Return of the Phantom
from Microprose Games
Anyone who knows me fairly well knows that I love old computer adventure games. I love them to the point that I will do very ill-advised things to my computer to force it to run software created two decades ago. I'm pretty sure that this is because I love stories, and adventure games are pretty much just interactive narratives seasoned with a feeling of accomplishment for figuring shit out. So when I finally - finally! finally! - got to the Microprose game, I fountained glee all over my house for about two straight days. John was very understanding, especially when I forced him to look at the screen every five minutes while he was doing other things, and left the voiceovers and tinny music on every second of my play experience. He's a very understanding person.
When I announced I was going to review this game, it was pointed out to me that it would be completely unfair not to share the experience via screenshots. So screenshots it is!
The opening music is absolutely bargain, spooky-fied electronic organ music in various minor and diminished intervals, designed to tell the player that This Is A Scary Game. John said, "Oh, my god," the second it started, but nuts to him; I was delighted. The credits involved the arrival of a ghostly, rotating mask (full-faced, but white; the deformity and mask in this game appear to be the result of a few different versions conglomerating), which after a few seconds of rotating ominously in the center of the screen stopped to suddenly reveal that - gasp! - there were now eyes behind the previously empty holes. Or, at least, eye; it's difficult to tell, but it looks like the right one is just a blank red field. Hmm... the plot thickens. Could my dearly-held wish to see something based on the 1962 Fisher/Lom film be coming true at last?
As we start the game (and let me note that the graphics are pretty gorgeous for 1993), we see the outside of what is clearly the Garnier, though it is identified only as the "Paris Opera House". And, oddly enough, we're in the present day, where a young up-and-coming diva named Christine Florent has just narrowly avoided disaster after someone - and we are not naming names - dropped the massive chandelier on the audience during last night's performance.
The modern-day setting, Christine's presentation (short black hair and a certain excited ambition) and some disturbing sexual imagery later conspire to remind me strongly of the 1988 Argento/Barberini film, another source I haven't yet seen drawn upon for a later adaptation. But the weirdness doesn't stop there; the opera that was being performed was, in fact, Don Juan Triumphant (never performed in the original novel, since Erik considered it too violently and artistically elevated for most human ears), and, hilariously, its composer is listed as ERIK, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Well, hell. Who knew? The performance of the modern-day score of the Phantom's opera seems to be drawn from the 1989 Little/Englund film, and the unexpected but awesome potpurri of sources for this game makes my little pink reviewing pants happy.
The introduction, which includes some gorgeous art shots, some well-done suspense as we wait for the chandelier to fall, and a lot of refusal to actually show the Phantom, is well-executed and doesn't give too much away before getting started. The cut chandelier chain is reminiscent of the 1962 and 1983 films; especially the former, in fact, since the Phantom himself did not cause the falling chandelier in that version and the present-day setting makes it seem fairly likely that this is an imposter or copy-cat Phantom rather than the real thing. What little we hear of the Don Juan Triumphant overture is very pretty, before all the mayhem descends (literally! hee!).
The game would like to know if I would like to play at Novice difficulty, or at Challenging. That is no choice at all, sirs! Challenging it is! Hee, my cursor turns into a tiny, sinister mask when the game is "thinking". Can you all tell that I've apparently turned into a delighted ten-year-old while playing this game?
And we dive on into the plot. My first squeal was because a short, dark, goateed man was talking to my character and I immediately thought that the daroga from Leroux's novel had at long last been included. This man turned out to be the manager of the opera house, not a member of the Persian Secret Police, but his presentation makes me think that he may be a combination of the three characters (both managers + the daroga). While I was vaguely entertained that the main character (the one you play throughout the game) was named Montand, possibly in reference to the famous French actor, I didn't begin paying attention until it was revealed that his first name is Raoul. Well, what do you know? And he's a member of the Sûreté, and suddenly it is completely obvious that he looks almost exactly like Edgar Barrier's Raoul from the 1943 Lubin/Rains film. All these sources are giving me vertigo; I'm going to need to make a chart.
So I'm off to drive little modern-day Raoul around and try to help him solve his case and find out who dropped the chandelier. After getting some information out of the possibly-Persian manager (despite an obnoxious lisp from his voice actor - what is that about, Microprose dudes?), I wander about and confirm that, as suggested by the performance of the Phantom's opera, this is some kind of highly similar alternate universe in which the original Erik did indeed exist, so concretely that his mask and the wedding ring which he gave to Christine are on display in the Garnier's library.
The music is lovely and very mood-setting - a classical harpsichord fugue that is long enough to avoid being annoyingly repetitive but not so short that players miss out on the end when they move to different areas - but it's difficult to pay attention to, because the voice actors for the characters little Raoul can interact with suffer from I Just Read It Off A Sheet And Have No French Training Disease, which causes them to horribly mispronounce everyone's names. Characters insist on pronouncing "Daaé" like "day", despite the fact that it is written out and properly spelled on the screen, and on pronouncing "Chagny" as "sha-nay", causing agonized squirming in my chair (entertainingly, Raoul himself is the only one who appears to be able to pronounce Chagny; come on, guys, he would know!). Possibly the worst of all of them is "Giry", which everyone doggedly pronounces "gear-y" until the bitter end.
