The plethora of the stories we’ve come to love from our favorite games wouldn’t exist if not for the literature that defined entire genres. It’s because of this that I believe text-based RPGs (otherwise known as “interactive novels) don’t get enough attention these days. They’re odes to the works of “Lord of the Rings” or the “Chronicles of Narnia” series that set the stage for Dragon Age, Legend of Zelda, and other fantasy games. Not everyone is a reader, but I would encourage you to give text-based RPGs a chance if you haven’t.
“Runt of the Litter” follows you, a thrall, the lowest of the low, a simple stable hand in Vaengrea, a world where gryphon keepers hold the power. They make the laws and fight the wars. They are supreme, mainly because thralls cannot have gryphons. When you steal a discarded runt egg from one of the mother gryphons you attend, your life changes. If you’re discovered, you’ll be exiled or killed. Only the best gryphons are bred, so allowing a runt to live would “taint” the bloodline. For one reason or another, whether it be compassion or self-serving reasons, you can’t let the egg perish. In the end, it’s you and your baby gryphon against the world.
You choose how you want to raise your gryphon: Tough and strict, or loving and warm? Will you pursue the mysterious disease plaguing gryphons, or go to the front lines against the army of wyrm riders threatening your homeland? Writing a good piece of narrative fiction already takes a special talent. Writing a novel where there are multiple outcomes, with just as much thought and detail in one branch of the story as the others, is even more admirable.
Kelly Sandoval is the mind behind Runt of the Litter. Her writing style and the way she approaches the fantasy genre reminds me a lot of the early writings of Tamora Pierce, author of “The Song of the Lioness” series. In that sense, both authors keep their attention to detail close to the chest. Sandoval focuses a lot on the sensory details of the story (i.e. what you see, feel, smell, etc.), rather than the bigger picture of Vaengrea as a world. This isn’t inherently a bad thing though. With a game and story this small, there isn’t too much need for Warhammer-40k-scale lore and world building, so it works. We don’t see the bigger picture of the war against the wyrms, or the plague known as “dropfeather.” We see glimpses, yes, but we see more of an intimate story of survival, of companionship. Sandoval describes the details that matter between the protagonist and the world around him, her or zir.
On a side note, you have the option to choose your sexuality (including gay or asexual), and even be gender neutral if you desire. Props to Choice of Games for that small detail that takes little effort to fit into the story, but means leaps and bounds in terms of representation. It also affects the relationships one can have with the secondary characters in the story, platonic and romantic alike.
The most notable detail about the story is your very own gryphon. He or she is the focus of the story, and thus should be the most compelling character, which they are. When I chose my male gryphon, I certainly got attached to him. I got to decide what kind of gryphon he would be, so when I saw the words “barn owl and snow leopard”, I was sold. I got to name him and shape his personality and his strengths. I got to read him growing up and coming into his own. I grew emotionally invested very easily, which is the sign of good writing in any media, whether it be games, movies, or books.
Seeing as I only got a little less than a quarter of available achievements in one path (or playthrough) of the story, I’m interested to see what other outcomes Sandoval has written for the hero and their loyal winged beast.
Now, this is an interactive novel and not a full-blown game, or even a visual novel, but I would personally love to see some illustrations along with the story. With all the variations of gryphons that are described, as well as other characters, I wouldn’t mind an illustration here or there. That being said, nothing is necessarily lost from not having visual aids.
The game could also have benefited from a stronger ending, more specifically, getting to experience the fruits of one’s labors more deeply. Adding a few chapters or even a longer, more interactive epilogue would breathe a little more life into the choices made throughout the story.