Review: The Council Episode 3: Ripples

It has been a long building process for Big Bad Wolf to be in its current position with The Council. The French studio has had to ensure that its historical backdrop would eventually take center stage in the narrative, effectively using Episode 1: The Mad Ones and Episode 2: Hide and Seek to lay the all-important foundation and continue to maintain momentum for the title. Finally, it all materializes in Episode 3: Ripples and allows Big Bad to reach its apex in terms of its storytelling so far. That’s not to say that historical events haven’t played a significant role in the first two episodes — there is no doubt that they have — but Ripples naturally flows in a way that avoids it from becoming a filler episode. For Big Bad, its mid-season episode is the beating heart of The Council and creates the best springboard possible for the two remaining episodes to capitalize on the story.

Ripples is similar to Hide and Seek in the fact that Big Bad divides it up into three separate quests. It does provide a solid structure for the episode’s beginning, middle and end, with each act complementing one another and progressively moving the story forward. Depending on players’ choices in the previous episode, however, they will immediately experience The Council’s branching system in different ways. It is easy enough to miss the better opening for Ripples, but that only adds replay value to the story. What particularly stands out about the episode, though, is that the title takes advantage of its historical setting. Players are able to see both Big Bad’s self-created characters engage with real-life historical figures as political tensions heighten and certain agendas are laid out on the table.

The Council has continued to entice players with the mysteries that have been teased across various plot points, and Ripples starts to provide answers and build connections between different events that have taken place on the island. Sure, Big Bad doesn’t answer everything — there are two episodes left after all — but that doesn’t stop it from tightening the story’s direction. Sarah Faustine de Richet, whose disappearance has been crucial to the first two episodes, has not been forgotten about either. In fact, Big Bad executes Ripples’ story with the exact precision needed to take Sarah from being a rudimentary plot device in The Council and to step up to an important supporting role in Louis de Richet’s story arc. It works and feels exactly like the opening segment from The Mad Ones.

The Council
What Big Bad has been able to successfully use throughout The Council has been the Confrontation mechanic. Gimmicky features can easily lose their appeal if they are constantly relied upon over the course of five episodes, but Big Bad has protected the value of the mini-verbal boss fights and raised the stakes even further in Ripples. Each Confrontation in Ripples is as memorable as any that preceded it, but it also has the best one in the series to date. It’s where a player’s ability is put to the test and one wrong move will lead to an instant failure. Ripples also has a well-conceived segment that checks how much attention has been paid to Louis’ relationship with another character. While there is a fifty-fifty chance of getting the final decision right, there is no question that the pressure and tension are visible throughout the entire scene.

It’s disappointing that Big Bad falls back on using an episodic trope like fetch quests for its final act of Ripples, but that doesn’t take away from its excellent ending. The well-designed puzzles have been the best in any episodic title to date and Ripples only reinforces that statement. What makes the final puzzle a standout addition to The Council is how crucial it is to the final choice in the episode, leaving players with very little room to make an error — unless they are fast enough to react at the sacrifice of valuable skill points. The RPG mechanics continue to flourish as players upgrade their different classes for Louis — Diplomat, Occultist and Detective — and reap the benefits from acquiring as much experience points as possible in each episode. Ripples, much like the two episodes before it, allows plenty of time to be immersed in the exploration of Lord William Mortimer’s manor and to backtrack and unlock items that weren’t previously accessible.

The Council
does set the precedent for The Council in terms of its story, though its entire experience is ultimately hindered from reaching its true potential because of technical issues. Despite Hide and Seek suffering from setbacks that stopped the episode from significantly building on the success of The Mad Ones, it was nowhere near as blighted by issues that can be found in Ripples. The frame rate is once again inconsistent in the episode, dropping during different running animations and while other segments play out. In fact, issues are that bad in Ripples that it crashed as soon as the episode loaded.

It’s not even in one segment where players will experience technical problems in Ripples: they are littered throughout the episode. Lip-syncing, for example, does not match up correctly to characters’ facial animations, presenting cutscenes that are difficult to be invested in or be engaged with what’s taking place in the story. There is one instance where Johann Christoph von Wöllner’s lifeless body can be found on the floor of a balcony. Don’t worry, that’s not an actual spoiler. For some strange reason —  it has to be strange for it not to be noticed before the episode was released — the character’s body randomly turns up on the balcony and makes it look like Louis is getting ready to solve a murder mystery. Sadly, that doesn’t happen. Instead, it only reiterates why The Council has been fiercely criticized for not addressing technical issues since The Mad Ones.

The Council
Closing Comments:

It can’t be said enough that Ripples is fantastic for its story and feels more like a penultimate episode for how well it is structured and executed. It’s a story that continues to develop, sought-after questions are answered, plot points thicken and the anticipation for the fourth episode builds. Big Bad, however, does need to look at how well gaming titles like Life Is Strange and Tales from the Borderlands did because they successfully utilized the episodic format. It doesn’t help The Council’s case when loading sequences abruptly start after an excellent scene or it cuts straight to the credits after the ending without including a teaser for the next episode. The biggest disappointment about Ripples is that technical issues overshadow many of its positives. It’s an episode that is pure frustration not for its story, but for not fulfilling its true potential and arguably falling short of the standards expected from any gaming title, whether it’s triple-A or indie.

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The Council Episode 3: Ripples
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