Verne: The Shape of Fantasy Review – Journey to Atlantis

Gametopia’s Verne: The Shape of Fantasy is a love letter to French novelist Jules Verne, most famous for Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days. In Verne: The Shape of Fantasy, we take on the role of Jules Verne, who has become a character in the game’s twisted take on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas.

Verne is a scientist aboard the infamous submarine, the Nautilus, in 1888, which is captained by Captain Nemo, who is endlessly pursued by the “Nation” who threaten to destroy the alternate land of Hemera. Having just required the Imag artifact which allows its user to bend reality, the crew are searching for the legendary Flame of Hephaestus which is believed to be responsible for the rise and fall of Atlantis. Captain Nemo intends to use the Flame of Hephaestus to bring an end to the Nation once and for all.

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The Imag allows its user to bend reality. 

With his imaginative mind, Verne is the only one who can wield the power of the Imag, which he uses to alter events that have already happened. If rubble blocks Verne’s path, he can use the Imag to rewrite history; maybe the cannon fire which caused the explosion happened a few seconds later, allowing Verne to progress before the obstacle appears.

Verne: The Shape of Fantasy has a really interesting setting and premise which is what compelled me to play it. I’m sure fans of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas would appreciate this story… or not, if the changes made to the original novel bother them at all.

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Verne is traveling on board the Nautilus to research Atlantis and also help the crew find the Flame of Hephaestus.

Unfortunately, like many aspects of Verne: The Shape of Fantasy, I felt like there was wasted potential, and the in-depth story felt severely limited by the five hour playtime. The first hour or so of gameplay is stuffed with expositional dialogue; explanations of Atlantian mythology and the game world’s terminology. There’s not an awful lot of breathing space and the difficulty to grasp what on Earth is going on makes it a struggle to connect with the story or any of the characters.

Another thing that made it difficult to become more involved with the characters and their problems was the voice acting. As an indie game developed by a small team, I was surprised that Verne: The Shape of Fantasy had voice acting to begin with. Although, this made some of the lore conversations easier to follow, I did find that the performances by the voice actors were off-putting. A lot of the characters sound as though they are reading off a script half the time, and they didn’t bounce off each other enough for it to be believable that they’re standing in the same room having a conversation together. Cedric, the crew’s doctor, sounds like he’s narrating for a product advertisement, which really broke the immersion of the story.

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Captain Nemo inspires Verne to travel with him and take part in their mission.

I also noticed that a few voice actors would pronounce certain words differently, with the most obvious example being ‘Valkyrie’. Verne would also keep repeating ‘Mon Dieu!’ or ‘Merde!’ during tense scenes. Although this is understandable as his character is French, the length of the repetition became quickly annoying.

With the short playtime of Verne: The Shape of Fantasy, I thought the storyline was far too convoluted to be paced well within five hours. This also meant the third act’s twist was such a sudden turn in direction that it felt jarring, and I missed the direction that the story had previously been going in as I had only just started to fully grasp what was going on. I also thought that Verne: The Shape of Fantasy’s masked villain was seriously underdeveloped, and I wasn’t entirely sure what his end goal was other than to also get a hold of the Flame before Nemo did.

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The Flame of Hephaestus is the McGuffin which drives the story.

Verne: The Shape of Fantasy is an adventure puzzle game, however the adventure aspect only comes through in a few dialogue options – which don’t really impact the story at all. Puzzles in Verne: The Shape of Fantasy felt sparse considering this is a puzzle game, mainly because the complicated storyline is crammed into five hours and takes up most of the game. The puzzles that do occur are either very simple and easy to work out, or extremely hard with little explanation and no hint system to guide the way. Most of all, I felt like the Imag’s mechanics were severely underused as this tool, which can rewrite events, could have opened up so many possibilities in terms of puzzles. However, it’s only used a few times throughout the whole game. When the Imag was first introduced, I was excited to see this mechanic blossom and become more complicated as the game progressed. However, this never happened.

Another aspect of Verne: The Shape of Fantasy’s gameplay is the stealth segments, where you must sneak in and out of cover without moving into the eyeline of a guard. This is simple enough with a side-scrolling camera, however I did encounter one major flaw. If you’re caught during one of the stealth sequences, the game restarts at the last checkpoint. However, I noticed that the pacing timings of the guards would differ each time. At one point, two guards at opposite sides of the room would meet in the middle during their routine, and one another save load, they would walk into the middle of the room at different times. This meant that different attempts at the same level would be of varying difficulties – with some being nigh impossible as there was no break for me to run to the next piece of cover while one of the guards wasn’t looking.

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Despite the gameplay flaws, Verne: The Shape of Fantasy is beautiful.

What Verne: The Shape of Fantasy does do well is its artstyle, which is truly stunning. Not only does the vibrant use of colour do wonders for bringing this Steampunk world to life, but I also love the attention to detail on the more scenic locations. The developers are clearly aware of the tremendous work they’ve done as there’s plenty of moments where you’re able to stop, zoom out, and take in the stunning views. Unfortunately, Verne: The Shape of Fantasy’s lack of a compelling soundtrack doesn’t support the graphics or story progress at all.

While Verne: The Shape of Fantasy may appeal to Jules Verne fans as it is a love letter to the renowned adventure writer, I wouldn’t recommend it so much to those who haven’t read his novels. On its own, this game has a lot of potential but unfortunately doesn’t delve deep enough into any of its most interesting writing premises or mechanics.

Jess played Verne: The Shape of Fantasy on PC with a review code.

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