Just One Line – Early Access impressions

Just One Line needs improvement but the concept is strong.

Just One Line

A new roleplaying adventure, Just One Line (Steam Page) places a focus on choices and a flexible storyline. It’s the debut release from JOL Studios and its purely text-driven fantasy roleplaying with animated 3D backdrops makes for a fairly original experience. But in its current Early Access state, it’s a cautious recommendation.

Selecting between four different races, you’ll embark on an array of quests in this colourful world, all navigated by a classic choose-your-own-adventure interface. Your race supposedly affects the storyline and decisions you can make throughout Just One Line.

Just One Line boasts that choices really affect gameplay, even going so far as to make the claim: “A lot of games say so, but a few truly mean it.” Whenever a game boasts meaningful choices, my natural response is to be cynical about the true extent of them. And so it was here, until one of my choices led to my horrible death during the very first quest. Game over, screw you.

That aside, I haven’t so far seen any major differences between Just One Line’s approach to choice and consequence, and that of other games. Each course of action affects your character’s renown, mortality, and gold gained from the quest. It’s enjoyable, but hardly revolutionary.

Just One Line

The difficulty here is a lack of indication as to what impact your choices will have on the game, making Just One Line an exercise in trial and error. This may have sounded like a good idea on paper, and high replay value is a great characteristic for a game to have, but it’s only a good trait if your motivation to replay is higher than “Oh, I’m randomly dead, I suppose I’d better try again.” Too many of Just One Line’s branches lead to failure. It means you don’t feel like you’re being given the option to affect the story; rather, the game is funnelling you down a linear path with dead-ends off to the side.

The game would be greatly improved with a sort of Dream Daddy-style saving feature before each choice is made. Or maybe I’ve been playing too much Dream Daddy, and I’ve become allergic to the real gritty world of gaming. What definitely isn’t Dream Daddy’s fault is the fact that Just One Line – for me, at least – seems to have a bug right now that prevents the final choice in most scenes from being selected.

At the moment there are only 13 quests, so there isn’t a lot to battle through to find out which choices give the characteristics that you want for your adventurer. As JOL Studios add more content, they’ll need to consider their saving system and the game’s concept of a persistent character that can permanently die at any time. When your game can kill the player without too much fault on their part, permadeath becomes a sensitive topic, and I fear this may put off a lot of their potential audience.

Just One Line

There are also a few too many problematic fantasy tropes here. I hate this idea in fantasy gaming, that going back to a traditional and medieval setting means going back to archaic values. Your character can be either male or female, but one quests references saving the “females and children” and another revolves around a father trying to stop his daughter marrying someone he doesn’t approve of. The implication is that she has to marry someone he chooses. It’s unnecessary, adds nothing in terms of world-building, and feels out-of-place and awkward each time it crops up.

And I’m not sure about the promise that, later on, players will be able to write and introduce their own quests into the game world for other players. Writing RPG content is a highly specialised skill. For every five “Epic Tales of Sir Vernon the Brave” that engage and thrill other players, there’ll surely be at least one “Stev iz a dum but-hed: teh quezt.”

In all, it’s rather bare right now, and the content that is present is hit-and-miss. The developers are being very honest about the game needing work – Just One Line even opens with the message: “This game is going to improve over time.” And it does need improvement. More content, more ironing out of the storytelling, and a native English speaker desperately needs to proof-read some of the dialogue. It’s a fun concept, though, with a lot of future potential. I hope the creators can turn it into something great.