The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav is a good game despite itself. The story is traditional, the translated dialogue occasionally awkward, and the gameplay so expected that this could be one of Sierra's greatest hits from 1990. But it's hard to deny the game's all-ages allure. Characters are likable and adeptly voiced. The story twists a traditional Dungeons & Dragons angle into a delightful ditty that falls between Gary Gygax and the Brothers Grimm. Puzzles are challenging, and don't tip over into the logic chasms that make many old-school adventures impossible to solve without resorting to online walkthroughs. Daedalic Entertainment hasn't crafted an adventure for the ages, but this is a good enough adventure that you'll enjoy spending a few evenings with.
The setting is the universe of The Dark Eye role-playing game, which you would probably be familiar with if you were in Germany, as this pen-and-paper game outsells Dungeons & Dragons there. You play a possibly cursed bird-catcher named Geron, who's the punching bag for everyone from lowlife street thugs to the nobility in his hometown of Andergast. As the game gets underway, sinister doings are afoot in the land. Crows are everywhere and people are turning up dead with their eyes torn out.
Could the evil Blind Seer have returned with a mission of vengeance from beyond the grave? Let's hope so, for otherwise, this would be a dull escapade. All sorts of diverse mythology is blended into this stereotypical "loser saves the world" saga. Geron's best buddy and possible crush is a fairy named Nuri, for instance, and their magical powers involve such spectacular incantations as one that can break vases and the other one that can--fix vases. The fantasy themes are subdued, which suits the low-key tenor of the characterizations and the voice acting. The world needs to be saved, but sometimes it's better to do so without making much fuss about it.
Gameplay is stock point-and-click adventure. Geron wanders into a static location, he faces some sort of obstacle ranging from angry sad fairies to obstructive orcs, he finagles some kind of miracle tool out of random junk lying around, end scene. Puzzles arise organically out of need, however, so you're not just hoovering everything up and trying items on the scenery until something clicks. Here, you actually make logical guesses about what needs to be done to solve conundrums. For instance, when Nuri is unable to leave her fairy home without some magical fairy water to keep her alive, it's logical that you would pour some elixir into a snail shell and then turn it into a necklace with some handy leather straps.
The circumstances are opportune, of course, but the miraculous nature of the random items strewn around is covered up somewhat with all the doodads nicely integrated into lifelike scenery and plausible events. And the items required to get through scenes are almost always found nearby. There is no need to collect junk everywhere you go in the hope that you might find a use for that rotting cod or monkey wrench a few hours down the line.
Atmosphere is impressive, and scenes are drawn well, with an eye for setting a mood. The art is reminiscent of a graphic novel, somewhere between a cartoon superhero book and something more realistic. Every location is memorable, so you can't help but be impressed by such places as a moonlight mill, a forest clearing housing a gypsy caravan, and rural countrysides right out of a child's book of fables. Yet even though locations are heavily detailed, important objects are easy to pick out from the background. You don't need to delve into any irritating pixel hunts.
There are some technical issues, however, mostly involving hitches with the mouse cursor and character animation. Video clips illustrating action sequences are also blurry. Scenes transition with classy sketches and fade-in, fade-out special effects that wash from one scenario to the next.
Sound quality, too, is inconsistent. While the story is easy to track and the dialogue well-written and acted for the most part, there are frequent hitches that remind you that the game has been translated from another language (in this case, German). You sometimes notice odd phrasing and word choices, like calling gypsies "carnies." Other times, conversations are hard to follow, leading to a few "Huh?" moments where you need to take a few extra seconds to figure out what's going on. Few of these issues fully break the suspension of disbelief, but the translation gaffes are jarring.
The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav isn't any sort of breakthrough in the adventure-gaming arts, but it is a worthy play for anyone fond of the genre. Cute characters, an inviting story, and sensible puzzles make the dozen or so hours you spend with it time well spent.