Merk's Review: Ghost of the Fireflies

The “official” version can be found at my website:

Wow. Well, I admit I was far less tenacious in my play of Fireflies. After I couldn’t buy anything, I did wander around the map for a good while, but I didn’t play for two hours.

However – I sincerely believe that this game may be brilliant. Panks achieves with sheer chutzpah what many IF authors never even approach with their hours upon hours of nth-level examine-the-object puzzle creation and failure message tweaking, and that achievement is a game with real guts, and his mash-up of Japanese folklore, pop culture, Jesus, and hellhounds seems ridiculous at first but in many ways is so faithful that he wins you over with the details.

I know Panks has his detractors but I think the writing is quite good in places (as Mike mentioned).

I played a couple of Panks’ games in the last comp and I do think Fireflies is an improvement despite its many issues. I’ve actually given this game a fairly high score relative to the others I’ve played for the reasons above.

I was definitely hopeful at the start. Every time I begin a game he’s written, I keep thinking maybe this will be the turning point for him. In this game especially, I found the writing far more interesting than in his past games. It lacks polish, but you have a great point. It carries an air of authority, and it wasn’t dry or dire.

But… hmmm. I guess it’s hard for me to separate the writing and the story from the mass of technical and design problems. I agree with you, though. When I read certain parts, I thought okay, this is really outstanding. But then I’d wonder if I was seeing brilliance, or just the awe that comes from reading something completely strange but ultimately lacking in purpose.

It seems like it came naturally to him, though. I think it would be a stretch for me to just put everything out there like that. Maybe I’m too grounded in reality. When Paul writes it, there’s a level of honesty that comes across, even though the subject matter and imagery is really “out there.” But it’s scattered, as though it was never intended to be one coherent story.

I just wish he could back it up with programming prowess. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why he can’t. When I look at his source code, it’s obvious why the game would be so buggy and clunky. I don’t even have to find the bugs to know that they must exist. You really can’t program that way and still have a technically sound game. Okay, I guess you could, but as you get better at it, you stop programming the way Paul does. Nevermind that he’s not taking advantage of the power offered by IF-specific languages. He’s not even taking advantage of the power that BASIC offers.

What I’m left thinking after playing “Ghost of the Fireflies” – and I must have thought the same after “Jesus of Nazareth” two years ago (which, IMO, was his strongest entry) – is that he’s channeling some sort of creative genius, but only in concepts, and only in some of his work. You can compare “Simple Adventure” from last year to “Ghost of the Fireflies” and wonder how the former can be so bland while the latter is wild with originality and possibility. But he can only focus it sometimes, and only in the writing itself.

I noticed that too. How very stupid to insult the people who either will or won’t be giving you points in the competition.

But that’s the main problem with Mr. Panks; by his reckoning, if his games are unplayable, it’s not his fault, it’s yours.

Yes, but Mr Panks writes the best games in the world so obviously if you’re having a problem with them, it must be your fault.