I have to say that past years visit to the Monkey Islandish Caribbean has turned out to be a truly epic journey filled to the brim with piratey adventures and charming concepts. And here is where we are now. Right at the end. But is it the last chapter of one big story? Or more like the end to an episodic series? And how good is it exactly?

While immensely enjoying chapter 4 (which was an experience worthy of the first three Monkey Island games), I was careful not to build too much expectations for the final episode. It’s quite common to have the last act before the climax to be ripe with tension, mysteries and exciting prospects, just for the finale to disappoint with a cliché ending that didn’t even address half of the plot points that were earlier introduced as vital. It’s so easy to tease about the greatness and the amount of things that the ending will deliver, and so damn hard to actually realize that potential, and do that in style. Game critics are not paid to be forgiving though. 😉

WARNING!!! SPOILERS SHALL BE AS PYRITE MOSQUITOS!!!

At the end of Trail and Execution we’ve seen our hero – Guybrush Threepwood – being stabbed to death by his powerful nemesis LeChuck, all initiative seemingly left in the hands of his loving wife, Elaine. Now, as Rise of The Pirate God starts Guybrush wakes up in The Land of The Dead – without his body (any body whatsoever actually) and only with a shred of life as a memento. In consequence the player is cast inside a totally new adventure, which is pretty much unrelated to LeChuck, Elaine, and things happening back in the Realm of The Living. Sure, we always have the goal to get back down there in mind. Nevertheless, like with other TOMI episodes and their Flotsam Islands, Spinner Cays and Matinee bellies the player finds himself stalled in yet another fantastic, one of a kind locale with a lengthy list of ingredients to gather, rather than directly pursuiting the storyline’s progress. This grates especially with the exciting prospects of a climactic confrontation the player was left with at the end of Chapter 4. In addition, this month’s fetch quests really give the impression of having been thought up to quickly pad out the game with things to do. A lot of puzzles demand just reading an item’s name on a list than finding and picking up precisely that item while running around the many locations. Does anyone has a spare dead bird’s feather lying around, I need it for my voodoo mixture?

The Land of The Dead - Grog machines aplenty

But before I go overly negative here, let’s mention some of Pirate God’s undoubtful strengths. The pirate version of The Land of The Dead is very impressive and effective in its presentation. It has style, atmosphere, gruesome motives, proper afterlife characters like: the deep-voiced Ferryman, pirate ghosts, Franklin The Hound, or the enigmatic Galeb (a zombified Raffiki from The Lion King), as well as a nice affirmation of the Monkey Island pirate essence: sword mastery + thievery + treasure hunter-y-y.

All this presented in stunning and funny animations with lots of visual expressiveness, stylishness and subtlety where needed. The whole Land of The Dead has all kinds of neat graphical touches. No wonder that for this episode Mark Darin decided to share the directing credit with Jake Rodkin – Tales’ graphic art creating guy. Couple all that with the always consistently superb musical score from Michael Land and you rightly end up being in another world. I mean, totally immersed in the Monkey Island world.

There are several good puzzles too – among them is the so far most prominent appearance of insult-sword-fighting in Tales, a new mind-bending jail-breaking challenge, as well as Guybrush returning to the world of the living in two different forms – each one with its specific advantages and disadvantages. Nevertheless the aforementioned weak fetch quests, frequent repeating of the same actions, as well as some solutions being mercilessly spelled out in-game (even with the hints being turned off) make the puzzles a bit of a letdown. By the way, powerful voodoo spells and voodoo gadgets are conveniently left by LeChuck in places where Guybrush will easily stumble on them, which feels a wee bit too convenient.

Galeb!.... Or is it Nor Treblig?

So, negatives again. There is a specific part of the visuals that I don’t think has worked out that well – the look of LeChuck’s new “godly” form and his hellish ship which sports a huge tower out of stone. They are in the color off some grayish-brown filth and they have grown lots and lots of spikes. It looks rather tacky overall. To be honest LeChuck’s appearance reminded me here of Bowser (of Super Mario Bros fame ) and the ship of one of Bowser’s fortresses. I definitely preferred the previous LeChuck look.

However, it’s not that important compared to the biggest problem of Rise and the saddest revelation of Tales as a whole… It’s now obvious to me that the storyline for the series wasn’t really planned out at the start beyond a very general outline. The narrative’s true substance was being invented as the series went along, each episode’s writer leading it in a bit different direction. In the end, De Singe with all his science and his search for eternal life theme didn’t really have much point in the story beyond him being a temporary replacement villain for LeChuck. Also, Marquais seems integral to Mike Levine’s episodes, but an afterthought in all others. De Cava – The Voodoo Lady’s insane boyfriend – teased about in episodes 1 and 2 and at last prominently shown in episode 3 was only a one act rival/partner for Guybrush. The mer-people and the ruins of several of their ancient civilizations don’t have any higher purpose in the general picture of the game than unusual window-dressing. Finally, in the last chapter all drastic changes and prominent evolution of the most popular heroes and villains presented in the story are basically nullified as yet again we come back to the status quo from the ending of Curse of Monkey Island. And it’s all LeChuck kidnap Elaine, Guybrush fight LeChuck all over. Even the meaning of the recent facts revealed about The Voodoo Lady is not definite and is left to the player to interpret as he wishes.

Conclusion? Tales of Monkey Island’s storyline is much more episodic than it was advertised – each episode is very much a separate game.

This guy is even better than Garret! And he has no hands!!!

Some bonus character behavior related gripes. Elaine makes some truly insane and unconvincing decisions in Rise of The Pirate God. While they spruce up the tensions considerably, I’m just not sure if that was worth her acting this way. Concurrently, Morgan La Fay’s murder circumstances turn out to be banal and accidental, as her murderer didn’t even have a proper motive – disappointing after the way it was presented as important and shrouded in mystery in Episode 4. Nevertheless, Morgan has undoubtedly the best realized character development among the Tales cast. We gradually learn about her and her motives and they play a big part in the story’s central plot points.

So why is it that after all this said, I still can’t stop being impressed, even by this final, slightly weaker outing of Tales? Well, the production values, the quality of the voicework, writing and the omnipresent style are a joy to witness and an incredible improvement over Telltale‘s previous adventure game series, and so is the gameplay which offers considerably more challenge. Most importantly this has the perfect feel of the Monkey Island world – “perfect” as in a perfect mix of what we remember from the old games and of new, fresh ideas. My favorite aspects of the Tales series are: the transformation of LeChuck back into a human (this idea should have been exploited further) and the relationship of Guybrush and Elaine – sexed-up and more romantic than ever before. Season 2 seems inevitable, I just wish it won’t be rehash. An even more interesting prospect would be Telltale tackling Maniac Mansion or Loom like Dave Grossman teases they would like to.

Igor’s Score: 4/5 starks

Note: My favorite episodes are: #4, #1 and #2. But the real killer among them is #4 .