Circus Reviews - Arcane Intern (Unpaid)

Next up on the list of IFComp reviews is a game about being an unpaid intern. I've never had the pleasure of being an unpaid intern, but from what I hear, I wouldn't do it for anything. I have bills to pay; they don't just go away because the job is unpaid, right? And throughout this whole game, the omnipresent question of how the protagonist is keeping themselves off the streets doesn't ever go away, but maybe you just have a really awesome roommate. The game follows YOU, a commoner who has just been hired to work as an intern at a publishing company enmeshed in a world of magic. You are given a special amulet that allows you to interact with the regular world; everyone else instantly forgets about magic once they hear about it, so people like your roommate Taylor won't find out things they shouldn't know. But other than dragons, the Otherworld, magical snakes and mongooses, flying memos, and mystic sigils, this internship is like many others: you're stuck with a bunch of grunt work and desperate to prove yourself worthy of better assignments.

The setting combines a bunch of magical cliches into a stew pot that works surprisingly well despite not being too specific about the world. Harry Potter is the most obvious inspiration (and it's not-really-but-totally named with an in-game series about Rebecca Butler), with some notable sparks from series like the Bartimaeus Trilogy scattered throughout. Character-wise, you have a fair number of choices to define how your protagonist acts, although the only ones that affect the ending seem to be in the final chapter. Characters outside of your protagonist are pretty much just there to further the plot, with the possible exception of Taylor, your completely normal roommate, and even she only really factors into one of the endings. There are a few weird things about the technical design, chief among them the lack of a back button. If you accidentally progress too far, your only recourse is to go back to the title screen. If you've previously completed the game, you can access a chapter select feature, but it can only start you at the beginning of the chapter. There's also a few quirky coding choices, such as a point in the first chapter where you're taking coffee orders for the office. One of the office workers has a few options of things to ask her, one of them being her coffee order. But you can't just ask her this and then leave; you have to ask her every single question possible for the game to recognize your conversation with her as complete. If you just get her coffee order and then try to go get the coffee, even if you've gotten everyone else's orders, the game will say that you haven't gotten all the orders yet. It's pretty clear it was coded to only let you go if you read all the passages, and it was probably easier to code than the alternative, but it's unfortunately noticeable. The story isn't particularly deep, but it's enjoyable nonetheless, and all three of the endings feel like realistic outcomes. I would have liked a bit more polish coding wise, but overall a solid title with an interesting vibe to it.

Arcane Intern (Unpaid) is available to play in browser on the developer's website. Final verdict: While a few quality-of-life changes to the coding may have made for a slightly easier experience, Arcane Intern (Unpaid) has a nice aesthetic and the story feels very believable, with well-connected paths. Arcane Intern (Unpaid) is developed by Astrid Dalmady. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

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