That sad little sound, my voice-actor friends, is my heart breaking. Literally, via coronary. I realize that these are probably some random people you found in California and paid a hundred bucks each, Microprose, but the French language is weeping with me.
At any rate, after wandering around the opera house like the aimless Frenchman he is, Raoul eventually figures out how to look through the prompter's box, and when I have him do so, lo! There is a dude in a mask (and a hilarious Lon-Chaney-style cape) sneaking across the stage! Since poor Raoul doesn't have the coordination to crawl out of the prompter's box, he and I can't do anything but watch him go by and speculate together on the fact that apparently this is a facial deformity only, pointing to films later than the 1925 one and possibly a dab of influence from the Lloyd Webber musical (though, in contrast to my usual assumptions, I don't think so; most of this game seems to be based on the novel and its many movie versions, and there isn't much to point to Lloyd Webber). At least it's certain that there is a Phantom involved, and that if he's an imposter he's a very committed imposter.
It's not surprising that, by the time I manage to get Raoul back out of the prompter's box and up to the manager's office, someone - OMG WHO? - has smashed open the display case and stolen the Phantom's mask and ring from the library. This completely surprising development also falls by the wayside for me slightly, because the voice acting somehow actually gets worse here. Lisps become somehow even more pronounced, voices are ridiculous, and some of these people sound as if they have no idea how to emote with their voices, all of which is disappointing (though it should be noted that having voices at all, instead of silent text boxes, is pretty cutting edge for 1993).
John popped over my shoulder around this time to point out the dreaded Pretend French, which characters begin dropping like it's hot all over their lines. I know we're in France, people - but that's exactly why random French words make NO SENSE. We're IN FRANCE. The characters are SPEAKING FRENCH. So what, pray tell, is the point of tacking on a "oui" or "merci" or "sacre bleu!" in the middle of a long English paragraph? I've said it before (my despairing bookshelf says I'll say it again): pick a language, people. If you're English-speakers, might I suggest English for any words that do not have untranslatable meanings? Using both doesn't make the characters sound more French (and even if it did, I am not actually an avocado or other similar fruit item instead of a person, so I am capable of remembering where the story is set); it makes them sound like students performing a bad play which they are desperately attempting to communicate to the audience is set in France. The inability of the voice actors (with the exception, again, of Raoul) to even pronounce French just makes it worse.
The music in the front of the opera house, around the library and manager's office, moves from classical harpsichords to a more generic, plunky THIS IS A MYSTERY score, but it's nicely evocative and again doesn't detract from the proceedings at all.
I cracked the hell up when Raoul earnestly asked the manager if Christine Florent might be related to the long-dead Christine Daae. Okay, yes, I'm sure she probably is, but is this an alternate universe in which all people with the same first name are related? I would have gone with surnames, but, oh, Raoul, you are ridiculous.
The constant hard G abuse makes it difficult to hang out with Julie Giry upstairs (and good lord, her pronounciation of French is so American it hurts), but she's a little twelve-year-old brunette ballerina, so her resemblance to the original Meg Giry makes me grumble less. As a descendent of the original Madame Giry, she is a staunch believer in the Phantom (though she has no good theories as to why he might have suddenly resurrected and come to start making a nuisance of himself 112 years later), and, like the original Jammes and Meg Giry, claims to have seen him. Intriguingly, she says that his face looks like a skull without the mask, which sounds like the original Erik from Leroux's novel.
I have to admit, I am now looking forward to the inevitable (unless they pull a 1990 Richardson/Dance coup) unmasking, just to see what the deformity looks like in a story that pulls from so many other versions. Julie has a Degas painting of a ballerina in her dressing room (it looks a bit like this one, but I don't think it's directly based on any specific work of his), a nice touch considering her ballet roots and the fact that Degas was alive and working during the time of the original Phantom story.
The bafflement begins, however, what Julie starts talking about the original Madame Giry's "powers". Oh, shit, you guys, it's Psychic Giry! While she is in fact the boxkeeper - another choice that points to the original novel - her "psychic powers" are credited for her ability to commune with the Phantom without seeing him, and she was supposedly preternaturally intuitive. While there doesn't seem to be much reason for this random intrusion of the fantastic into what has so far been a fairly ordinary narrative, the idea of her as a medium does enhance the question of whether the Phantom is a mortal man or truly a ghost. And, of course, if you, the quick-witted reader, have begun to think that if there a psychic powers afoot then this might indeed be the original Phantom running around... well, as I said, you're quick-witted. Julie seems to have inherited some of her ancestor's "powers", because she informs us that she's had a vision of the skull-faced Phantom, standing with a woman wearing a white mask; the idea of Christine as the masked party is an interesting one, but the game doesn't pursue it (and, as far as I can tell, never mentions it again).
