yes, but it’s not about the controls or the gameplay. I think it was brave of the creators to make a game in which you are a helpless young girl in such situations, but as is stated on the website, it is a game “about growing up.” It’s more about loss of innocence than anything. It’s not a game for children, though you play as children (and I doubt children would come to the same interpretations as adults as to the meanings of some of the scenes). As for the rape thing, Little Red Riding Hood was about a young naive girl off alone in the woods and subject to whatever predators might’ve been around. You can interpret predation in various ways, and in the game, there is no explicit violence or actual rape scenes. Everything is implied. Some reviews I’ve read seemed to be saying that this was tasteless and exploitative, which I think is blatantly untrue, I think that because it touches on themes such as rape and murder (of children, no less) people find it offensive automatically without stopping to think about why these themes are included or how they are handled. So far as the way the “story” plays out and the way the themes of the game are handled, I think it’s masterfully done. I’ve seen criticism that there is no character development, but I find this false also. How much you learn about the characters depends on how much you wander around with them, interact with things/people, and they also comment on things like the weather and the surroundings via onscreen text.

It would be easy to write this off as a nongame or to criticize the controls or the slowness (which, along with the filters, add to the weird and dreamlike quality), but I’m not going to do that, because I found it tremendously interesting and unnerving. I have played it the whole way through three times so far, and plan on going back to get some of the items I failed to pick up before and just to get to know the characters better (they grow on you). Not for everyone, but I thought it was brilliant. An unforgettable experience, and the best game I have played this year. Hell, this is one of the most original games I have played, ever.

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