Partestrada is in danger! General Pardo the local warlord is plotting a civil war and is aiming to slaughter every last one of the townsfolks. You, a young bright alchemist by the name of Damiano Delstrego, are to protect your beloved hometown and its people whether bare-handedly or by means of magic, whether with help of God or, ironically, Devil himself. The task will take you on a risky journey, where you shall face different creatures some of which are malevolent and some who need your kind service. Your good familiar dog Macchiata and archangel Raphael will accompany and assist you along the way. Make haste and find a way to stop Pardo and his men before they reduce Partestrada to ashes and its people to dust.
This fairly unique and obscure interactive fiction game is loosely based on a fantasy novel “Damiano” by R. A. MacAvoy. It was originally written for Apple II computer, but also ported to PC as PC Booter. Graphically speaking, PC version is as always a little behind since CGA mode was practically the only option available in 1985, but… it appears to be one of those seldom cases when CGA meets the setting quite well, while matching the game's gloomy twilight atmosphere. The design is tad unconventional, which is a part of its distinctive charm. The image section is a little scanty but somehow more than sufficiently descriptive of the situation. Furthermore, the graphics are partially animated and the game uses what seems to be a pseudo 3rd person perspective – you can see the protagonist, but he is mostly static and confined to the left side of the game panorama, which isn't a bad thing, quite ingenious on the contrary. I think by these criteria alone it beats most of the known IF titles.
The setting takes place in Renaissance Italy, where according to the plot/novel magic and common reality had successfully coexisted. The protagonist is a combination of a wizard and a bardish lute player, which gives off RPG vibes. The central cast of the game is you, your talking familiar dog, who peculiarly enough performs the role of a usually anonymous narrator all throughout the game, archangel Raphael, who is your personal advisor and a cheerleader, and… Satan, who's something like a drug-dealer, only he deals with magic. While it is always ok to interact with the first two you are generally discouraged to appeal to Satan unless real necessary. The former two are your friends, the latter is your nemesis, whose service though is requisite for the successful completion of the game, which is a rather controversial but entertaining scheme. As far as the tradition goes, Satan's personal agenda is to bribe you with miracles and other gimmicks to later settle the score and dispatch you to Hell.
Like the visuals the gameplay style is slightly unorthodox compared to the vast majority of text-based adventures, and so are the puzzles. As the game starts you are immediately confronted with Satan the Pusher and made a number of tempting offers. A word of warning: 'Yes' or 'No' as well as any other step you make in this game may drop the curtain way too soon, so you must be careful what you do and what you wish for. Having thus declined the 1st two, in fact, bogus offers, you strike a bargain and receive 3 magic spells from Satan – Fire, Terror and Damn, which, again, must be applied prudently and it quite often involves pure intuition. Some of the episodes are put in real-time mode (do I smell RPG again?), which means your time is limited and you have to think and act quickly. Much as I dislike haste and anxiety in real life, I think it's a fine supplement to the game which vivifies things to an extent. Playing the lute serves mostly to call forth Raphael who occasionally gives you directions, but it may also serve a number of other purposes, such as annoying Satan. Speaking of which, he is summoned with 'Ades, Satan' conjuration, but may at times pop up unbidden and attempt to hamper and lead you astray, so you have to be on guard. Normally it's not hard to tell which offers are bogus and which are the real deal, but sometimes curiosity and naivety do the nasty trick.
There are two types of characters here, constant and variable. Some you will encounter invariably as per novel cast while others are rogue-like, which may or may not appear each time you restart the game. This, in fact, makes the game quite unpredictable as opposed to even majority of 3rd person graphic adventures (parser & point'n'click), and hereby I again challenge those narrow-minded critics who maintain that this game is boring and linear. Anyway, both type of characters include positive and negative figures. They take human, animal and sometimes monster shape. Some of them you must help, some must help you, while others are a variety of hindrance and menace, which often happens to be Satan in disguise. In combat the main challenge is to know which magical spell to use against your enemy while retaining a moral aspect. It's not all about kill, kill, kill (fire), most of the time casting terror spell does the job just fine. However, some of the characters are so extremely fickle and ambiguous there's really no telling how to treat them. Well, what can i say… follow your heart.
The record of your achievements and errors is impressed on Good/Evil-o-meter straight below the game panorama, which, again, seems like a very faint RPG element. Here every misused spell and missed opportunity to do good deeds results in evil outbalancing good, and when fully prevailed it means player's death. Matter of fact, just by conjuring Satan and accepting any of his gifts, however useful, you draw nearer to him, so it's basically something like karma. Losing it is a part of the game though and there is no way of playing it perfectly clean unless you wish to die real fast, which is easily done by ignoring every offer on the part of Mr. Satan. The general premise of the game (and original story for that matter) is to use magic for good purposes, which is another way of using evil against evil and thus fooling the Dark Lord. Anyway, while you can't get very far without spells, the freedom of choice adds a tiny bit of realism to the game and is therefore another good aspect to it.
And now to some minor so-called limitations which have unleashed a storm of criticism. First off, you don't look around in this game and get the traditional possible directions like North, South, East & West, but rather just immediately teleport yourself to the desired location should you have the name and purpose. Secondly, you don't examine the objects and characters yourself, it is done for you automatically if any urgent. There is no inventory, but you never carry a large number of objects anyway, so it's hardly a deficiency. There are no real dialogs and few questions to ask, you get away with general keywords mostly like “hi” or “ok”. However, I don't deem any of this a disadvantage, as it by no means diminishes the thrill and amount of challenge presented. The only real minus perhaps is a little poor vocabulary. You may often get stuck not because you don't know what to do, but because you don't know how to make yourself understood by the game.
The game art, language and dramatism have a nice baroque touch to them with some macabre elements. It's a symbolical theater of two contending forces – heaven and hell, who have set a spiritual battleground in the soul of one single individual and carry on their unending struggle while testing his will and integrity. Some episodes are rather gruesome and disturbing, which is, in fact, a careful reenactment of the novel. The game isn't really easy – on the contrary, it's hell of confusing at first, but picking around will eventually get you through. Granted, it may appear a great lot easier to those who have actually read the book and are familiar with the storyline somewhat. Still, as accurate as the game adaptation may seem, there are slight diversions and plenty of surprises ahead. Every time you restart it you walk a slightly different path with often unexpected turn of events, and depending on your decisions you may uncover at least 5 different approaches which qualify as individual scenarios. Yes, perhaps there are too many ways to die in this game, but isn't that what makes life precious and exciting?
I think despite the few named flaws this is still an exceptionally marvellous game which truly defines the full glory and is the very quintessence of Interactive Fiction.