Moving on, Raoul and I go off to talk to Christine Florent, and the ominous music in her dressing room clues even the densest player in that All Is Not Well With Her. Oh, she SAYS everything is fine (you couldn't tell from her voice actress, incidentally - a more listless and congested-sounding woman you have never heard. John is convinced she's actually played by a man, which... is possible, but I can't confirm it), but, just like Julie Giry, she's having some crazy dreams, leading me to wonder if this version of the Phantom is an oneiromancer or something (hey, if Madame Giry can have "powers", why can't he?). In fact, her dreams are downright disturbing, and more hardcore than I would have expected to see (the fun of old computer games: most of them were intended for adults), including not only wet dreams in which she gets it on with the Phantom but worse ones wherein he rapes and then strangles her to death. Yikes. Of course, she isn't going to let a silly thing like nightmares interfere with her career, so Raoul and I are obliged to leave her dressing room and resign ourselves to the feeling of impending doom. Naturally, she does turn out to be related to the original Christine (or so it is implied when she mentions her orphaned Scandinavian parent, grandparents unknown), and she has the strangest feeling that she's known Raoul all her life. Well, who doesn't love a good reincarnation plot? I'm reminded strongly of the 1989 Little/Englund film again, with its reincarnated Christine, and of the 1988 Argento/Barberini film with its emphasis on the sins of the fathers (or mothers).
And then this happens:
Dude. Okay. So, whoever this guy is, he's both A) committed enough to go for the cryptic note communication style, and B) not exactly interested in being reasonable. Of course, poor Raoul isn't actually Christine's lover - he's just the police, doing his job - but he's still gallantly concerned.
I found myself wishing at this point that this isn't meant to be the original Phantom, because if it is, he is clearly not concerned about redemption or any kind of spiritual or psychological growth from his ordeal. Of course, I'm aware that I'm pretty much deluding myself and that it's probably the original Erik, but hope springs eternal. The heavy film-influence also lends itself readily to declaring the Phantom an unredeemed villain, since the only film versions to include some form of redemption for the character are the 1962 and 1990 ones; there are recognizable influences from at least four other film versions, all of which ended with the Phantom's ranting, crazed attempts at revenge, so it probably shouldn't be too surprising that we're going that route in this game. A little bit sad, but unsurprising. On the upside, however, we're getting a red-hot-badass Parisian history lesson from the stage manager, including all the pertinent information on the Franco-Prussian war and the Communard occupation of the opera house.
The stage manager also claims that electricity was installed in the opera house in 1881, at the same time that the story originally took place; technically, the opera house actually switched fully to electricity in 1883, but the suggestion that the place might have been working on converting during the events doesn't seem too far-fetched, and in any case is only a couple of years off the mark in its artistic license. (Entertainingly - and I looked it up to make sure, and it appears that electricity was indeed installed in the Garnier somewhere between 1883 and 1885 - that makes Forsyth look like even more of an ass in his claims that the story required electric power and therefore couldn't have been set that early.)
Anyway, little Raoul and I venture up to the catwalks, which are mucho creepy and feature unsettling music, ominous coils of rope everywhere, and bumpy tarps that look like they're covering bodies (when Raoul checks under them, they aren't, but I know plot devices when I see them!). And there, tacked to the severed rope that once held the chandelier aloft, we find this:
Okay, man, I realize that we're doing a reincarnation drama here, but seriously, poor modern-day Raoul has no idea what you're talking about. The Leroux-esque idea of the notes is further reinforced (and, in the environment of the game, enhances the creepiness since we KNOW the character has been here but cannot find him anywhere), as is the un-Leroux-esque lack of repentance, redemption, or change. I find the tone of weariness fairly intriguing as it seems a little bit at odds with the fanatical dedication we've seen so far.
By the way, I'd like to complain a little bit about how walking across large areas and switching scenes in this game is slow as a motherfucker. Whine, whine, moan. But, then again, I am running the game on DOSbox and forcing it to function on a platform it was never meant to be compatible with, so it's probably giving me the electronic finger even as I write this.
Scarcely have we clambered down from the catwalk (and, by the way, someone tried to nail poor Raoul with a sandbag - cheater!) when there is another distress call, this time from the manager, who has received a menacing note of his own:
Of course, no one believes it's actually the original Phantom complaining, but Leroux's Erik was very protective of his work and thought too highly of it to allow it to be performed, so this is reasonable (and explains his chandelier-dropping exploits of the previous night). My real question, however, is this: wherefore the stray "thee", Microprose writers? Are we going to be theeing and thouing and 'tising all over the place now? Because I'm not sure my nerves can take the randomness and total cultural and linguistic inappropriateness of it. The French in this game is bad enough without all the Frenchmen suddenly breaking into a rousing exploration of antiquated English forms.
Madame Giry apparently wrote a book about her experiences back in the day, which has also been kept in Ye Olde Library of Made-Up Artifacts. Paging through it doesn't tell me much except that, with her psychic powers, she believes Erik to be haunting the opera house in perpetuity, searching for lost love. Come on, lady! Even I already knew that! You're supposed to be psychic! After checking it out, Raoul and I end up wandering the opera house randomly for a while, reflecting that the prop bear in the storage room looks more like a tapir and that all the stagehands and assistants seem to have English or American names for some reason, but thank god: some randos are screaming somewhere. Raoul to the rescue! He walks like an Abbey Road Beatle.
