Jazz and Faust

2002 Saturn Plus
Designed by Aleksey Nikanorov, Vadim Zhiltsov, Vladislav Gontcharov
Reviewed 2002 June 30

Rating -4 Linearity straight, branching
Reasonability sporadic Connectivity moderate
Difficulty easy Relevance strong
Interface 3rd paned simple Real-time minor

Jazz and Faust comprises two separate adventures, each featuring one of the eponymous ship captains. Jazz will take any work he can get, including smuggling. Faust is more principled, but still a ship-for-hire. Each story covers the same period of time, and both centre around a common story involving a double murder, a princess and a treasure -- Faust wants the princess, Jazz wants the treasure. You see the story from each character's perspective, and the story ends with the two working together.

The double perspective is reminiscent of C's Ware hentai adventures, although not as well done here. The two perspectives don't provide any extra insight, since the story of interest is really that of the princess, which is told as an info-dump by both story lines. The gimmick doesn't hurt any, though, since each adventure involves completely different situations, even if the locales are the same.

Gameplay is stricly linear, and with a very narrow scope -- there's almost never more than one problem in sight. Despite such constraints, I still found myself getting ahead of the game several times. I wanted to pick something up or do something, but the game wouldn't let me because the appropriate triggers hadn't been tripped, even though I knew perfectly well what was going on. A significant part of play time is spent just running around looking to trip a trigger so you can get on with the game. Conversely, there were a few occasions where the characters were ahead of me, and doing something resulted in a different action than intended, or just an unexpectable result from one of the few actions possible at that point. In other words, the narrow scope and poor challenge-story synergy made me feel like I was being jerked through the game.

The challenges themselves were relevant and basically very simple. Again, the combination of narrow scope and linear play robbed the game of any punch. You were usually faced with one situation, and only a few things to work with, so it wasn't hard to figure out what to do, or to simply try everything when there was no reasonable solution in sight.

The presentation of the challenges was often crudely done. For example, at one point a boy will tell you the location of a particular man if you first retrieve the boy's cat for him. It turns out that the man is in an obvious and visible location, but he's just magically not visible until the boy tells you about him. Little attempt is made to dress up the adventuring gameplay with plausible story rationale.

The graphic presentation is well done, with attractive settings. The script is serviceable (translated from Russian), but the voice acting ranges from middling to horrible. Play the Jazz adventure first (he's on the left when you choose), since the Faust voice is so badly done it might put you right off the game. The characters are presented as 3D mannikins, a bit crude in appearance but good enough. The problem with them is poor puppetry, with the characters frequently looking like they're drunk. Especially Faust, who also talks like he's a bit drunk and trying to hide it.

The control interface is fundamentally sound, but there are several minor problems and annoyances. The pathing logic occasionally fails, causing the character to get stuck at some location (save/restore fixed it for me every time). There were a few instances of pixel hunting, where the object was small and/or not well distinguished from the background -- i.e., poor object focus. Sometimes, how you interact with an object is not obvious. "talking" to a person doesn't actually talk with them, but results in some other actions. Using an inventory item on an object with the "examine" animation playing does some other action. The worst was when you have to move your character onto an undistinguished spot to interact with it (undistiguished by the standard mouse activated animations -- they are graphically distiguished).

Jazz and Faust is an honest adventure, trying to be everything an adventure game should be. It has a decent story, and the challenges are properly contextual. It looks pretty. The interface problems, including the poor voice work in the English edition, are mostly what one would expect from a low budget Russian production, and would be easily forgiven if the basic game design was sound. Unfortunately, their ambition exceeded their design ability. The challenges are uncreative, often of questionable story rationale. The challenges do not pace the story well, giving the game a very jerky flow. The story is not strong enough to justify putting up with the poor gameplay.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.