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Review: Qora

Exploration game Qora – previously known as Spirit – looks beautiful but does it play the same way? Kim takes a look and discovers whether the title provides a spiritual experience.


Title overview   |   Initial impressions   |   Plot   |   Gameplay   |
Visuals and audio   |   Replay and innovation   |
Screenshots and videos   |   Final thoughts   |   Review round-up

Title overview

Name: Qora
Developer: Holden Boyles and Ciprian Stanciu
Publisher: Curve Digital
Release date: October 2014
PEGI rating: Not listed
Platforms: PC
More information: Official website

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Initial impressions

Exploration-adventure title Qora is the first project from indie film-maker Holden Boyles in conjunction with cross-platform programmer Ciprian Stanciu. In an interview with Boyles back in May 2014, he told 1001Up: “I’ve been making art and playing games my whole life, focusing primarily on film-making as a career for the past seven years or so. However, I’ve always wanted to make games but just never knew it was possible until I started playing indie games. Realising that some really beautiful games out there were made by just one or two people, I figured I should give it a try myself, so I hooked up with my programmer Cip and just took a swing at creating something simple and pleasant that would be the perfect starter project for me.”

I came across the Kickstarter campaign for Qora over a year ago in April 2014 and was a little upset when I realised we’d missed the deadline and were therefore unable to become backers. But we managed to secure the interview mentioned above to learn more about this intriguing title and in October, publisher Curve Digital was kind enough to send us a review key. So why haven’t I gotten around to publishing this article until now? Well, I couldn’t get the game to work using Windows 8 and didn’t receive a response to my Steam discussion posting – but with an upgraded PC and return to Windows 7, I was finally able to check it out. Is it the ‘perfect starter project’ as suggested by Boyles ?

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Plot

Qora takes place in a remote mountain village, and players are cast in the role of a retired old man who has built his dream home in order to live out his golden years in peace. While admiring some ancient statues on the outskirts of town, a mysterious voice speaks: a link between the world and a far distant realm exists within you and it’s something you must embrace. You then set out to explore the ancient halls and crumbling ruins of a temple just outside the valley and once you arrive within its walls, it becomes clear that something magical awaits you beyond this world.

“I just like the idea of going on an adventure as an old guy.”

The age of the protagonist may seem like an innovative choice, but it’s not something that was a conscious decision on the part of the developer. Boyles told us: “The concept for the game came first, and then I just filled in this gap with a character that I figured would most likely be a part of this whole situation. It’s funny though because never in the game does it actually say that the protagonist is an old man, and you certainly can’t tell if that’s the case visually since the human characters are so small. I don’t really want to clarify that within the game either because I don’t think it’s actually relevant but, if anyone does ask, I just like the idea of going on an adventure as an old guy.”

Although the title begins rather well and it’s fun to explore your new village, it starts to unravel after you enter the temple. Qora’s undertone suggests that the end goal will provide deeper meaning – an insight into life and the world beyond it – and it’s an enjoyable, if slow, experience. But a number of jarring tonal shifts and unnecessary comedic elements throughout your journey detract from this atmosphere; for example, a story of a princess who’s mean to her people is interrupted by talking to a villager whose girlfriend is actually gorilla. Ultimately it all comes to nothing: the ending has the potential to be a fantastic close but instead turns everything into one big joke, and kind of makes it hard to justify the two hours’ of play-time.

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Gameplay

Let me start this section by saying that this section going to be short. Like, really short. Qora entirely consists of pressing the left- and right-arrows on your keyboard to move the protagonist in the respective direction, and at times pressing the spacebar to use your pickaxe on a rock, to cut away some grass or to climb a wall. There are no fights or puzzles; no inventory or items other than those you’re provided with shortly after the start of the title; and no real gameplay. Done.

The only real mechanic within Qora is to keep pushing on forwards.

Ok, I could leave it there and will have said everything that needs to be said, but in the interests of information I’ll try to expand on the previous paragraph a little further. The only real mechanic within Qora is to keep pushing on forwards. Navigating the obstacles in your path mentioned above isn’t a challenge at all and is done with a simple key-press; their only purpose seems to be to extend the length of the game and all movements are completed at a particularly slow pace – perhaps to emphasise the age of the protagonist. This is largely an ambient experience and those looking for action will be extremely disappointed.

At certain points within the title a blue icon will appear over your character’s head, letting you know that you’re able to use your newfound powers to see ancient spirits and buildings that no longer exist. This could provide an interesting aspect to the gameplay but unfortunately does very little to enhance it. There are some pleasant moments where you learn a more about events from the past but you’re unable to move or complete any actions, meaning that such sequences are reduced to being nothing more than a very-short animated cut-scene.

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Visuals and audio

There are some attractive environments within Qora and if you’re a fan of pixel art, the game’s visual style will very likely appeal to you. Your journey through both the village and ancient temple is illustrated with backdrops that promote a sense of mysticism and incidental animations such as smoke rising from chimneys and deer running across fields are a nice touch. Unfortunately however, each scene takes such a long time to traverse due to the slow movements mentioned above; and at certain points you’re forced to stand still as you witness birds fly across the sky. These moments seem to have to no significance to the story – it’s almost as if the title realises that the graphics are its best feature and is saying, “Look at me, I’m so pretty.”

The script is often at complete odds with the mystical atmosphere created by the visuals and instead of coming across as witty, brings the player out of Qora’s world.

The music is pleasant enough too but after a while the tracks start sounding the same, possibly because it takes so long to move through each area. There’s no voice-acting and all speech is shown as (badly displayed) words at the bottom of the screen. The script is often at complete odds with the mystical atmosphere created by the graphics and instead of coming across as witty, just serves to highlight tonal shifts that are jarring and bring the player out of Qora’s world. It all would have come together more appropriately if the spiritual tone was consistently replicated within the game’s visuals, audio and script.

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Replay and innovation

Players will realise early on realise that this is a title all about the story. Many games manage to pull off this mechanic very successfully – To The Moon and Gone Home are great examples – but it leaves very little room for replayability. You may wish to return to them at some point in the future to experience a fantastic storyline once more, but I don’t see this ever being the case with Qora. I couldn’t even bring myself to play through the title a second time to find the alternative ending.

In some ways it’s difficult to comment on the amount of innovation shown by this title. The fact that the protagonist is an old man could be seen as innovative; but as mentioned in a paragraph above, this wasn’t exactly a conscious decision by Boyles. Such minimal gameplay could be seen as original; but it just isn’t pulled off effectively and doesn’t result in an engaging game. And a spiritual title with a mystical undertone could be regarded as unique; but the ‘twist’ at the end will leave many players feeling as if they’ve been the butt of a developers’ joke.

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Screenshots and videos

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Final thoughts

The jarring tonal shifts, lurches between spiritual meaning and comedy, and joke of an ending result in a game which many will be disappointed with.

We’re all about promoting indie projects here at 1001Up; if we like the look of a game, we’ll get behind it wholeheartedly and this is why it pains me so much to criticise Qora. But we’re also about providing content which is independent and fair, and so I have to state: I wouldn’t recommend the title for future 1001 lists. The jarring tonal shifts, lurches between spiritual meaning and comedy, and joke of an ending result in a game which I can see many players being disappointed with.

In his interview in May last year, Boyles told us: “Obviously every player will walk away from the game feeling a little different, as the game doesn’t really say much other than ‘take a look at these pretty places’. What I hope people can connect with or even be inspired to think about is something that has enchanted me for my whole life, which is the concept of having a magical escape from reality being right in your backyard; the idea of finding the entrance to your dream world deep in the woods or inside an old building.”

He’s right about one thing: Qora did leave me looking for an escape. But I doubt that many will find their dream world within this release.

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Review round-up

Reviewed: PC
Source: We received a review code from Curve Digital
Positive: If you like pixel art, there are some nice retro-looking environment
Negative: A storyline with some jarring twists that’s ultimately unfulfilling
Score: 14 out of 60
Grade: Save your money
Qora, video game, review, graph, Save your money

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2 thoughts on “Review: Qora

  1. So why is it a game? Why bother with the interactivity at all if it only comes down to pushing 3 buttons? This is what irks me about these ‘games’, they know that they’ll get more attention if they label themselves as a game rather than making it into a visual novel or a pixel art film. I mean you could argue that having the interactivity there connects the players to the game, but isn’t that what good films do in the absence of interactivity anyway? Great review though 😀

    Like

    1. I can do narrative-heavy games, and don’t mind limited gameplay elements if I can connect with the plot and characters. But this one… no. The ending was pretty much a slap-in-the-face that made the previous two hours almost pointless.

      Thanks for the kind words. 🙂

      Like

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