Alas, Christine Florent has been strangled to death in her dressing room. I'm not surprised (Raoul is), though it does seem out of character even for the violent film Phantoms; none of them ever wanted to actually harm their Christines, despite rejection, mental illness, and varying levels of angst. Then again, as we noted earlier, this Phantom is the mayor of Bananaville. But everything's kind of over now, right? Christine was the one he wanted revenge on, so now that she's dead... oh. Reincarnated Raoul and I have a bad feeling about this. Naturally, we should take our bad feeling to the catwalks. Best to just get it all over with, right?
THOSE TARPS. I FUCKING KNEW IT. At least Raoul gets in some manful fisticuffs after the Phantom pops out, until he gets knocked over the railing and falls to his inevitable doom. Since this action is about to cause all kinds of issues for the Phantom, I have to both note the irony of it and wonder why he didn't just also strangle him. I mean, he's obviously not concerned about leaving bodies lying around, but apparently Raoul's death really needs to look like an accident for some reason.
But wait! What's that sound? Oh, yes, my friends... it's the sound of time travel. In a move straight out of the 1989 Little/Englund film, Raoul falls to the stage, conks his head, and wakes up in 1881 with Christine (Daaé this time!) and a wee tubby man leaning over him with concerned expressions on their faces. Unlike the 1989 film, there's not nearly as much ambiguity over whether this is actual time travel or merely a dream sequence or past-life memory; Raoul doesn't know anything about 1881 society or the story he's landed in. The tubby man turns out to be the manager, Richard (as in the later 1997 Spencer musical, Moncharmin has apparently been cut for redundancy), who also, sadly, cannot pronounce Raoul's name when he (naturally) identifies him as the Vicomte Raoul de Chagny. Raoul asks an astonishing number of stupid questions, but eventually figures out what's going on and starts trying to pretend to be his forebear. Or previous incarnation? I suppose that makes more sense, since otherwise any affair he could have had with Christine Florent would be technically incestuous. How many generations of removal do we have to have before it doesn't count as inbreeding anymore? This is a question I've never considered before (probably because it only applies to vampires and other immortal beings.)
I giggled when the two nineteenth-century characters exclaimed over Raoul's bizarre tuxedo - a modern tuxedo would indeed look bizarre to people accustomed to tails and cravats. I love it when someone pays attention to the time period in which they're writing!
Just in case anyone was still unsure as to the status of the time travel versus past-life vision debate, the opera house is currently being fitted for electricity - clearly the nineteenth century, then - but Raoul discovers a modern yellow gel frame on the floor, dropped by someone in a hurry. Next on the Phantom Project: When Time Periods Collide! Mention is also made of the fact that Verdi's Aïda is being performed, another clue that someone on the design team is paying attention to history; Aïda was in fact first presented at the Palais Garnier in October of 1881, with Gabrielle Krauss in the title role.
Raoul and I toddle off and find the prompter, a man by the name of Jacques, who, by virtue of being the only named stagehand and of lurking about under the stage, seems destined to be the Buquet character of the game. As I studiously attempt to ignore his desire to use random French words throughout his dialogue, he explains that he, too, has seen the Phantom, who wanders about in formal attire with a mask and cape (again, very Leroux-esque). Bizarrely, however, he (and, apparently, everyone else in the opera house) knows that the Phantom's name is Erik, that he's human, and that he wears the mask because he has a facial deformity; why everyone continues to insist on calling him the "opera ghost" in light of this information I have no idea, but they do. I realize that, in the game format, there really isn't time or narrative space to try to find all this out on our own, but the gigantic one-character infodump is still a bit much. On the other hand, I'm kind of glad; players who aren't familiar with the story will have some context for what's going on, even if it could have been done a bit more smoothly.
Jacques, in fact, knows so much about Erik that I take back the statement that he might be the Buquet character; this poor bastard is definitely going to bite it any minute. He knows Erik's favorite piece of music ("Bach's canon of the minor 6th" - which one that might be is anyone's guess), that his disfigurement is confined to his face, and that his mother gave him his first mask and that he keeps keepsakes of hers. He is happy to volunteer all this information to Raoul without the slightest pause, too, which only increases his chances of dying, but in case that wasn't enough, it comes out that he knew Erik in childhood and taunted him fiercely when they were in school together. It's interesting the the Phantom is apparently from Paris, since it was implied in the original novel that he was not, but the image of baby Phantom being teased by schoolyard bullies is more than a little bit deflating to the general sense of mystique and mystery that had heretofore surrounded the character. It's also kind of devaluing when one considers Jacques' inevitable murder, too; it's kind of disappointing to go from a madman murdering callously because the guy is an inconvenience to a grown man killing somebody because of a childhood insult.
But, anyway, Jacques also spews some more random information on our masked villain, including that he was self-taught after his first few years of school (here's a thought: if he actually went to school, aren't there probably a bunch of OTHER people who went to school with him and would know him? his anonymous mystery is falling to pieces here, people!), and that he knew Garnier and worked on the building for him (the specific mention of the architect brings Kay's 1990 novel to mind).
