Havsala: Into the Soul Palace

Havsala: Into the Soul Palace

Havsala: Into the Soul Palace is an escape room adventure with astonishing hand-drawn art and an ancient Greek thematic revolving around the lives and works of several Greek personalities that are presented in the game as reincarnations of Phyrne – a famous and controversial courtesan who lived in the 4th century BC. The whole game spawns over four chapters, but happens in a single room, described as Phyrne’s Soul Palace – a place full of mysterious puzzles, astronomical and musical devices, together with a hefty collection of books related to various works of art, philosophy, astronomy, mysticism and Pythagorean mathematics.

While the atmosphere and the artwork are both quite good, I can’t really say quite the same about the puzzles. Designed to be moderately difficult to figure out (although quite creative and unique), some of them not only border on being unintuitive, but they also require clue-hunting through books spread all around the room, and especially in details that can easily be overseen. Since there are usually no explanations whatsoever about how a minigame is supposed to work, the only way to understand what the puzzle expects you to do is to read through the vast literature consisting of notes and diary pages and obviously to rummage through Phyrne’s bookcase; no piece of information is spoon-fed, and connecting the dots is ultimately left to the player.

There is a mechanic that highlights a page in a book when it contains a clue relevant to a puzzle. By clicking it, the clue is summarized in the player’s notebook as a small note that one can refer to later on. However, there are cases in which the clues for a solution cannot be found in this notebook, or there are simply too many details to reach a solution without trying multiple combinations. For example, at the end of each chapter you need to set some coordinates related to the personality that the chapter focuses on, but these coordinates could very well represent anything like birth date, death date or special events that occurred in their lives, yet there’s no explanation about what you are expected to input. Even though all these details are mentioned in various pieces of literature inside the level, you’ll still have to find them and then try them all until something works.

A faulty design decision in my opinion is having a minigame service two separate puzzles yet containing elements from both. This was extremely confusing to me, but luckily it happened only once in the game. There’s a 15-tiles sliding puzzle of which 6 are marked with special drawings; the puzzle requires you to move 3 specific tiles to certain positions. The hint for this was based on a drawing found in a book which depicted those 3 symbols overlapping a certain number of squares, and by counting the length of the squares you obtained the position for each of them. There is no explanation whatsoever why the remaining 3 tiles that are marked differently are not supposed to be moved and should be completely ignored – this doesn’t make sense until the end of the game, when the puzzle is reused and now you’re tasked to move the 3 remaining symbols.

Aside from collecting clues from books, you can also ask a raven for help by feeding the bird with little bits of food located around the room. This sort-of acts as a hint system, revealing a paragraph in your notebook describing your actions, as if you already solved that puzzle – however, this doesn’t exactly explain the logic behind it. On top of that, there is only a limited amount of hints allowed in the game (10 in total), and they aren’t all available from the start (some of the bird food is contained in locations accessible only later in the game), thus they must be used only when it’s really needed and perhaps preserved for later usage. A secondary hint for the same puzzle is not possible; feeding the raven for a second time will only give you a hint for the next puzzle, even if you didn’t unlock it yet – spoiling the whole fun of it. Another downside is that the puzzles are chained, making it impossible to progress if you get stuck on one of them; there is also no skip option.

Despite all this, and following a bump in the road that made me rage quit the game because of failing to solve one puzzle after many tries, I eventually did enjoy Havsala: Into the Soul Palace and learned to appreciate its secrets. The game’s main problem is not that the puzzles are too complex, but that they are still not clearly explained, even after the developers added more clues as a popular request from the community. Once I understood what the requirements were, it was easy enough for me to complete a puzzle without any kind of additional help, albeit with some trial and error in some cases.

Havsala: Into the Soul Palace is fairly short and can be completed in around 3-5h (or 1-2h when using a guide and not reading through the sheer amount of texts available in game) thus the asking price could be considered a bit too steep. There are 21 achievements to obtain, most of which are missable, and one of them requires you to complete the game in one go – which shouldn’t be that difficult once you know what to do and considering the length of the game. Unfortunately there is no chapter selection after finishing the game, so any missed achievements can be obtained only by replaying the whole thing again. This needs to be done anyway, considering that there are some mutually exclusive achievements that require 2 separate playthroughs.

If you like reading lots of books in-game and collecting clues from little details in order to solve puzzles, then Havsala: Into the Soul Palace is the game for you. I admired the uncommon thematic of the minigames, which heavily rely on symbolism and connecting / interpreting various astronomical, mathematical, and alchemical symbols. As a note regarding these: some puzzles require you to have good musical skills and a perfect pitch that can recognize and reproduce sounds that are very similar with each other, and without any other visual guidance.

Related: Havsala: Into the Soul Palace – Full text walkthrough + 100% Achievements

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