The Eighth Continent
Turns out it wasn't nuclear fallout that brought around the end of the world... it was the simultaneous eruption of every volcano on the planet. Morgan and his family barely survived the apocalypse that plunged the world into a dangerous new era of ash and mystery, but one year later, they're still scavenging, still surviving. Until the day Morgan's entire family vanishes into thin air, and the only clue he has to go on is the cryptic final words of his father, "The Eighth Continent". In this massive text-based RPG adventure written by Patrick Garrett, with illustrations by Kate and Ben Garrett as well as music by fErDi0nE, that's free for iOS and Android, your decisions will guide Morgan through this strange and dangerous new world in search of his family. With a card-based combat system, minigames, (both optionally skippable) and over two thousand pages of branching storytelling with multiple endings, it's a meaty Choose Your Own Adventure style narrative with serious depth, though players should be warned it ends rather abruptly as it's the first part of a planned trilogy.
For the most part, The Eighth Continent is relatively straightforward to play. Swipe to turn pages, and tap on choices to make the decisions you like. You may see more options depending on what you're carrying or what else you've done throughout the game, but think carefully, because everything you do impacts the game in some way. Often, it comes down to impacting Morgan's physical or mental health, both of which are represented by meters at the top of the screen. If either runs out, it's game over, so while they may fluctuate significantly based on your choices, try to keep them up by making good decisions, or using healing items. Morgan will find a lot of items throughout the game, some of which are relevant to the plot, while others have healing or other uses, such as the battery, which is used to play the hacking minigame to open doors.
If you get into a scrap, which happens periodically throughout the game, you'll enter into turn-based combat. You'll attack and defend using the cards you find on your travels that represent various moves, trying to overpower and outmaneuver your enemy to deplete their health before they get yours. Cards have attack and defense ratings, a speed that determines who acts first, and some have special conditions that activate depending on how the clash goes. Most all cards have cooldowns of a few rounds before you can use them again, and some are only useable a few times per battle, so study the cards your opponent plays and think carefully. The game makes use of a checkpoint system to save your progress, but you can also save it manually whenever you like. The combat itself is an interesting system, simple but allowing for more thought than your average turn-based system. There are no random encounters, so every situation feels unique, something to think and plan your way through rather than endure. Interactive fiction fans who simply want to sink into the story might find elements like these a distraction (you can enable a "skip" option to automatically win them from the main menu settings!), but they do make The Eighth Continent feel more like its own beast.
To say The Eighth Continent is ambitious is a huge understatement, given both its production values, and how much of it there is. There's so much to see, so many choices to make, that you can lose yourself in it for a long time. The minigames are... there. They exist. They're a little simplistic to really add to the experience, and they can pop up often enough to be annoying if you don't like them, since hacking (essentially Pipe Mania) and scavenging (match-3) are how you get the most helpful loot and items, though if you snoop around in the settings on the main menu you can actually find a setting to make minigames skippable. If you're playing the free version, this is also where the ads can get really annoying. They're not frequent, but they do appear without warning, and some of them can force you to replay a minigame you just finished, which makes sitting through a video ad (though many are skippable) all the more grating.
One thing that's also a little odd is the decision to make the protagonist a male. If he's supposed to be "you", as the text describes your actions, and his gender doesn't have anything to do with the story, it might have been more immersive to simply offer an option to choose your gender and have the pronouns change accordingly, particularly since Morgan is a unisex name. Still, The Eighth Continent is a surprisingly engrossing narrative thanks to some very solid writing and (optional) music and subtle animation that sucks you into the atmosphere. The main mystery, that of what, exactly, the "Eighth Continent" is, and how Morgan's parents vanished, is just the tip of the iceberg in a tantalizing world filled with new dangers and places to explore. Where it can get frustrating is that it doesn't always feel like choices are logical or intuitive... there are a lot of situations whose outcomes you just can't predict or think through that can lead you to injury or otherwise negative consequences, and as a result, it can feel more like the game is shepherding you behind the scenes to the paths it wants you to take than the abundance of choice would suggest. On the other hand, what a journey it is. It leans more towards the "action-packed adventure" end of the spectrum, but it's full of tense encounters, haunting descriptions, and the ability to electrocute yourself while harvesting giant dead bugs. If you love interactive fiction, The Eighth Continent is a beautifully presented, powerhouse of a game that's packed with replay value and deserves your attention... though hopefully the second installment isn't far off!