The Arcana is a mystic romance game that began as a demo back in October of 2016 developed by one artist and one game designer/writer and later supported by a Kickstarter campaign—one with a goal of $30,000 that raised $42,000 with more than 1000 backers.
The game itself is produced by developer Nix Hyrda, a women-founded company in Los Angeles, California that creates products aimed at women. The Arcana is an interesting departure from Nix Hyrda’s debut game, Egg Baby, more akin to Tamogachis than interactive fiction.
Fan art is really the reason why I’m here. Anything that has a huge fan base creating fan art is riveting to me. Books like Rick Riordan’s Greek mythology series and Maggie Stieffvater’s The Raven Cycle all have fan art I’m constantly coming across on Pinterest by accident, getting invested in without even reading the books. I’m fascinated by what it is about a story that has readers scrambling to draw them. I don’t know what better free advertising you could ask for. It has to help that The Arcana has beautiful, distinct character designs and rich world-building backgrounds. The art is definitely some of the best I’ve seen in interactive fiction.
The Arcana story begins with the player character, name and gender selected before the game begins, as an apprentice magician who regularly consults a Tarot deck for answers… or rather, who is regularly asked to consult their Tarot deck by other characters.
The Tarot deck is a great dynamic for a choice-based game, involving selecting face down cards to reveal a possible future. Sneaking insight into possible futures is a fun strategy to help inform what decisions a player might want to explore over other possibilities.
The player character runs into 6 (sort of) characters early on in the narrative: Asra, the magician’s mentor who promptly leaves; Nadia, the countess seeking help of a fortune teller; Julian, the doctor; Portia, the countess’ favorite maid; Muriel, who makes his first appearance as a stranger in an alley with a warning; and an encounter with something that may or may not be the late count Lucio.
Another technique I’m a big fan of is whenever interactive fiction relies on something inocuous said within the dialogue to make the right choice at a crossroads later. When this is simple enough to remember, this works so well when it’s imperative to the narrative. I also love it as a subtler pay-off to making certain choices that may not necessarily be paid.
The other thing that I’m quite happy with is that there is 40+ minutes of gameplay before a paid choice appears. As with a lot of choice-based storytelling, The Arcana has its in-app currency to buy certain options when teh character is presented with a choice. In less sophisticated games, such as user-genertated content on Episode, there can be a real risk of creating buyers remorse with these choices, when too many are presented in a given episode or chapter. It’s easy to create dissatisfaction in a player when this happens. If they choose to buy into an option early, only to be hit with a more important choice later.
In fact, a lot of the coin spending happens on the mini-games outside the storyline: the Tarot readings, a wheel or fortune, and the heart hunter mini-game where you attempt to earn love letters from other characters.
Which makes it much easier to choose the coin options when they come up in the storyline. The developers have also said that these paid choices don’t have an overall effect on what path the player can go down. This is both great news, and very interesting from a creative standpoint, as it doesn’t leave storylines behind paywalls for users who can’t or choose not to pay, and means that developers can’t depend on unlocking storyline options as incentive for purchase.
Starting off the game with enough coins for the first paid choice makes it an easy one, and subjectively justifiable when there is so much new information this early on. Tough to say whether that trend will continue.