Developer: Filip Hracek
Size: 150 MB
Platform: iPhone & iPad
RPG gamebooks translate remarkably well to mobile. In the switch from paper to screen, this somewhat fusty, old-fashioned form of interactive fiction can be made both more elaborate and more accessible.
Knights of San Francisco is a brilliant example of this elevation. Throughout its brief run time (two hours max), you’ll battle orcs and negotiate with spectres across multiple levels of a decrepit skyscraper in a dystopian San Francisco.
There are meaningful decisions to be made, tactical battles to be fought, and branching paths to negotiate en route to the peak. It’s a testament to Knights of San Francisco’s execution that you’ll want to consume it in a single gulp.
At the heart of all it all is the game’s story. At a base level this is well worn fantasy fare, with necromancers and kobolds and quests to find long lost relatives. But the writing is finely honed, the pacing is zippy, and the world-building is on point.
We’ve seen this kind of dystopian far future many times before throughout fiction, where the ‘ancients’ are venerated as gods, and familiar technology is treated as magical artifact. But creator Filip Hracek has managed to carve out a distinctive take on these familiar themes.
Besides choosing which path you take, your main point of interaction will be in each of them game’s many battles. Here you’ll need to decide which attacks to launch, based on the likelihood of success and your own precarious stamina and sanity meters. Do you sweep a nimble lizard man’s legs to slow him down, raise an undead assistant with your powers of necromancy, or attack directly with the powerful new weapon you pinched off a previous adversary?
Each of these moves is essentially settled by the roll of a die, and some of the more protracted battles can become quite farcical as they’re narrated to you in increasingly convoluted fashion. But the sheer number of permutations will carry you through these encounters.
Key to the physical gamebook experience is the ability to ‘cheat’, or turn back to previous pages when you make a fateful decision. It’s great to see this enshrined as a mechanic in Knights of San Francisco, with the ability to scroll back to previous narrative branch points and rewrite your destiny.
It’s just another example of a game that loves and respects its source material, but is also willing to explore the path ahead – wherever it might lead you.