Hey... there's a fat guy in the hallway, and who should it be but Degas! The famous Impressionist will also be featured in the 1994 Meyer novel and the 1998 Argento/Sands film, but this appears to be the first place to do so, making me wonder if either work drew inspiration from it. But it's hard to be excited about it, considering that he is presented as a terrifying sexual predator:
Okay, sure, Degas is most well-known for his paintings of ballet girls, but aaaaaiee. In addition to his grossness he's also bizarrely weird, and apparently knows all about time travel and implies that he's done some himself. Everybody in this damn opera house has psychic powers, yo. Raoul and I were creeped out, and intentionally pretended we didn't know where the ballet girls practiced (but, sadly, he trundled off in the right direction to look for them anyway).
After that creepy but ultimately not very illuminating episode, I wandered Raoul off to discover that the Phantom has been busily sending out his happy little notes. First, it's the classic demand for his salary:
Pretty much borrowed straight from Leroux's text. And second, it's the classic demand for his lady friend's performance:
The Wedding of Isabel is a made-up opera, which doesn't concern me nearly as much as Erik's sudden alarming descent into Sentence Fragment Land (or the fact that, even with the acute accent on her name, the voice actor STILL can't pronounce "Daaé" - ARGH). The manager spills a little bit on Christine's origins in ensuing conversation, however, and we learn that she's Scandinavian (glee!) and that her father was a violinist at the opera, a choice we saw in the 1988 Kenley/Noll play, or which might even be inspired by the original screenplay of the 1943 film (preserved in the 1987 Sanford/Green book). She's also stated to have originally come to the opera to study ballet, and to have been a member of the chorus before becoming a soloist, the first hints of Lloyd Webber influence in the game.
It's finally time to meet Madame Giry (hey, guys, stop referring to her as "Mame" Giry - you don't know her that well!), and she turns out to be a near-perfect rendition of Leroux's boxkeeper, just a little bit more subdued than the original character. But, of course, she's a medium or an oracle or something. She KNOWS stuff, including, somehow, that Raoul is from the future, just by looking at him. (She does not, however, know how to pronounce the word "communard".) But she is helpful in that she lets us know that the Phantom has supernatural powers of his own (I should never have guessed from the resurrecting and the time-travel!) and that he has an ingenious mechanical lock on his lair, the key to solving which is "something very personal to him". How nice of her to set up the puzzle for us! Clearly, she does not share the original Giry's loyalty to the ghost, though she does make it clear that he has been kind to her and that she will not act directly against him.
What Raoul and I really want is for her to unlock Box Five so we can poke around, but she refuses to do so until we have "collected three items from your own time". Goddammit. All right, off to find the other modern gel lenses that are probably lying about. Listen as I grumble about game safeguards that keep you from accidentally ending up unable to win. Incidentally, it is entirely possible to completely fail at this game - you can fall off the catwalks, jump suicidally into the orchestra pit, etc. - but, after scolding you for your misbehavior, the game automatically returns you to the point right before you did whatever silly thing got you killed.
Oh, hey, it's time for another threatening note!
Look, dude, I am getting very tired of your demands. Also, "malady"? You've gotten a little too excited with the thesaurus there, buddy, unless you have also developed the ability to strike Raoul down with disease.
It's time to just go to the source of the problem and have a heart-to-heart with Christine, so that is indeed what we are going to do. The innocent devotion to her father and childhood has been preserved from the original novel; in fact, it's been enhanced in some ways, including the fact that she visits her father's grave every day, which I assume means it's now somewhere in Paris because it's a long damn drive to go to Perros-Guirec every day. Much like the ill-fated modern-day Christine Florent, Christine Daaé is also having strange dreams involving the Phantom, in which she accompanies him to his underground lair and they have sex (gotta love how she's telling all this to her suitor, by the way. Lol nineteenth-century sensibilities what?). Her description implies strongly that she is being hypnotized and these events are actually happening rather than being dreams, which again brings in a horrifically creepy rape element to the Phantom's character; the strong impression that the Phantom is using his influence over her sexually is an expression of his original role as a dangerous and sexual force, and while it might a valid interpretation of the original novel's events, it's also disturbing that it's glossed past pretty effortlessly and no one ever really addresses what is happening to Christine in any direct way. Also present in their conversation is Raoul's fear that he might lose Christine to her career; the dynamic is one that is present in several previous versions (most notably in the 1943 film, which has a great deal of influence here), and illustrates the fact that our present-day Raoul is falling for his old-school 1800s crush.
But all good things must come to an end, and Christine boots Raoul out when it comes time for her voice lesson; naturally, I lurked about the door to listen in on it, neatly bringing us to the beginning of Leroux's novel. And, just as in Leroux's novel, Raoul becomes frightened and angry upon hearing a male voice in her dressing room; and, in a move NOT particularly like Leroux's novel, he takes a (suspiciously modern-looking) fire axe to the door, busts that shit down, and then wanders disconsolately around the (of course) empty room. The use of the axe brings the 1983 Markowitz/Schell film to mind, though of course it was the Phantom using it in that version. Naturally, Christine turns back up a day or so later and pretends everything is fine, and the manager has the door "repaired" (is that French for "replaced"? Because ain't nobody repairing that sucker. It is destroyed).
