Phos: Solias is a CYOA/RPG created for the OHR 2018 One-Room Contest by MorpheusKitami and is the fifth installment in the developer’s Complicated Gallery series (Pur: Ignis, Adama: Telamon, Avir: Weto, Hudor: Mayim). While I have not played the prior installments in the series, I have played MK’s first OHR game Blackeagle; and as soon as this one begins it’s clear the ramshackle aesthetic of the developer’s debut was no fluke, but rather an authorial voice of sorts. It reads as naïve outsider art, with an obvious reserve of interesting knowledge (usually unelaborated upon) and the distinct scent of troll. Absolutely nothing about either game is straightforward or readily apparent. This time I unwittingly did almost everything in the least logical sequence possible and had to google a few proper nouns, but after a few Game Overs I started to decipher the game’s logic.
The first quirk is that of the game’s title(s) and subtitle(s). That is to say there are a lot of them, some quite unusual, and one illegible. The official title is Phos: Solias. “Phos” is apparently a Greek word meaning “light” or “lamp,” associated Biblically with the concepts of God, truth, knowledge, and revelation. I could find no satisfactory definition of “Solias,” though it could be a variant of a Greek, Latin, or Spanish word, likely pertaining to the sun (solar) and/or isolation (solitude). The filename and title of the program are both “Paradise,” another Biblical concept. The title screen itself says “Adam,” followed by a subtitle of two or three words I can’t discern. The author’s description of the game is also elusive – describing a gallery of supernatural paintings that does not seem to appear in the game at all. The game is instead set in Eden.
The colors are vivid. The intro music is simple, repetitive, atonal, arrhythmic, shrill, and incredibly loud, hijacking my computer’s internal synth and cranking the volume repeatedly no matter how many times I turn it down in Windows (which is necessary even with the game’s sound settings at the lowest notch above “mute”). The music of the world map is relatively easier on the ears once the volume is attenuated. Introductory text recounts a story parallel to that of Genesis (except with Lilith instead of Eve). There is a spelling error in the first paragraph (multiple/multiply).
The player assumes the role of Lilith. She can talk to Adam, who tells her to cultivate vegetation. The simple aesthetic of the map and sprites is actually quite good, though it’s difficult to tell the boundaries of Eden (which has permanent consequences). Lilith can eat the fruit from the forbidden tree at this point, though it is not clear that this has any result besides displaying some graphics. If Lilith chooses to exit Eden, she is teleported to the area north of Eden. If she re-enters and leaves again, she will not be able to return without being killed by Uriel (an archangel whose existence was previously unmentioned and is never commented upon further).
If instead Lilith chooses to talk to Adam when she returns to the garden, he chastises her. This triggers a dialog system, which can be navigated with the num pad (this took me a while to figure out, but it’s in the README). Choosing to accept Adam leads to a nonsensically prurient (yet vanilla) result – straight missionary sex, man on top, for all eternity; choosing to compromise with Adam leads to sex standing up. Either kind of sex summons the snake, who tempts Lilith to eat from the forbidden tree. You can only eat the fruit however if you have chosen to compromise with Adam.
Choosing to fight with Adam leads to an admonishment from God (and the return of the atonal theme), after which the pair are banished from to an area even farther north of Eden. Adams dies, but Lilith can still explore this new area and meet either Lucifer or the angel Samael. Meeting Lucifer leads to a Game Over in which humanity lives in fear of Lilith and Lucifer. Meeting Samael forces a choice, whether or not to return to Eden with Samael. Choosing to stay leads to a Game Over in which humanity lives in fear of Lilith and Samael. Choosing to return to Eden forces another choice, whether to Attack or Wait. Choosing to Wait inexplicably leads Lilith to kill Eve; and demons rule the world, Game Over. Choosing to Attack leads God to abandon the world, Game Over.
If instead of returning to Adam, Lilith decides to explore the area north of the garden, she meets two characters who won’t identify themselves and have nothing to say. Meeting them leads to another Game Over, at which point we are informed they are Nyx and Erebus (Greek deities whose connection to Genesis or the Lilith myth is beyond me) and that Lilith has joined them to form an army for the purpose of killing all men. A subsequent paragraph is inscrutable, and introduces an unexplained character named Yonham who has apparently reproduced with Eve. Also in the northern area Lilith can bypass Nyx and Erebus, and opt to meet the archangel Ashtoreth who has rebelled against God. This again forces a choice of whether to stay or return to Eden. Staying results in Eve reproducing with the mysterious Yonham again and everyone fearing Lilith’s offspring. Returning to Eden with Ashtoreth prompts another choice to wait or attack. Waiting again results in the death of Eve, whereas attack leads to God abandoning his creations. Farther north is Maccathiel, another rebellious angel who presents a similar set of options to those unlocked by talking to Samael, Lucifer, or Ashtoreth. So too with Azazel, but without the choices.
This is a strange fatalistic game about choice and consequences, steeped in demonology and Judeo-Christian myth – a premise I find much more appealing than the Team America shenanigans of Blackeagle. The game’s biggest flaw is its inscrutability – much is assumed, little is explained. I also find some of the more juvenile examples of “edgy” humor a bit off-putting (the presence of a “bad word” does not a joke make, and the unconsidered use of a slur is callous). Still there’s quite a bit going on here for such a small game. Phos: Solias made a poor first impression, but I gradually warmed up to it as I explored its possibilities. I think it’s pretty clear that MorpheusKitami has made some artistic progress since Blackeagle, and I’m intrigued to check out the other installments in the Complicated Gallery series to see what else MK has been getting up to lately.
...spake The Lord Thy God.