The Forgotten City Review
Alongside video games one of my other loves is classical studies. My partner (who is a classics teacher—no joke) and I have often discussed how great it would be to have a modern Roman RPG that’s set in an authentic world with character choices and options, as players live and soak in the daily life, morality, and mentality of an Ancient Roman. Lo and behold, The Forgotten City cropped up, and we began to hype it in our house. A lot.
But did it live up to the hype? Put plainly, yes. It did. The Forgotten City is a compact marvel, a game that rewards the player with twists, mysteries and colourful characters in every direction. Really, one of my only complaints is that, as a reviewer, it is incredibly hard to say anything about it without spoiling the absolute wonder that comes with the game’s surprising twists.
After choosing a gender and name, you’ve been pulled out of a river by a helpful young lady. She tells you to go into the ruins behind you, prompting you to look for a man named Al. It’s an innocuous start to what soon becomes a time-travelling tale steeped in intrigue, betrayal, and surprisingly dark mentalities.
Full of character
On your travels through the city you will not be short of interesting folk to speak to—either idly chatting about their stories or questioning them carefully to solve the mysteries before you. With the solving of each mystery comes ten more, your journey sprawling out in front of you with every conversation. Characters have their own motives and timelines for performing actions, leaving you to intercept or allow things to take their course.
This is where the game’s key conceit comes in. The Forgotten City is housed in the ridge of a cave, trapped under rock and filled with gleaming golden figures. The citizens all abide by the ‘Golden Rule’ which states that all must suffer for the sins of the one. If one citizen sins, each and every one will be turned to gold for eternity. There is one small caveat to this… one which will see your character repeating and exploiting the same event until they get it right.
To prevent certain calamity from taking place, it has thus become your unofficial job to figure out both the secrets behind this curse and who is most likely to sin. Each character has several interactions and stories, and you must use your wits and timing to delay or prevent disaster. But The Forgotten City is not just another puzzle game with stilted and linear solutions. Instead, you can talk to anyone, go anywhere, finish or ignore quests at your discretion, with these narrative threads leading toward one of the game’s many endings.
It’s this game’s fluidity that proves to be its key strength. I was so charmed by the detail put into the characters and the narrative—their adherence to social norms of the time and the ability to philosophise with newly made friends—but even more so by my ability to make impactful choices and solve mysteries in a uniquely organic way. The Forgotten City has some of the most intelligent and complex writing I’ve seen in a game for a very long time.
What was especially pleasing to video game and classics enthusiasts is the level of accuracy and detail given to the city itself and its inhabitants. Walking around, there were so many details that prompted gasps of delight: mosaics I’ve seen in person, educational details about life in Ancient Rome, board games and shops and architecture that was so informed and refreshing. So much of Ancient Roman history in pop culture is gladiators and war and fighting, that it was so much fun to explore a regular city full of average citizens, who went about their lives, working or shopping or cooking. It was tempting to just set up camp and stay for as long as possible in this gorgeously detailed world.
Once you begin to put the pieces of the mystery together it becomes even more rewarding. This is a clever story with a multi-faceted puzzle. Not only do you need to discover the genesis of the Golden Rule, but also the hidden pasts of the people around you. But even then, there is so much left to explore and discover, from charming details to deeply disturbing acts being perpetrated by residents. There is a sense of tension, a race against time, and the feeling that you almost had it… three important aspects that give The Forgotten City an impeccable sense of pacing.
Although character models can be a bit repetitive and everyone looks startled all the time, the voice acting is stellar—which makes what a character is telling you so much more believable, and the sleuthing so much more immersive. Visually this is not a bad game by any means, as the painstaking details and warmth lend the game all sorts of qualities not found elsewhere. There is admittedly the occasional graphical glitch, but the discovery of each mosaic or amphora, the clothing touches and the sound of water all make it worthwhile.
Yet the blend of genres may not be for everyone. There is combat, puzzle solving, roleplay, historical education, strategy, and more—all in different amounts depending on your play style. One key feature involves repeating the same event over and over, which may result in players getting frustrated with their progress being reset, but other than that it is hard to fault.
It must be pretty obvious by now that I love this game. I love the effort that went into it and the expansive scope of its contents. I love how easy the gameplay is to grasp and how complex its plot becomes. I love the surprises and mysteries, and how each character is so full of soul. History buffs will have hours of spotting little details and accuracies, and fans of a good old-fashioned mystery will be kept up all night by the perplexing curse that has befallen this town.