And then Christine decides, you know what? Why should the Phantom get to have all the note-related fun?
Heyyy, this looks familiar, like it might have been in that Leroux book somewhere. There's no masquerade, but at least they're trying. Of course, the meeting does not occur, because Christine (looking quite Marguerite-ish in her white dress on the castle set, though again this is ostensibly The Marriage of Isabel) gets kidnapped right off the stage; the Phantom is pretty much completely in-your-face about it, too, not even bothering with the blackout and simply swinging down from the flies, grabbing her, and vanishing in a cloud of smoke.
Shock! Horror! Police Raoul to the rescue! It's a good thing, too, because there don't appear to be any other police officers of any kind anywhere in the opera house, despite the fact that the manager shuts down the performance and has ostensibly notified all the authorities. But that leaves the stage clear for me to send Raoul sniffing about for clues in his modern tuxedo, so I should probably stop whining. It is not really a shock when he stumbles over the strangled body of Jacques (Buquet! we hardly knew ye! well, we actually knew quite a bit about ye in this version), but after finding the Phantom's conveniently-dropped key on the floor near the corpse, we're finally in business, because we can get inside that hollowed-out column in Box Five and start intrepidly penetrating the Phantom's domain.
I feel like kind of a jerk saying so, after all the things I enjoyed about this game, but it seems that no one was really trying too hard when it came to the art inside the opera house itself. While, interestingly enough, the stage (as seen from Box Five) is a fairly close facsimile of the one in the actual Palais Garnier, the rest of the place definitely is not. And yes, the Garnier is massive - in no universe would I demand any gamemakers try to add that many rooms and completely unnecessary difficulties - but the rooms that were represented were in some serious need of accuracy. For example, the difference between the opera's lobby in the game and the Garnier's actual lobby is staggering (like, not of this earth staggering), and the real Garnier library is replaced by a vastly simplified, somewhat twee version during play.
This is in the days of VGA, and I understand the pain of rendering realistic art into primitive graphics, but, especially in the case of the lobby, it feels as if some laziness was afoot. (Of course, as we'll see below, the art in the more fantastic portions of the game is very creative and entertaining, so maybe the creators just weren't looking for realism in general.) All this whining aside, however, someone at Microprose definitely did their research, even if it wasn't always translated into the visual side; practically everything you can click on in the game explains a bit about itself and shows that someone had taken learning about the opera house very seriously, from the Degas paintings in the dressing rooms to the Gobelins tapestries in the manager's office to the pervasive art of Baudry all over the lobby to the magnificent Chagall ceiling in the auditorium (which is artistically rendered in a satisfactory manner, but appears to be based on the original Lenepveu ceiling painting despite mentioning Chagall in its explanation). The total effect is that the game creators knew what kinds of things were in the opera house, but none of them had ever been there or seen any pictures, and just created imagery based on what they'd heard.
It has just occurred to me, as I'm writing, that the stage may look more accurate because the stage for the 1943 film was an accurate replica of the Garnier's, and many facets of this game appear to be based on that movie. The catacombs in the initial shots of the game also strongly resemble the set used for the 1925 and 1943 films.
But, anyway, back to the story at hand. There turn out to be three separate floors, accessible via ingenious ladders, inside the column. I have a leg up on other potential players because I know generally where this story is going, so it's down to the very bottom floor with Raoul, where we discover the sewers and a very snazzy arch that just screams BAD GUY HIDEOUT on it:
The sewer waterways themselves, however, are fantastically rendered for the time period, and again resemble the underground set from the 1925 and 1943 films more than a little bit. Undeterred by the ominous little skull over the door (hey, you think Erik might be down here somewhere?), Raoul and I forged on and found ourselves in a dizzying catacomb maze. Since the idea of a labyrinth has been mentioned a few times in connection with the Phantom, the imagery is appropriate, and brings in a little bit of that Greek myth flavor of which I'm so fond. The music in the background as we wander the labyrinth is suspiciously similar to music used in another old-school adventure game, Sierra's King's Quest VI, during its labyrinth sequence; however, the addition of that good old Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, staple of all Phantom adaptations that don't want to use Lloyd Webber's overture, is repeated in a subtle, quiet intrusion several times. The maze is, overall, really well-designed, with a number of landmarks and minute items that are interesting to look at and help the player keep track (but not too well) of his or her location.
In fact, it's such a good labyrinth that the sensation of being lost and along in a maze of twisting passages, all alike, lost me a good forty-five minutes of my life. I mapped the place (I will not be reproducing the map here, because it's a sprawling mess and also says things like "FFS" and "ARE YOU KIDDING ME" in all its margins) as I went, and even so got turned around so many times that it was quite a shock when I finally wandered into the correct room to proceed. It is by far the most intricate and difficult maze I have ever run through in an adventure game, and that's saying something when you consider that I've played tons of them and that almost every one feels the need to have one (if not two or three) of the suckers. But, hey! Upon finally arriving at a locked door, there was a real sense of accomplishment!
