Something is astir on the luxury White Star Line in Kult of Ktulu: Olympic; something distinctly eldritch and Lovecraftian. The game is a primarily text-based narrative that chronicles the journey of 13-year-old Elena, as she crosses the Atlantic on a ship where everything isn't what it seems. Kult of Ktulu is presented through the diary of Elena, and the text literally appears as it is written by Elena in 'real-time' during the course of the story. Along the edges of the main pages of the diary are tabs. The "Files" tab leads to very detailed and personal write-ups of the various people in Elena's life and the new characters she meets. The "Maps" tab is not used as often, containing Elena's hand-drawn maps of certain areas to give a better illustration of the setting.
Before starting the game, I decided to check out the "Files" tab to get a feel for the characters and setting. The writing quality really is outstanding, with especially great detail taken in the description of Elena's immediate family and their history. A lot of her own personality comes through in how she writes about the different people in her life, which is commendable. In addition, stylized illustrations of the characters are included with the write-ups, done in a heavily inked and shadowed style that reminds me of Hellboy creator Mike Mignola's work (which is appropriate given the Lovecraftian theme).
A slight technical issue I found was that the game's text would sometimes appear to be cut off abruptly at the end of a page. As it turns out, they are actually written within a text box with an invisible scroll bar that I could only move via my mouse wheel. Players without a mouse wheel or those who don't experiment while hovering over the textboxes might not realize the amount of text present and assume the game's text was chopped off like I did for a moment.
The "Maps" tab helps to provide a more visual representation of Elena's surroundings beyond her description of places. However, the fact that they were all vertical, and you cannot interact with or reorient them in any way made them all pretty useless in helping me get my bearings. Elena also does not draw maps that often, and by the end of the game, I only had one additional map added to this tab. The whole map section feels unnecessary, but it does sell the idea of a young girl running around drawing what she sees into her diary.
How you access these tabs from the main "Diary" could definitely be improved. There is no hyperlinking between the name of a character in the text, to their write-up on the "Files" tab. This results in you having to manually find their character entry any time you want to know more about them, but then your place in the "Diary" is not kept and you have to start flipping pages back to where you last left off.
Over a dozen characters are introduced throughout the course of Kult of Ktulu, and it rapidly becomes very hard to keep track of all them. Better integration between the character information and the main body of text would have definitely helped, as well as more interactive maps.
What will probably surprise most players is that you do not actually play as the main character Elena. Elena is in fact, a separate character from you, the player. As the player, you 'communicate' with Elena through the diary itself, as it acts as a conduit between you in the 'future' and her in the late 1900s. She writes in 'real-time' to you, and you get to pick your response to her. There is even some suggestion in the text that the Kult of Ktulu game itself is the conduit. To further push home you can only interact via the diary, occasionally the screen will darken and lighten back up. It took me a while to figure out that it represented Elena closing the diary on you, and then re-opening it later.
Instead of directly influencing choices, you basically have to provide advice and chaperone a curious 13 year old girl as she explores the depths of the liner. Unfortunately, Elena does typically act like a stubborn teenager at several points of the game, often not believing your advice no matter how much reason or even evidence you have. This is very frustrating, as the player is likely going to able to deduce several important plot points and twists earlier on, but Elena herself remains oblivious to many of them. It is somewhat realistic, and makes Elena both endearing and annoying as you have to figure out a way to steer her away from disaster while taking into account her own plans. Basically, I wished for an option to say something along the lines of "Look, you're 13 and lack common sense. I am from the future with the power of the internet. LISTEN TO ME IF YOU WANT TO LIVE!"
Your power of the internet, specifically Wikipedia, actually does come into play. The cast of characters includes several famous faces, such as Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, as well as several more obscure but historical figures such as Nicholas Roerich. All of them had some association with the spiritualism and occultism movements of the era, and they are featured in Kult of Ktulu.
While it is hard to say how knowing more about their backgrounds allowed me to helped Elena, I was able to figure out a later plot twist using Google-fu to figure out the true identity of one of the characters. Overall, it is just interesting to see how these famous figures become involved in the story, however historically inaccurate it is (or is it...).
In the midst of all the text, there is some special occasions where you get to have a peek into the world that Elena sees. These vignettes appear vertically on a single page, and are usually animated. Some of these vignettes are also interactive, and are the only ways the player can interact directly with Elena's world. For example, trying to find a secret combination on a lock, or a hidden spot in the wallpaper. Several of the more important choices occur during these interactive vignettes, where sometimes you have to make sure you find the right object or solution before moving on.
On other occasions, something ominous would happen within these vignettes. Unfortunately, they are usually not that terrifying since they are barely animated, and use the same stinger and crying sound effect every single time. Although I will admit, I did get at least one good jump scare during one of these sequences.
The audio in Kult of Ktulu is minimal, save for the game's main background music track. It is a heavy, menacing piece, filled with discordant clangs and percussion, minor chords, and swelling horns. The music alone tells you from the moment you start the game that not all is at it seems on the ship, and that Elena is in an oppressively dangerous situation. Other sound effects are there to build ambience, providing some background noise when appropriate depending on the setting that Elena finds herself in.
Kult of Ktulu features multiple endings and branching story paths, depending on the choices you make. Unfortunately, there seems to be a glitch that prevents the game detecting completion of some of the endings. I encountered this bug on my first playthrough, and this has been reported by other players as well. As of writing, there has been no update to rectify this.
It did give me the opportunity to test the game's replay feature, which is done by simply clicking on any of your previous choices. This resets the story back to that moment. There is no way to really know how far back you have to go or what choice you need to make to ultimately influence the ending you get. However, I was able to alter events in the right places to get a different ending and outcome that worked.
Your choices and influence overall feel very constricted in the game, and this in part to how it wants to sell the idea of the player being bound to Elena's diary. The player is literally dragged along by Elena, as she carries the diary to significant areas and you have to rely on her constantly relaying information to you as she writes in the diary. This lack of direct player agency will be frustrating for some people, and understandably makes the game feel less of a 'game' where the player has any real impact.
Overall, although the game was quite short (clocking in around two hours for my playthrough), I did enjoy the Lovecraftian atmosphere it successfully conveyed. I found myself caring about Elena's welfare, as annoyingly oblivious as she sometimes was. It is very unfortunate that several of the other endings simply do not work currently, and hopefully, the developer will fix that soon.
Kult of Ktulu: Olympic was reviewed on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developer.
A well-written Lovecraftian adventure, where you get to experience how Tom Riddle felt being stuck in a diary in the hands of a young teenage girl. Although the player is really more of an accessory to Elena's story, their advice and guidance will still have great influence in determining her fate.
- Lovecraftian Atmosphere
- Excellently Detailed Writing
- Unique Adviser Role
- 13 Year Old Girls Are Stubborn
- Short Length
- Gamebreaking Bugs Near the End
- Occasionally Awkward Interface