As a toolset for budding game designers, RPG Maker has long been a staple of the scene. Silence! The Elder Speaks joins games like To The Moon in building a unique narrative experience within a familiar mechanical framework and graphical style with (almost) SNES era RPG visuals. S!TES also sheds the turn-based combat in favour of punchy, trope-inverting dialogue.
The core game is short, but encourages replayability by allowing you to shape the lives of the isolated villagers under your care as shaman of their tribe. There are 24 endings that are “ever-so-slightly different”, as the promotional material states. The reason S!TES works so well is because it carries the joy and nonsense of a children’s story with the context of a fairly adult experience. It contains 16-bit nudity (which you might never find), and language and concepts unsuitable to a younger audience, despite its cutesy graphics. There’s even the possibility of a marriage between a woman and a chicken. The names, references, and general knowledge of the villagers is incongruous with their apparent remoteness and ignorance of scientific concepts, and that’s all part of the humour.
Speaking of science, your role as Shaman often involves pacifying the superstitious people under your care and ushering in new notions of the divine, as well as establishing health care and nutritional practices. It seems like the previous shaman left the villagers with some very strange ideas about the healing power of potatoes when thrown at a person’s head. How you choose to engage with these rituals is up to you. You can attempt to debunk them, but in a couple of instances I found that honesty wasn’t necessarily the best way to appease those in my care. The blatant dishonesty and the knowing way the player character seems to address the player’s incredulity makes for a charming hour of gameplay. The shaman, and by extension the game’s writer/designer, feels present with you as you choose a successor, perform shamanic rituals, and hopefully usher in a new age of prosperity.
The only controls required are a menu and confirmation button (and a run button if you like), along with the directional pad. There are no quick time events, there’s no combat, and there’s no way to fail. You can save and reload at the crystal in the shaman’s hut, but it’s much more fun to just live with your decisions and progress. I was surprised at the emotional impact of some of the scenes, amid the silliness. I finished it in two short sittings, first using the keyboard, and then using a gamepad. The quirks associated with RPG Maker are present, such as limited display options, and slightly wonky dialogue navigation. I occasionally gave a response to a question without intending to, and movement can be a little finicky. The entirety of the game takes place over 4 screens worth of exterior locations, not including cave and dwelling interiors. Each part of the village is dense and contains everything it needs to convey its strange tale. I thoroughly enjoyed my short time with this adorable, unsettling, and hilarious RPG/storybook.