Growth of a Paranormal Investigator

For a long time I avoided playing the indie adventure game series starring paranormal investigator Ben Jordan as there are so darn many of them;  seven installments so far.  I knew that once I started playing I would have to complete them all and the commitment was daunting.  My reservations seem especially silly now that I know they’re a great bunch of adventure games.

Ben Jordan, like I mentioned, is a paranormal investigator.  He travels the world studying weird occurrences and taking cases from whomever is willing to hire him.  My favorite thing about the series—which playing the games back-to-back emphasized—is that you get to see the developer, Francisco Gonzalez’s , abilities mature; artistically, mechanically, and through his story telling as well.  That maturation coincides well with the development of the Ben Jordan character as he grows into a professional investigator and takes on more difficult cases.  In the first game, Ben Jordan mentions the TV show, The X-Files. It’s a good analogy for the direction of the Ben Jordan series as you’re never sure of the truth behind the mysteries he’s investigating. 

While graphically the Ben Jordan games aren’t groundbreaking — though they improve later on — the music in the series is fantastic.  It sets the tone of each scene very well and conveys what the visuals may be lacking.  The seventh game and the deluxe versions of the first two games also feature voice acting which is really good.  I’d love to see the rest of the series updated too since the voices help indicate dialogue tone so much better than the text alone does.  As I’ve mentioned in other adventure game reviews, I love dialogue portraits which are also used in the Ben Jordan games.  The portraits go far to help emphasize the intent of dialogue by showing a character’s facial expressions as he speaks.

I like how the Ben Jordan series uses the Sierra adventure system of point scoring (with suitable sound effects) as you solve the game’s puzzles.  It’s a nice way to track your progress through the game.  Though, honestly, I’ve always felt that the system is pointless (pun intended).  In the Ben Jordan games you often get points for asking important questions when speaking with other characters but it’s not like the dialogue trees are massively branching – you don’t have a choice other than selecting them.  But even so, it’s a nice adventure game nostalgia throwback. 

The Ben Jordan series does have one particular peculiarity in its interface.  The games use the classic walk, look, and touch icons but actually have two speech icons; one for questioning people and another for making small talk.  I found this to be very strange as using the small talk icon on characters in the games generated just that – short, irrelevant dialogue.  Perhaps it was originally intended to elicit funny quips but most often the canned response from the game is, “this person isn’t interested in your small talk.”  Odd.

I wanted to share some random thoughts on each of the games:

Case 1 – In Search of the Skunk-Ape: A good story.  Though once the bodies starting dropping in the National Park why weren’t the police called?  I mean, people were getting torn apart and they left the investigation to some kid fresh out of college who has penned himself as a paranormal investigator?

Case 2 – The Lost Galleon of the Salton Sea: A great game, especially the deluxe version.  I could listen to the music at the Radley House all day. 

            Music kept me here long after I needed to be

Case 3 – The Sorceress of Smailholm: My least favorite of the Ben Jordan games.  Case 3 featured the series’ first attempt at multiple endings which was a little frustrating – especially since I got the lesser of the two endings at first and had saved my game after the fork in the plot.  The game required a lot of backtracking walking back and forth between areas around and through the town — which was annoying when having to play the game again.  Mainly I didn’t think Sorceress of Smailholm’s plot was well developed.  Ben Jordan falls in love with a woman who has been falsely accused of murder and the game didn’t portray that connection very well.  This really only bothered me because it was something that was brought up repeatedly in later games; Ben has dreams about the love he lost and his inability to move on doesn’t ring true as it was superficial from the start.

Case 4 – Horror at Number 50: There isn’t a lot of music in this installment which is disappointing since that’s usually a strength of the series.  The story overall was ok but seemed a little cliché. The ending came across as forced and left something to be desired.

Case 5 – Land Of The Rising Dead: I thoroughly enjoyed this installment in the series.  It has a great story, good music, and each location in the game world seemed unique. 

Case 6 – Scourge Of The Sea PeopleA good game though I couldn’t help but feel like the game was rushed.  I would have loved to explore a bit more—especially the underwater city of the sea people since I spent so much time looking for it—but so much of the world was blocked off or just not very big.

Case 7 – The Cardinal Sins: The best of the series.  Case 7 has great voice acting, good music, fun and difficult puzzles, and varied locations in the game world.  It also is the most polished of the Ben Jordan games, demonstrating the evolution of the series very well.

The Ben Jordan series are a great bunch of adventure games and were a lot of fun to play.  I’m excited for the eventual release of the eighth installment which will supposedly wrap everything up.  These games took me on a journey through their fiction and along the growth of Francisco Gonzalez’s abilities as a game developer.  You should play them  as they’re well worth the free download.

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