Lying beside the locked door is a skeleton, which the narrator informs me is of some "adventurer" who got lost in the catacombs. Wait, did we drop into medieval fantasy all of a sudden? No explanation is ever given, but I let Raoul plunder him of his magically not even slightly rusty old sword anyway. Now I have a sword! Look out, world! I don't think modern-day police Raoul knows what to do with it, but he looks mighty impressive.
And now, unlocking the door. The door has twenty-six unmarked switches, so even a cryptogram dunce like myself can deduce that they probably stand for letters of the alphabet. Madame Giry said the answer was probably something "very personal" to Erik, so let's give it a whirl. I know just the thing. C - H - R - I -
Holy shit, poison gas just came up out of the grate and killed Raoul. Okay, so "Christine" is obviously not the answer, and it's apparently only four letters long. Uh... assuming that the gamemakers don't require some kind of intense in-depth research on the part of their players, it's probably something pretty simple, then. I don't know why he'd use the symbol of his oppression and ostracization, but sure, let's give it a try. M - A - S - K.
Goddammit, dead again. Surely... they wouldn't. It couldn't be.
E - R - I - K. Click!
Come on, dude! You're supposed to be a maniacal genius! Ten-year-old children know better than to use their NAME as their password for anything! Argh. I am disappointed, game team. I just want you to know.
But anyway, we're in now, and after using the sword to cut through a massive spiderweb (yay! We got to use the sword! Also, does Erik have spinnerets now or something? It's like Shelob's lair in there), we get to... wander around some more catacombs! Awesome! Luckily, it's not long before Raoul meanders his way into a room that slams shut behind him and starts heating the floor beneath him. Why, hello, torture chamber! There aren't any mirrors or iron trees, but they're improvising from the source material, so I'll go with it. A large number of tiles with apparently random markings on them are plastered all over the wall, but I am an intrepid adventure game player and I know a puzzle when I see one. So it's time to try to rearrange them in some way, and wouldn't you know it? They make a picture of a giant mask. My objections to using this symbol still stand, but at least it gets poor Raoul out of the torture chamber before he turns into a sad little pile of well-intentioned ash.
At last, we've arrived in Erik's chambers, and... holy shit.
Sweet Jesus, that is a lot of bone. The creepy monument to death incarnate (which, of course the original Erik was) doesn't much resemble the palatial little house that Leroux described; it's a lot more like the dank, frightening lairs of the film Phantoms, especially those in the 1983 and 1989 films. The narrator informs me that everything in the room is crafted from bone, even the massive, ridged walls, which are just row upon row upon row of bone shelves, into which Erik can place whatever takes his fancy. The organ is, of course, the centerpiece of the room; the narrator's explanation that the instrument was made by hand from the bones of Erik's victims is extremely ghoulish and vaults him up to even more irredeemably horrifying territory (if that's possible), but is also pretty cool, especially since it clears up my usual questions about how a functioning organ is located and maintained so well in the sub-cellars. The bone throne, off to the side there, is reminiscent of the staging of the Webber musical, which specifically uses a throne-like chair in its lair scenes.
I wanted to know what a bone organ sounds like (answer: exactly like a pipe organ, because the game creators probably didn't have a bone one on hand when they recorded their sound effects), and my wish was granted when Raoul figured out that the door he was staring at so pensively was unlocked by a musical key. Hilariously, he was up to the task since he was "something of a musician" himself; while the 1943 Raoul he seems to be based on definitely was not, he might be a combination with Anatole, the other love interest from that film, in much the same style as the exuberant Franz from the 1944 Waggner/Karloff film or Michael from the 1983 Markowitz/Schell production. At any rate, thanks to the piano lessons he took as a child, he manages to limp through a Bach fugue (Erik's favorite, which we know thanks to poor deceased Jacques!) and get the door to open.
What in the name of the Jolly Green Giant is all this supposed to be? Hello, insane death motif - there's a blood machine! There are massive prehistoric bones everywhere! There is a space coffin. Clearly, some artistic director went completely mad with unfettered creative power, and the result is that I am now rooting, along with everyone else, for the eradcation of the possibly alien monster that is this version of Erik. Fuck redemption. I want confirmation that this guy is not sharing my plane of existence.
Christine, as you can see in the above screenshot, is trapped in the nineteenth-century space coffin, which is obviously intended to be his bed; the narrator refers to it as a sarcophagus (with convenient lid to keep your ever-escaping wimmenfolks inside!), which makes it pretty clear that the artist, however license-y he wanted to be, was still basing his choices at least in part on the original source material, specifically the coffin that Leroux's Erik sleeps in. Once we've established that Raoul can't get it open, he wanders about the Laboratory of Horrors, investigating the blood machine (he thinks it might be a kind of totem pole) and noting that the blood and heart on it look very realistic. He also finds a desk covered entirely in human skin, an obvious shout-out to the 1989 film (ha, and people whine that THAT version is too violent and creepy). His conclusion is that Erik is insane, which is hard to argue with.
