When I played through the first episode of The Council, way back in March, I found myself really interested in how this blend of narrative games and tabletop roleplaying elements would work out. Sadly my enthusiasm for the series has waned considerably. The central gimmick continues to fall out of use while episodes overflow with backtracking and unfortunately obtuse puzzles. Still, there's one episode left. Checkmate is The Council's last chance to impress. Does it manage to do so, or should this council stop meeting?
Picking up where Burning Bridges left off, Checkmate finally sees Mortimer calling for the final vote on his political scheme. Naturally, there's more to his plan than that, and before long there's acts of patricide, fratricide, sororicide, and all other deadly terms that end in "cide". Sadly, the whole ordeal ends on a whimper. The political parts of the plot take a massive back seat to the family issues between Mortimer and Gregory, the latter of which is tough to care about when he has barely been in the last few episodes.
It's what makes the first half of Checkmate feel so off. It's nearly dominated by a character that hasn't really been in the game much up until this point. Gregory has an interesting story, but it really needed at least two more dedicated episodes. Since this is the final episode, that means we get half an episode devoted to fleshing out a character that hasn't been effectively used before. After that, the other half has to tie up more plot elements than it really can. It feels like Gregory's story is a rushed afterthought.
Checkmate's dichotomy leads to a plot that ends with a whimper rather than a bang. Most characters get tossed aside as they're no longer necessary to the plot, even if they should have been interesting additions to the finale. Outside of the opening, which sees Louis going around and convincing a few remaining cast members to either join or go against Mortimer, most of them aren't even in the episode. I don't think either Napoleon or Washington even had a single line. It doesn't help that this is also the shortest episode of the season, clocking in at about an hour and a half long total.
You'd at least think that convincing these characters to join up with you would make for fun verbal sparring. Sadly, by this point in the series, Louis has just become too overpowered to do anything other than continue to exploit weaknesses. In earlier episodes I found myself questioning if it was worth risking item use or using my effort points when I may need them later. By the end of Checkmate, I hadn't used a single item, and no skill check took any effort to use. It's a shame that all strategy is seemingly out the window.
Checkmate centers around two major puzzles, both of which manage to provide a decent enough challenge but not particularly for the right reason. One requires Louis to reassemble a cast of characters into a specific order depending on how Gregory feels about them. The other forces him to correctly place events on a timeline depending on when Gregory experienced them. Again, both of these focus on a character that just simply has not had the screen time for these puzzles to work out. Thankfully, by using the aforementioned skill checks, Louis practically gives the answer to each puzzle away.
At least this episode was noticeably less glitchy than the last few. Characters actually moved their mouths when talking, and didn't get trapped in weird unfitting canned animations. Some of the really cool environmental art shows a strange distorted version of the mansion. However, some of the late game moments just fall flat. One weird section saw two characters engage in a "fight" using supernatural powers. There are, however, no actual effects for these powers. The result? Two characters flailing their arms about and grunting at nothing.
I feel like that description ultimately says a lot more about Checkmate, and perhaps The Council as a whole, than it should. Ultimately, Checkmate is left flailing about and grunting with little to show for it. Gregory is an interesting character, but trying to make him the focus in the last episode dampens the impact. The puzzles are good ideas, but require knowledge of this character that hasn't really been available. I enjoyed a lot of the ideas The Council put forward in its first episode, but they're not enough to carry the whole game. Sadly, this series isn't ending on much of a bright note.
The Council's final episode fails to deliver a satisfying ending, nor a strong episode to a season that desperately needed it.
- Gregory is an Interesting Character
- Cool Art
- Ultimately Unsatisfying Story
- Mechanics Become Too Easy
- Very Short
- Weird Animations