The Girl Of Glass: A Summer Bird’s Tale Review
Once I had a love and it was a gas
Once I had a love and it was a gas
Growing up and moving away from a childish perspective and toward a more nuanced appreciation of ourselves, the people around us and the world that shapes us is a difficult and confusing time. Few games take an honest approach to protagonists going through this process, often presenting a hero’s tale and giving the player a barrage of wish fulfilment as opposed to an exploration of the choices one has when adjusting to impending adulthood and how those choices in how to be will affect those around you. The Girl of Glass: A Summer Bird’s Tale takes a different approach.
Our main character in this instance is the implicitly fragile, titular girl of glass, Kristal. She’s a teen on the cusp of womanhood and her life in an inexplicably static “travelling” circus is boring her. A voice in her head narrates her mundane existence, speaking of her longing for more and giving insight into her life so far. What’s clear is that the adults around her seem like walking cliches, circus performers constantly putting up a front because of their place in society and questionable pasts.
A diminutive ringmaster seemingly runs the show, while a painfully unfunny clown, a tall woman putting on airs and graces, a strong girl replete with Pipi Longstockings looks and an almost mute woman in a bear costume perform. The local Sherrif isn’t particularly friendly with this group, seemingly harassing and pestering them for simply existing. How Kristal herself treats them is as much down to your reaction as anything else, but it’s very easy to dismiss these seemingly one-note jokes and perhaps think that they deserve what they get. Are judgements based on these fleeting glimpses of their lives fair though?
There is, however, one person that Kristal is very much interested in and isn’t judging in the slightest – The Boy. Sat close to the edge of the circus, he sits whittling and waiting for her. Kristal is intrigued by him, unsure if he likes her but drawn to him regardless. Perhaps it’s youthful lack of foresight and the urge to adventure, perhaps it’s pure selfishness, but he suggests stealing the Ringmaster’s car so the pair can make a daring escape together. She’ll have to act against those who’ve sheltered her to do this though and, in the process, will change the course of everyone’s lives in the circus.
The story unfolds in two ways, as The Girl of Glass: A Summer Bird’s Tale is a combination of two distinct styles of game – point and click and turn-based RPG. In the former, you’ll wander the grounds of the circus, collecting items, conversing and solving puzzles. Thankfully, there are no inexplicably illogical solutions and common sense combined with a little lateral thinking will see you through. Better yet, if you’re truly stumped, a conversation with The Boy will yield a pretty strong hint in the right direction. It’s an ideal starting point for those unfamiliar with the genre, a far cry from infamously obtuse classics like The Longest Journey. Memories of trying to retrieve a blue, duck-shaped inflatable still haunt those of us who played that one to this day.
As you point and click your way around, the conversations you have punctuate the puzzles. Kristal can pick the brains of those around her to some extent, but ultimately, she’s a child in their care, and the adults all seem to hold things back. How you react, be it snarky dismissal, unquestioning acceptance or simply asking for more information will affect the way the story plays out in unexpected ways. Whether you see the humanity at the hearts of these characters and sympathise with them will shape the story, as will picking up seemingly un-needed items and doing other things a young girl ought not.
Occasional flights of fancy creep into Kristal’s consciousness, turning mundane conflicts such as a cat blocking a footpath into a turn-based battle. Playing out on a grid, you’ll exchange blows with your opponent as you manage your character’s health and stamina. Lose all your stamina from taking blows or using special moves, and you’ll be vulnerable for a turn, exposed to critical attacks. Your foes suffer similarly though, and you must time out your limited arsenal of attacks, guards, stored turns and special moves so that you gain the upper hand.
At a glance, The Girl of Glass’s combat appears to be akin to that of Darkest Dungeon, but in reality, the combat is more of a puzzle to be solved with the correct solution, as opposed to traditional RNG reliant role-playing games. With no stats to manage, no equipment to equip and no levels to gain, the combat is a rigid back and forth in which a wrong move can and will ruin you; however, I think that’s no bad thing in this instance as battles serve the story rather than an experience system and game lengthening grind. Three difficulty levels will allow those who struggle with such tight balancing to progress, while those truly looking to stress over every action will find that there’s a solid challenge here.
In terms of looks, The Girl Of Glass is almost exactly what it needs to be. Visuals are vivid and full of charm, with one giga-teddy, in particular, being sure to capture a few hearts. However, in the later stages of the game, a few scenes lack backgrounds and overt jokes from characters about running out of budget and wanting to move quickly past the observation are going to either charm with their honesty or make your eyes roll. Personally, the honest intent to tell a heartfelt story alongside these rare, honest moments where the fourth wall is broken so that the developers can hold their hands up and say “Sorry guys, we know it’s not perfect, here’s why, let’s move on” is appreciated. In an odd way, this honest attitude and sense of humour about it play perfectly alongside the intent of the story itself.
Given The Girl Of Glass: A Summer Bird’s Tale’s appeal is in its narrative, going further into what happens when the circus is escaped would diminish the impact should you play the game, but it’s safe to say that there is a strong twist in the tale and a far darker turn than the bright sights of the circus might have you expecting. More than that, the story branches and different characters can meet different conclusions based on your behaviour, which is exceedingly rare for a point and click game.
I found The Girl Of Glass: A Summer Bird’s Tale’s to be a rare, honest look at how complex people can be inside while appearing to be less than that on the surface, one that doesn’t shy from reminding the player that being a presumptuous person with a loud mouth might make for an amusing exchange in a game, but in reality, it will cause pointless hurt and tends to betray a lack of understanding from the joker. It touches upon societal issues like submission to authority and the place of business in the lives of common people in a way that’s absolutely not being discussed honestly in the predominantly American influenced video game scene and for that alone, if you are drawn to the power of interactive narrative, this game is worth your time and money.
[Reviewed on PC]