The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is actually the third game in the series; following on from The Critter Chronicles, the prequel to the original. As the title suggests, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is a sequel proper, set soon after the events of the original. Wilbur Weathervane, Aventasia’s second greatest gnome mage in history, has become a professor of magic. Ivo, a rebellious elven princess, is stuck at home, bored, in the royal Elfburrow. And captain Nate Bonnet is still a conniving pirate; his alien first mate, Critter, is still Critter.
Things are back to normal.
That is, until the political aspirations of arch-mage Alastair embroils Wilbur and ultimately all protagonists in a battle against evil; a story told with every bit as much panache and polish as the previous instalments—very much of the former, and not so much of the latter.
The protagonists are, once again, voiced exceptionally well. The dialogue mixes wit with euphony, and the oration of the protagonists is rhythmical and well balanced between the comic and the reserved, but many of the supporting characters are so over the top that they become more comical than comic. Best of all, however, Jess Robinson (Ivo), who was rhythmically and tonally so impressive in the original, now speaks just as beautifully, but without the effort of her performance detracting from the emotion in her voice.
The referential jokes are not merely a potpourri of pop culture, but also focus on videogames and contemporary videogame culture directly; ranging from the nuanced (a wonderful, if little clichéd, time travelling joke) to po-faced postmodern visual puns (the university at which Wilbur works employs a troll as a janitor who is obnoxious and contrarian). The basis for the majority of the humour, however, is the personalities of the characters, which works well thanks to the vocal performances and script that define the protagonists; although sometimes the focus on humour does detract from the more serious moments, oftentimes failing to successfully transition from a dramatic scene to the jocular rigmarole of item descriptions and didactic dialogue.
The puzzles, for the most part, follow the principles of the previous instalments, with a staunchly traditional focus on the accumulation and then combination of items, but now the puzzles are often less complex and the solutions more immediately apparent—which would be no bad thing if the puzzles were less long-winded as well so that there would be a constant stream of positive feedback to hold one’s attention. But, alas, although less complex, the puzzles are no less convoluted and verbose—a solid complement to the tougher logic of the previous instalments, but a jarring hindrance to the easier ones here.
Further stretching the already protracted pacing is the regularly bad puzzle direction, the glitches so numerous in the latter chapters, and the odd decision to have certain items that are clearly part of the solution to a puzzle be inaccessible until an arbitrary event has taken place that conveys to the protagonist no new information, nor removes any ostensible practical obstacle that might have prevented the protagonist from acquiring the item earlier. The bad direction results, for example, in the key to a deliberately simple early puzzle’s item-based solution being invisible to the player, with no direct clue as to its location.
Up until the final chapter, one of the biggest flaws of the previous instalments had been fixed: the structure as the story moves from protagonist to protagonist. Now the transitions come at the conclusion of a natural passage, or to break up an extended passage so that it does not become flaccid. The story, knitting several different threads together, also works just as well until towards the end. But, in the final chapter, one is confined to the controls of only one character from beginning to end, leaving the other characters without a proper sense of closure; especially when several plot threads remain unresolved—which feels excessive given that the teaser for a possible sequel could have been just as enticing if the other threads of plot, having been painstakingly knitted together over the entire narrative, had been properly cast off.
Fingers crossed, then, that a sequel does happen (and why wouldn’t it when the Kickstarter for 2 was so successful?) because, just like the previous instalments, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 rises above its flaws to become more than the sum of its parts—just not quite to the same dizzying heights.