“Path of Light“, by Ivailo Daskalov, is a mobile phone gamebook from 2014. The story is set in a fantasy world, in which the protagonist, Brother Jacob, a priest of the Light, together with sister Ulmia, will descend to the deepest part of the Abyss in search of an angel prisoner of that place.
I would like to start explaining the reasons that motivated me to try this gamebook. I’ve recently got in contact with the gamebook community in Bulgaria. I could learn from one of their members, Alex Torofiev, the administrator of the website “Legacy of Kreya“, a bit of the rich history of this media in his country. It seems that, although they started late (their first gamebook was published in 1992) more than 250 works were published during their heydays, most of them from local authors. They experimented with very different mechanics and themes, and even concocted their own subgenres of gamebooks. All of that in a country of little more than 7 million people! The problem is, of course, the language. The chances for me to learn bulgarian at any point during my life are very low, so I am left only with the very few works that have been translated into a language I can understand. And that’s how I arrived to this “Path of Light“.
The background of “Path of Lignt” is, as I said at the beginning, a world of fantasy, in which two opposing forces, the Light and the Dark, fight for dominance. These two forces are strongly inspired by the christian concepts of “good” and “evil” in many aspects – e.g. there are “angels” for the Light and “demons” for the Dark, as in the christian dogma. In this story, religion pervades every aspect in the society; it has a stronger link with the world than in many other worlds of fantasy, shaping the relations between the characters and their moral concepts and philosophy. It can even be seen in our main character, a priest of the Light with a congregation in his care.
In contrast with the pervading morality of the setting, there is Ulmia, a sister of the Light, our love interest in this story. Ulmia is an interesting and contradictory character. She was a demoness captured by the paladin Atoro, who made her undergo a Ritual of Transformation, turning her human and allowing her to become a servant of the Light. In Ulmia, the two aspects of this world – the Light and the Dark – meet and collide. She is at the same time a nun and a devil, and her inner nature comes out at several points during the story. His relationship with brother Jacob is, surprisingly – considering they are both priests – very passionate, loving and carnal at the same time. Considering how prudish are usually gamebooks about sexual matters, this was a refreshing change of pace.
Aside from these aspects, the story doesn’t stray too far from fantasy conventions, but it manages to be more interesting than many. The design of the app made me fear that it would be similar to Delight Games’ stories (“Wizard’s Choice“, “Zombie High“…) with their almost railroaded linearity. Here, though, a codeword system allows to break this linearity, allowing us to solve situations in different ways and realize their implications much later.
Could I recommend this work? I am not sure about it, because of two important reasons.
The first is the amount of grammatical mistakes in the text. It is obvious that the author doesn’t speak english as his first language. I can understand what he is trying to express behind the clunkyness of the phrases, and I can see there is a competent writer there… if only he could use his own language. That didn’t make me enjoy the story less, but I can imagine how it would be distracting or even annoying to an english native reader.
I sympathize with the effort it takes to translate a whole long piece of fiction into a different language – I am a spanish blogger writing posts in english after all, and I am painfully conscious of the “engrish” that surfaces in some of my own phrases – but the result is what it is, and this work would need a deep revision in that sense.
The second reason is the interface of the Android version of this story, the one I have been able to test. To call it “clunky” is falling short. Not because of its simplicity (white text over a black background), but because it requires the players to control the variables of the game. As an example, we will find choices where we are asked “Do you have the keyword ‘shield’?” or even “Is your ‘devilry’ score above 14?”. And yes, we can tell a lie and cheat, as simple as that. (To be fair, I’ve checked the app interface of the second part of this story, “Path of light II“, and it seems much better. But then – why didn’t they update the first part to the newer version?)
In spite of these two important issues, I’ve enjoyed a lot this “Path of Light“. But I understand that this story would have greatly benefited from a better translation and a much more user friendly app interface. In any case, the price is low enough (0.99$) that giving it an opportunity wouldn’t be too great a risk.
One last curious detail; as I mentioned, I have tested the Android version. The iPhone version is developed in ChoiceScript, and has a much better interface. Even more curious is the fact that – as I have been able to see in its page in the Choice of Games website – they start very differently! Could they be different stories with the same characters?