Hexcraft: Harlequin Fair

released on Oct 22, 2021

Harlequin Fair is an experimental RPG and immersive sim set in the shadows of Toronto by night. Cast dreadful spells, buy small arms with cash: cling to the light 'til the light bites you back

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This review contains spoilers

r-ran off with ur shit 🤭🤭🤭. trickster archetypes its time 2 speak ur truth, they finally made one of them imsim joints in which flexin & finessing is the name of the game. a persistent world with npcs who actively seek out their own bags is the sell here--there's a couple of Key Items scattered throughout the world and its up 2 u to deduce where they are, who's gonna gun 4 em, and how to assassinate folks who happen to have the Key Item u need for your particular goal. it certainly takes a bit of exploring for the project to unfurl from its cup sippin esotericism to smthn more compelling...but when it does, there is a real hobbesian joy in relieving these anhedonic poetry dispensers of their treasured "property" so you can spin the block on some pill-poppin bird/ex-lover/divine being and other corrupted seraphs while geeked off disassociates. why start ur own hero's journey when you can just hijack somebody else's. requires an overactive imagination maybe too is the other thing...i certainly had my fun fillin in theories & narratives where i felt the sparse dialogue or interactions weren't giving me much to chew on or contextualize. i remember in one playthrough i walked into the mall and saw this wizard with the buss down gucci chain airing the bitch out with meteors vs. a bunch of mall goth-cultist-vampires for control of the Key Item in the basement; my first thought was "damn ts crazy" but my second thought was that to a more critical eye this probably just looks like a bunch of random shit you'd see after loading up Skyrim with them Faction War mods. didn't stop from me giggling as i entered my shiesty negro era & smoked the wizard's nose off n looted all his shit like it was 06 runescape. o so u say tht your hoe??? dam then yk i hit it 😂😂😂
i do think i'd much rather see this shit than the other shit tho...iirc this hexcraft series from the dev represents a forward improvement into games drawing more explicitly from her own design inclinations & fondness for sir-tech and ultima and 80-90s TTRPG design systems than like, the crop of "personal" and readily identifiable "queer" shit that gets played up in the indie sphere. the roughness & rigidity here is an admirable comfort 2 me, seriously...

The game I've always wanted and it's perfect

this is so shallow of me but i turned this off the minute i saw estradiol was one of like the first two items you can pick up and place in your inventory in this game. call it my own trauma; i simply don't want to be reminded of work while off the clock and thinking about filling out hrt prior auths had me running for the hills.
too conceptual for me though. the kind of game better experienced through anecdote. i did sincerely play a little more but it felt more like a series of emergent mechanics and events than like a game. oblivion but nothing happens except radiant AI pathing. i want to try this again but i felt fully filtered.

When I finished Pagan: Autogeny my first thought was "wow, that was good, but I wish that the endgame wasn't so repetitive- I wish it was greater in scope, and that it didn't reveal its whole hand so quickly. I wish it was more mechanically dense. Oh well."
Now that I've played it, I can say without a doubt that Hexcraft: Harlequin Fair is exactly what I wanted out of Autogeny. It's a mechanically dense puzzle box of an open-world RPG, a scavenger hunt that consistently surprised me. Progression relies just as much on finding out where to go as it does on learning the game's systems through experimentation. It presents you with a city governed by forces you don't understand and rivals who understand them far better than you do, and invites you to scour every nook and cranny, learn from failure, and find ways to survive in spite of the world often feeling totally indifferent to whether you fail or not. Getting into a fight in the early game is a death sentence; it took me an hour to even find a weapon, and another hour or so to learn how to not immediately die in combat. Progress is hard fought, but immensely satisfying when you finally do break through. I'm like begging you right now- if some stroke of luck makes Harlequin Fair blow up in popularity two years after its release- and God, I hope it does- play it blind. I realize it's totally possible that this is just so squarely my shit that it'll seem like I'm being hyperbolic here, but I loved every second of this.

ends rather abruptly as these single-dev art games tend to. though in fairness I probably missed a lot. very good atmosphere. could never tell how much my progress was being the first to find a relic or robbing another party that had already taken it. a puzzlebox of a game with several other parties trying to solve it. oh you also start the game with estradiol lmfao.
a few miscellaneous notes:
-i know it's apart of the aesthetic but I would've preferred viewmodels that aren't just Source game screenshots or whatever the fuck they are
-only having 2 rotational sprites is annoying but i guess it's also apart of the aesthetic. game would probably lose some of its creep factor if there were more, idk.
-the short playtime is likely justified by how genuinely replayable it is due to how much you miss by virtue of there being agents which do what you're doing when you aren't looking
-it's utterly shocking that this is probably the first game i have played where (some) NPCs actually have game-mechanical agency analogous to the player, with the possible exception of some traditional roguelikes. and it's still incredibly rudimentary as far as I can tell. that's honestly kind of embarrassing for the medium; who wants power fantasies anymore? did anyone actually want them to begin with? how does having a Great Man player character with NPCs that are husks make for a good "RP"G? we need more games where Herobrine is real.