An RPG/Narrative Adventure with Grotesque Faces
The Council was a wild ride. As many other reviewers have noted, it resembles a Telltale or Life is Strange-type game, but with RPG elements added in. You play a man named Louis who visits the secret island of a rich man named Mortimer. You ostensibly visit to locate your mother, but when you arrive you find that much more is at stake.
When you begin, you'll pick a class (Occultist, Diplomat, Detective). This class gives you proficiency in a certain starting group of skills. You can still take skills from other classes, but you'll have to do that as you progress through the game. I wanted to play as a purely scientific/skeptic Detective and played the first half of the game in this manner. However, certain plot points made this a futile roleplaying exercise.
Due to the way the skill system works (in conversation and in passing), I think I should've simply put one point in every skill, and perhaps get Politics, Occultism, Logic, and Psychology up to a higher level. During my playthrough, however, I neglected certain skills that didn't make sense with the way I wanted to roleplay Louis. You can use your skills to help you with conversations and puzzles. You can use any skill that you have at least one level in; however, if the difficulty of a challenge exceeds your facility with a skill, you'll need to use "effort points" to make up the difference. You start the game with a certain number of effort points already, and you have a maximum you can accumulate. You can regain effort points through consuming "royal jelly" (found scattered around the mansion) or by ending a chapter of the game. You can increase your maximum capacity through locating "pieces of amber" (also scattered about the mansion).
The vast majority of the game, I was teetering between having 0-4 effort points available. I typically used them as soon as I'd accumulated them. The royal jelly consumable is quite plentiful, but consuming too many in a single day gives you some sort of sickness (I never figured out what this does). To cure the sickness, you can use golden elixir (another consumable). Therefore, more difficult challenges in the game would see my Louis just pounding these consumables: royal jelly, royal jelly, golden elixir, royal jelly, royal jelly, golden elixir, etc. This felt as silly as it sounds, but I wanted to do well in the game's skill challenges, and I couldn't really figure out a better way to approach them. There are two other consumables, devil's thorn and Carmelite water. Devil's thorn reveals the immunities and vulnerabilies of whoever you're chatting with, and Carmelite water makes your next skill use cost 0 effort, regardless of difficulty relative to your skill level. Therefore, with Carmelite water, you can succeed at level 8 skill challenges with only 1 level of the associated skill. It's great - I pounded those bad boys too.
Walking around this mansion so much, you'd hope that the audiovisual design would be stellar, and it mostly is. The mansion is incredibly opulent and beautiful, and the creaks of the wood while traversing the halls and taps while walking over tile add a great deal to the player's immersion. Although the environments are gorgeous, I can't really say the same for the character designs. Developer Big Bad Wolf has a talent for making their characters look grotesque, especially Sir Holm (the fella with the white makeup you see in the promotional materials). These guys make old age look like a horror film. Who knows? Perhaps it is. The voice acting is very good, with the exception of Louis (in my opinion). The only people I know who speak English with a strong American accent and then transition to flawless French are unbearably pretentious. I probably would've preferred that Louis just speak English in a French accent - this way I could understand him, but the transition when he spoke French names and titles wouldn't be so jarring. In addition, the voice actress for Louis' mother sounded much younger than the character appeared in-game.
As I mentioned earlier, my decision to be scientific/skeptic Detective wasn't particularly supported by the game's plot. Even so, I would've appreciated more opportunities to deviate for the path laid out before me. You always seem to get an opportunity to turn against a character, but these opportunities are usually more "grand." Therefore, you can choose not to side with a character, but may find yourself completing errands for them beforehand regardless.
I would've appreciated if the game had a bit more relationship-building. More often than not, I found myself engaged with tiresome and exhausting puzzles. The worst offenders were doing bible research (analyzing pictures of apostles and correlating verse and chapter numbers), finding a specific lance (poring through pictures and research to locate the correct one among some 10 or so others), and "organizing the guests" (which takes place in something of a dream sequence). I found myself groaning through the entirety of these sections.
Despite my issues with some audiovisual and gameplay pieces, I did enjoy a good portion of my time with the game. I liked interacting with the different characters and found many of them to be convincing portrayals. The central conflict in the game is an intriguing one, and I found myself invested in the weight of the decisions being made. I've found myself thinking about the game for a number of days after I finished. The key question, as I see it, is whether freedom on a large scale justifies tyranny on a small scale. The game ended quite poorly for my Louis - but looking back, I'm still not sure that I'd do anything differently. It's a strange feeling, but somewhat unique among games I've played. My biggest regret is actually killing Mortimer's bird Waldo (somewhat by accident).
If you enjoy other narrative adventure titles and think it would be interesting for conversations to change based on your character's skills, I think I can recommend The Council. Especially if you generally have more of a tolerance for puzzles than I do.