Exploring the 'Best Games': Vespers, by Jason Devlin

Vespers is a dark game, similar to Varicella in its depiction of violence. You play the abbot of monastery that is in the final stages of a plague outbreak, and everyone has begun to act very, very odd.

This is the third game to win both IFCOMP and the XYZZY Best Game award. It was the third Best Game in a row to deal with both madness and Christian themes.

The content warning list for this game would be huge, including rape, necrophagy, gore, violence to animals, blasphemy (in a gory way), porpentine-level body fluids, etc. and a protagonist that can actively participate in these things, and is encouraged to do so.

This game is in stark contrast to the general light tone of IFComp winners like Hunger Daemon, Winter Wonderland, Brain Guzzlers, Violet, etc. This shows that any genre can be successful in both IFCOMP and XYZZY.

Why has Vespers been so popular?

==Very strong PC==

The PC in this game is one of the best-developed in IF. This game is the story of the abbot, from your point of view and from others.

One of the most notable innovations in this area is the frequent boxed quotes that appear to comment on the action via scriptures. These add greatly to the atmosphere. We later make two discoveries here:that the quotes begin to change from real scriptures to hideous messages, and that every time we see the quotes, the father has been screaming them out loud. These are both interesting subversions of the players expectations, and the latter is a good use of the parser itself.

The father comments on everything he sees, from people to places, slowly unraveling the history of the place to us, and allowing us a glimpse into his mind. Like many great PCS, the standard actions of examining and looking are used as vehicles for story content and not just to provide basic descriptions.

Finally, as I’ll describe in later sections, the entire game is a test of the Father’s character. This makes your actions have much more weight and makes replay very desirable.

==Strong setting and NPCs==

This is a very detailed world. Decay and darkness are wrought into every description, and descriptions slowly change over time. Almost nothing is unhinged by the plague and the madness.

The NPCS are vividly described, although the interaction with them is rather meager. They belong to the setting, and in that role they shine. The other monks range from best-liked to cold and calculating to sullen and vicious. The main NPC serves as stark contrast to all of these.

There is a even a complex seri3s of patron saints designed for the game, ranging from real saints such as Francis of Assisi to new, darker saints like Drausinus, patron of shadows.

==Moral Choices==

Essentially every action in this game gives you a moral choice. The very first thing you discover is you alms box, with money in it. You can choose what to do with it. Later, you encounter things like a crazed monk on a bell tower, which a voice tells you to push; a sleeping girl that you are encouraged to take advantage of, a sleeping monk you need to steal keys from who is easily killable. One path is always easier: the path of violence and darkness. The Good path is extremely hard to achieve.

Because of the variety of paths through the game, it has a high replay value, and is similar to Slouching Towards Bedlam in that respect.


Although it starts slow, Vespers is generally a very well-placed stoey, with information slowly spooled out over time. The puzzles are all nstural, serving only the purposes of the narrative. Events are timed based on your exploration. Puzzles are set yp very early on, leading to a great deal of satisfaction when you complete them. The setting decays, the NPCS change, the quotes change, everything builds up to the end. This sort of pacing is very difficult to achieve


The attention to detail is enormous here. Try jumping. Look at the multiple solutions to every puzzle, the timed events, the subtle ways that descriptions change, the random atmospheric events, the carefully thought out block quotes. Everything in this game is designed carefully and with several layers of implementation, so that there is always more to discover.


Vespers succeeded because of immense attention to detail, a strong story and setting, and a PC that takes a truly leading role. It won over the absolutely massive puzzle game Finding Martin, the Heaven/He’ll puzzler All Hope Abandon, and some smaller games. It stands in an interesting contrast to the next game, Elysium Enigma.

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This is one of the games I played to completion some years ago. It was bundled with the version of Frotz I downloaded on my mom’s iPad during some road trip - come to think of it, I was probably a little young for this game when I played it. I seem to recall I got the ‘middle’ ending, not the best one and not the worst one. Haven’t gone back to see what the other endings are like.

Quick edit to say that I love this series and I hope you keep it up. A lot of these games seem a bit on the cruel side, in zarfian terms, for my current skill level in IF, but I hope to get to them eventually - and in any case these breakdowns are good for learning what to keep in mind for my own writing. Kudos!

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