(If you’re super sensitive to spoilers, there are some mechanical spoilers in this post. Nothing you won’t hear in many podcasts discussing the game, but I figured I should warn people just in case.)

Pentiment is an unusual game. Which is, I suppose, obvious: it’s a game about life and murder in a small medieval town and its attached monastery; this would be unusual enough even as an indie game, but the studio that has made it is one that normally makes significantly larger games, and the studio is now owned by Microsoft!

But Pentiment is unusual in a more fundamental way as well. It’s a mystery game; so you’d expect to be wandering around town, talking to people, and uncovering clues, with the goal of building an airtight case during the trial. And there will probably be surprises that will happen during all of these phases, so be prepared for that.

And you do indeed spend time wandering around town, talking to people, and uncovering clues during Pentiment. It’s focused a little more on the people as individuals and as members of a community than on the people as givers of clues, but still: the bones of a detective game seem like they’re there.


The first sign that there’s something unusual going on in this aspect of the game is that the game doesn’t give you time to investigate all of those leads. This is the opposite of games like Phoenix Wright, where the game won’t let you progress unless you’ve found every clue.

And, as you poke at those clues, the differences only increase. Maybe you think that one person probably actually did the stabbing, but they were goaded to it by another person. Maybe you learn about people who are suspicious and whom you potentially dislike quite a bit, who have definitely done bad things and who might have a motive for this killing, but you’re having a hard time linking them directly.

Then you have to make a decision as to whom to accuse of the murder. You probably won’t be ready for it; you probably won’t be comfortable with how you made your choice, even if you are ready for it. The case you present isn’t about solving a puzzle: it’s about constructing a story that you’re least unhappy about, given the options.

Now that I type that out, in many ways that’s not dissimilar to our current court system, at least some of the time? Detectives have too many cases to investigate and not enough time; prosecutors make decisions in part on what feels right to them narratively, whether or not that is the best fit to concrete facts on the ground; and they’re trying to construct a story that twelve jurors find believable. I’m sure that, much of the time, prosecutors’ cases are more solid than the cases you come up with in Pentiment; but I’m also sure that, much of the time, they’re quite a bit less solid.


So: an unusual detective game, to the extent that it’s not actually clear to me that it fits within the genre. Maybe Pentiment is better classified simply as a visual novel? You do spend a lot of time talking to people: learning about their lives, learning about the forces that are in play (between the town and the monastery, between different groups in the town, etc.), learning about medieval Europe. It turns out that people in medieval Europe are still people, towns are still towns; I appreciated how the game showed people as people, instead of as medieval caricatures.

And there’s the plot around the protagonist. Some aspects of which I rather liked, other aspects of which I was not so sold on. In Act 2, in particular, the protagonist’s feelings felt odd in a way that I didn’t understand; it got explained eventually, but it left a bad taste in my mouth for a while. But I did like the plot in general; quite a bit better than most video game plots, and the way the game displayed the protagonist’s conflicting desires was well done.

And the visual aesthetics were distinctive, generally in a pleasant way. Pentiment leans into the literary nature of the protagonist’s work with the different scripts that are used to show characters speaking; neat idea, though I’m not so sure why they added in constant typos and corrections.


Nice to see this kind of experiment, and it was an experiment that I quite enjoyed playing. An unusual topic paired with an unusual mechanical approach, both successful; I’d like to see more of this.

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