The tried and true adventure game problem-solving method of "touch everything in the room" eventually worked, when the fourth skull from the left or something turned out to be the secret key that unlocked the coffin (it's worth noting that Raoul, like his 1943 film character basis, actually rescues Christine, rather than being rescued by her actions as in the original novel). Christine wants to babble on about things instead of leaving immediately, because she is apparently unaware that they are still in the basement of death, which mostly leaves me pondering how much trauma she might be experiencing, considering the pretty heavy implications of rape that are all but blinding me. At any rate, Raoul finally manages to get her moving (slowly... oh, so slowly... stupid old game) and they make their escape back into the throne room - where, dammit, Erik himself shows up and The Confrontation begins. Damn it! If we had just run when I wanted to, we'd be lost in the catacombs upstairs by now!
Erik (who is described as "death personified", which I had already written down in my notes and which caused me to cheer) is, upon closer inspection, most definitely one-eyed, which again makes me strongly suspect influence from the 1962 film. He also has a skull-topped cane that shoots fire at poor Raoul, an obvious borrowing from the Lloyd Webber musical; luckily, Raoul is manful and has a sword he's not really sure how to use, and gains the upper hand, causing the Phantom to vanish and allow them to attempt to make their escape again. On the way out, Christine insists that Raoul also take the score from the organ on their way past, on the grounds that they "might need it".
I have a very bad feeling about this, Christine. But it's off to make our escape, with the score in Raoul's back pocket. He's so talented that he also knows how to gondolier Erik's creepy bone boat, which is surprising since this version of him is not actually in the Navy. Christine suddenly decides she doesn't want to talk about anything anymore, claiming that the silence is comforting; while this is frustrating, especially since some information would be helpful here, it's not a surprise after the kind of trauma she's recently suffered, especially since it was linked to vocal music and hypnosis. Raoul abides by her wishes, which stops him from confessing that he's from the future, which I have no idea why he wants to do in the first place.
Everything seems to be going so well... and then Erik jumps Raoul as soon as he gets back into Box Five and the Final Confrontation, No, For Reals This Time has begun. He's a crafty one, running off with Christine, but due to the law of action stories, I know that it was always destined to end where it began... on the chandelier, naturally, so up to the catwalks I go and it's time for fisticuffs. ON THE CHANDELIER. Don't try to make sense of it; there's too much rampant angst and testosterone afoot. Christine's voice actress redeems herself partially by proving that she is very good at screaming, and once the opera singer has clambered back up to the catwalks and Raoul has managed to get the upper hand on the Phantom, it's the moment I've been waiting for: the unmasking.
Holy cats. That is a bizarre choice for the Phantom's facial disfigurement. It's somewhat half-faced (at least, the majority of the weirdness is on one side), which suggests some influence from Lloyd Webber again, but most of it is just so inexplicable that I don't know what to make of it. The right half of his head is actually a skull (with a glowing red eye, yet!), which is less than realistic but certainly striking, and which probably comes from Leroux's original description of Erik. But even the "good" side of his face ain't that good, featuring a heavily deformed ear and forehead, and the overall effect is that God stomped on Erik's face as an infant and then tried to fix the resulting mess with Play-Doh. There really isn't much precedent for a deformity so odd, though I should have suspected as much after the space coffin.
After unmasking the Phantom, he and Raoul finally upset the chandelier past the point of no return (I am hilarious!) and it falls, and as it rushes toward the floor, Raoul blacks out.
And bam, we're in the epilogue. Raoul wakes up in the Garnier library, being bent over by Christine Florent, who has apparently gotten over her problem with being dead. Sadly, her dialogue and voice acting have not gotten any better; in fact, when Raoul wildly declares the the Phantom strangled her, she comes back with this gem of a line:
"I realize some of my boyfriends don't come around much anymore, but I wouldn't call them phantoms!"
So... your boyfriends strangle you, is that what you're trying to say? Because if so, you need to make better choices, modern-day Christine! (I mean, unless you're into that, I guess.)
At any rate, after being reassured that it is the present day again, nobody is dead, there is no Phantom and no one has any idea what he's raving about, Raoul hits upon the idea of checking out Madame Giry's book again, to see if his actions changed history. Her writings claim that the Phantom and Raoul Classic both died in the chandelier crash; aside from being a bummer for Christine, it's an interesting choice, incorporating elements of the 1989 film (in which the Phantom killed the Raoul character before dying) and the 1943 one (in which Christine refused to choose any of her suitors and decided to embark on her career solo). Upon reflection, I think it's most likely in order to make it possible for Raoul and Christine to be descended from the original Raoul and Christine without the looming possibility of incest to spoil their potential romance (which, it is implied at the end of the game, they are going to go get started on).
And the game has ended, and all is well, because Super Weird Spacce Phantom is dead... OR IS HE?! Yes, the final shot is a Twilight Zone suggestion that Erik STILL refuses to die, complete with maniacal laughter and bizarre shadows dancing around the room. Well, I guess if the guy could spontaneously resurrect and time-travel on his own recognizance once...
Bam! 250 out of 250 points! Take that, Challenging Mode! It feels good to triumph over a video game after the fiasco that was the 1987 Crysys game.
Profound? Nah, though it is interesting. Scrupulously accurate? Definitely not, though I was surprised by the amount of thought and sources that apparently went into its making. But fun? Hell, yes, this thing is a romp of unexpected enjoyment. It's a little bit short for an adventure game, but packed with amusement, and it holds up surprisingly well despite its age.