Fear is a funny thing.
It’s what keeps us awake at night and leaves us feeling nervous long after it has gone away. It can be something concrete like the fear of a spider on your wall or something only inside your head like the fear of death. The Count Lucanor is an homage to games such as The Legend of Zelda and Silent Hill combining elements of both into a truly terrifying puzzle game.
The Count Lucanor tells the story of a 10-year-old boy named Hans. He lives with his mother in a small cottage and they are very poor. When his mother tells him she can’t afford the birthday present he wanted, he does what any self-respecting 10-year-old would do, and runs away. Basically, Hans is an ungrateful little butt. Not only does he leave his mother to live on her own, but she offers him the last bit of food and money she has, which he takes. It goes without saying that Hans does not make a very good first impression on the player.
You are given a few opportunities during the introduction of the game to redeem Hans, allowing him to offer food or money to needy people on the road, but it soon becomes evident that these people are just as ungrateful as he is. Despite feeling as though I was making a big mistake, I decided to give my final piece of food to a goat herder, and was kindly given some wine in return. I was incredibly relieved to finally find someone who wasn’t just a complete jerk… and then Hans passes out. This could be due to the fact that ten-year-olds aren’t known for being able to hold their liquor or it could have been, you know, POISONED, but this remains to be seen.
After a dream sequence featuring beautiful pixel art graphics reminiscent of a Japanese anime, Hans wakes up in a familiar but much different looking place. He decides it’s time to retrace his steps and go home, but everything is much too different. Rivers that previously had flowing blue waters in them are now filled with crimson red blood. Goats that had innocently frolicked around the grass are standing on two legs looking sinister and, dare I say, hungry (and not for grass). The friendly goat herd, let’s just say, has seen better days. Hans eventually finds his way to the castle of Count Lucanor, who happens to be looking for a new heir to inherit all of his riches. His servant, called only “The Kobold” by Hans, informs him that any nobleman is allowed to take take the trial and if they complete it, they will be the new Count Lucanor. Hans lies about being a nobleman (like I said, he’s a butt) and is allowed into the castle. These “trials” make up the main puzzles of the game, and this castle is where the rest of the game is set. The trial is to find all of the letters that make up the Kobold’s name and unscramble them somehow. The letters are placed randomly throughout the castle, and the player must solve different puzzles in order to retrieve them.
The Count Lucanor plays similarly to other horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast where the player has to hide for a large portion of the game to avoid being seen. Throughout the castle there are guardians whose job it is to protect the castle. These guardians are all over the map, and you can use nearby tables or curtains to hide from them. If you are seen you can get away and hide, but you have to be careful because if the guardians take off their masks they are able to “suck” you towards them, injuring you in the process. The other main mechanic of the game is placing candles in dark areas around the map so that the guardians can’t sneak up on you. Your candles are limited so you have to be careful where you place them, and to make you have enough for when you really need them. This mechanic can be a bit clunky at times, because the candle placing button is the same as the interacting button. This meant that almost every time I tried to interact with something, I would place one candle after another on the floor before I managed to hit what I meant to in the first place. This was a huge problem when trying to run away and hide from something.
Another very challenging part of The Count Lucanor, (other than the horrifying death guardians, the blood-thirsty goats that are hungry for human flesh, and the skeleton dressed in red conquistador clothing who follows you around calling you “little mouse”) is the save system. If you’re a fan of the classic Resident Evil games then you’re familiar with the process of saving with ink ribbons. In The Count Lucanor, Hans collects coins that he throws into a fountain in order to “save his soul” from death. There’s a limited number of coins you can find throughout the map. This wasn’t a huge problem for me until the end of the game where it gets much more difficult and I was dying regularly, but if you managed to save up some food you can eat it to boost up your health.
The Count Lucanor, despite not having incredibly high resolution graphics or jump scares, manages to truly create a horrifying experience by filling the player with the constant feeling of dread. It has a way of masterfully mixing together silly and scary in that way that makes you feel like you should be giggling, but instead you’re crying in the corner. Its puzzles are complicated at times, but nothing too difficult. The game’s soundtrack is really creepy and unsettling, filled with sounds to heighten the player’s terror while playing the game.
In the end, The Count Lucanor is a great a game all around, and I will gladly be adding it to my list of favorite horror games. It took about six hours to play through, and features multiple endings which adds to its replayability. If you are looking for a unique survival-horror game with a creepy meter (and weird meter) that is cranked up to eleven, then The Count Lucanor is a great choice.