To quickly present the game, you play as yourself and are contacted (by mistake) by a teenage american magician girl en route to avenge her dead parents and save her little brother kidnapped by some kind of daemons or dark magicians. The link is the result of a half-failed expensive spell (she was actually trying to contact her brother) which she cannot afford to attempt a second time. So being stuck with you on a very difficult and scary mission, she asks for your support and help.
The gameplay is basic, as text is written on the screen, through small sentences from the girl, and choices are often required from you to direct her, like in a “choose your own adventure” book, but with no dice or character sheet (only choices).
On the player engagement side, the game makes it right by not trying to immerse you in any fantasy world, as the plot takes place in contemporary Oregon, and more specifically makes you play as yourself. Of course, you may not buy that a magician girl is contacting you by mistake, because she failed a spell. If you do not, then the game is over. But it’s more likely that you installed the game because you were willing to play this kind of game. This obstacle passed, the situation is quickly presented by the girl, and you quickly have some choices to make, which of course are important for the player to feel concerned by the story (even if 90% of the choices have actually no impact on the plot). Another stuff that is very important, and often not considered when looking at player engagement analysis, is the production quality. The writing is very good (at least in french, but I guess the original version is good too), the visual is simple but effective (an old paper background, some ink droplets), and the music and sound design is very subtle, but always present and illustrates the change of actions during the game. The text is served by small bits, leaving a few seconds between each sentences. This rhythm is clever, as it take away the game from considering it a book, and just makes sense as the girl is (supposed to be) talking in real-time. As I said before, the fact that the player often has to make a choice (there are rarely more than ten sentences before a player’s action is required), keeps the player alert and immersed.
On the retention side, the game system is just marvellous. Connecting the player to Arika (the magician girl) in “real-time” allows the devs to always master the rhythm of the game very precisely. Many times during the game, Arika tells the player to wait until she completes a task (walking to a given destination, resting, eating, preparing a spell), and the game then just pauses. the player has nothing to do except quitting and wait to receive a notification from Arika. Thus, the player never plays the game for too long, and is left waiting for the rest of the story. It could be frustrating, but given the concept of the game being played in real-time, it always feel logical that there is time with nothing to do. Then, the player receives a notification from Arika explaining that she finished her task, and is waiting for the player to talk to her again. Then, the plot resumes. The devs always are in control of the rhythm of the game which is the best way to make sure the user remains engaged and does not grow tired of it.
All the game’s efficiency relies on this unique game mechanic, that the player is connected “for real” to Arika, the girl on her mission to save her brother. It may have fallen flat if all the production quality was not this high. Everything has been carefully thought to make this bond feel very real, so the devs can keep complete control on the user experience. This is very clever, and as far as I’m concerned, works very well with me.