The Living Puppet - Liu Zian

First, a quick note - as has been pointed out elsewhere, the “Play Online” link for this game is broken. To play the game, download it and open the html file instead.


Well, it isn’t a blurb. It’s a copyright statement relating to the cover image. Shame.

General Impressions:

I didn’t get much out of this game. There is very little interactivity (two binary decision points in each play through) and only four possible endings. I got the distinct impression that this was a non-interactive story that needed me to occasionally turn the page by pressing “Next.” Not what I’m looking for.

The Good:

  • Another work by a Chinese author! Not only am I delighted to see more works from outside the English-speaking world, this game in particular gave me a sense that there was some Chinese folklore worked into the narrative. I loved that, and would really like to see more of it.

The Bad:

  • The quality of the translation wasn’t terrible, though it could certainly have done with a proofing pass by a native English-speaker.
  • I found the music to be overbearing.
  • The text in the second sequence was difficult to read; grey text on a grey background is a poor choice.
  • There is very little interactivity and few decision points. Some of the choices don’t make a great deal of sense, either. Moreover, there is a lot going on in the story, and a lot of choices are made by the character… but not by the player. A lot happens as a result of the player’s choices that was not foreseeable as a consequence of those choices. Worse, the actions of other characters, including past actions are somehow influenced by the choices the player makes. It simply doesn’t hold together.
  • As to the story itself, I found it a little off-putting that the tragedy seems to have come about as a result of the main characters not having a simple, five minute conversation.


The game doesn’t really hold up. The story doesn’t follow logically from the choices made, and opportunities to alter the course of events are both sparse and unconvincing. That said, there are hints at interesting elements. I really would like to see folklore and cultural traditions from non-Western cultures further represented in IF, and I would very much encourage the author to continue to create.[/spoiler]

Wade Clark has a review here:

“The Living Puppet is a creepy and classically styled horror IF about a pupeteer’s mysterious relationship with the doll that is the sole source of income for he and his wife Li Shaoxian. It’s delivered in a web browser as long passages of click-scrolling text broken up by several major decision branches that the player can choose for Shaoxian. I downloaded it to play it because the ‘Play Online’ button wasn’t working at the time and I’ve written the IFComp organiser about this issue. I played Puppet several times to different outcomes in 40 minutes. I enjoyed the game and recommend it generally, and to horror folks specifically, accepting that a couple of its presentation choices may be too irritating for some players. The game sports horror themes and one explicitly violent scene…”

The Play Online link works now.

I was going to say this was better than the other work on this platform I’d read, but then it switched to gray text on a gray background image again, sigh. Also, I wish there were a mute option.

I mean, it’s pretty obvious from the title where the story is going, but here I am, my husband is having more success with his puppetry and maybe fooling around on me, and suddenly my choice is “Become the living puppet to free Wu Sheng” or “Punish his unfaithfulness”. Where the hell did that come from? There’s been nothing on this branch to suggest what a “living puppet” even is. “Even if I won’t punish him, I’ll punish him”? The translation needed a little more work. And there’s only like 2 choices? And the events don’t seem to follow logically from them. “Become the living puppet” at least leads to the old man explaining what a living puppet is 5 minutes further in, oh, and then (several months later in game time) I guess you actually did? I really think you’re not supposed to take the don’t-read-the-note branch first. Though I’m not sure how much it would help.

Horror isn’t really my genre, so I can’t say I was very impressed by the story, either; but the translation, platform, and interactivity issues are much bigger.

I have posted a review here: