A.J. Porfirio of Van Ryder Games kindly sent me a review copy of Captive, which enabled me to write this preview.
What is Captive about?
Captive is the flagship entry in the Graphic Novel Adventures series, which Van Ryder Games will soon be publishing in the United States. (They have acquired the rights to several adventure books that are already published in French by Makaka Editions.) Each of these books is actually a game in the form of a comic book—you navigate through it by flipping to different numbered panels that represent choices you've made, doors you've opened, and possibly secret places you have noticed and investigated.
In Captive, you are a father searching a creepy old house for his long-lost daughter. Although you might describe the book as a "choose your own adventure," and you do get to make several choices throughout the book, I would personally liken it more to one of the point-and-click adventures I loved as a kid. You know, the ones where you have to hunt around to find the best items, and where you occasionally get stuck in dialogue loops because you haven't yet figured out how to progress? Or maybe you could compare it to a visual novel that has several different endings, and you want to replay it multiple times to get each one. Those are the associations that Captive has for me, and that is definitely a good thing.
What do I like about Captive?
I like a lot about Captive. The story hooked me immediately, and I was on tenterhooks to see what my choices would lead to next. I loved taking notes about what I had seen and found, and generally feeling like I was making progress through a thrilling mystery that couldn't be solved without me. Your choices are not entirely straightforward, left-or-right-door affairs. You also have to look carefully at each panel, because you never know where you might find a clue, item, or secret area that you could miss if you aren't being thorough in your investigation.
Although some of the mystery vanishes with each playthrough, I went through Captive several times in search of every item, every branching pathway, every scrap of interesting flavor text. It's rare that I am that engaged with a game I am playing, and I will definitely be picking up the rest of the series so I can feel that rush again.
Possible Concerns About Captive
With a game like Captive, you have to face reality: There is a limited number of times you can play it, and it's only truly fresh the first time. Because it is a book that is also a game, you will eventually suck all of the marrow out of its bones. For me, that isn't a problem. If I had bought the book, I would have felt that I had gotten my money's worth—so much so that I personally backed the full set of Graphic Novel Adventures on Kickstarter. But if replayability is your priority, you might want to think twice before backing this project.
The other possible difficulty is that if you miss a crucial clue, or lose track of where you have been, it is possible to get stuck in Captive. I assume that will be true for the other Graphic Novel Adventures. There were a couple of investigative loops I got lost in that temporarily killed my momentum, and there were crucial items and pieces of information I missed the first time around that had a huge impact on my game. If anything, it made me feel nostalgic—I sort of enjoy getting stuck during a puzzle and methodically working my way out of it. But if you know that this would drive you crazy, you've been warned.
Should I Back It?
If you like gamebooks, choose-your-own-adventure books, visual novels, or point-and-click games, then I think Graphic Novel Adventures is a great match for you. Captive is perfect for one person, easy to play on the go, well-constructed, and exciting. I have no doubt its fellow Graphic Novel Adventures will be equally appealing. I am really looking forward to giving the set a full review.
If you want to see a video tour of Captive (with no more "spoilers" than you've already seen in this post), I've made one!