Felvidek Review: A medieval murky comedy RPG that’s all about sweet words and sullied deeds


“When I was young,” says a peasant washing clothes in the river, “I thought it was enough to wash my sullied laundry once and composed down. It’s not that it will be sullied forever. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt the crushing weight of universal entropy decay as strongly as I do in this RPG creator text box set against the colors of Felvidek’s nicotine stains. I’ll have to tidy my keyboard soon. I keep taking screenshots of Felvidk. I can’t take it enough. I want to make an album with every character and every line. Neither my laundry nor my keyboard will be tidy forever, either, but if I hate Felvidk for pointing that out, I love him for reminding me that all the best art is reinforced by an indelible layer of deep, broad dirt.

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Set in 15th century Slovakia, Felvidek focuses on sweet words and sullied deeds. Pavol is an alcoholic knight with marital problems. Matej is a seemingly pious, if often amusingly elastic, priest. They are a farce if they have committed a double act, who often alternately suppress and support their worst instincts. Joseph, the local ruler who is constantly urging everyone within earshot to play the board games he has imported from the land, sends them both off to investigate some strange thing in the fort. Tell a story about secret cults and cursed beans, dysentery and infidelity, and how significant it is to always smile to your heart’s content, even if your loved one has just punched you in the stomach.

It’s a tiny map and the game is miniature, although I don’t think it needed to be longer. You run around his world, explore, talk to people. The journey doesn’t take long, so I return to the village and listen to a woman washing clothes in the river talking about clothes that take forever to get sullied. About the breakup. The guitar tones that distinguish this village are as pure as alcohol, but every now and then a cataclysmic screech of stationary emerges from somewhere deep underneath and consumes them. Everything we think of as stable piles onto chaos like sandcastles on fault lines. Everything we tidy will soon be covered with dead skin again. Each time you return to Joseph, he helpfully reminds you where to go next. Structure. Chaos. Structure.

Image source: Józef Pawelka

Beneath the villages and castles of Felvidek lies chaos that you will later have to dig out and stab. But your first catch will probably be the castle armorer, who keeps telling Pavol that he smells like a coward until you’re forced to talk him into selling you some equipment. This is the equipment you will want because it is the only way to get stronger. The game describes itself as a JRPG, so fights against armorsmiths anticipating cowards are turn-based and filled with status effects. There are no character levels, and therefore no forced fights or random encounters: the violence seems staged in a theatrical sense, where the point is merely to enhance the plot.

He fights too feel deadly, even if you have an inventory stuffed with heals and are no more than two scraps and a miniature sprint away from a full team heal in the church. But why pray to an absent god when you can instead watch Pavol devour a bucket of sour cream in first person mid-battle? Why prostrate yourself shamefully as penance when you can watch a drunken, bleeding knight quickly slurp porridge into his face so that he has enough skill points to maul a purple-robed cultist?

It gives the game a concise, theatrical tone, temporarily baroque, but as a whole devoid of fat. As is the prose, written with a consciously newfangled message of plum medieval flourishes, which means each line takes twice as long to read as it seems, but is well worth the extra effort. Sometimes the text is witty, crude and full of pathos, and sometimes it is simply witty because of its intricacy. Reading it is like chewing huge mouthfuls of good bread: you have to jaw a little, but it’s worth watching Pavol and Matej discuss the theological nuances of a priest visiting a brothel. Some of them may be precise, but sometimes it’s the gatekeeper who you gave almost the correct password to, saying “you know what? Come here.” It’s a little Shakespeare, a little Stoppard, Cervantes. And yes, a little Python.

I understand that Felvidek can be completed in about two hours, but it took me about twice that. Strange and creepy entities have coin if you feel like becoming a knight while waiting for the tavern to start serving again. A stray conversation with an NPC picking pears for brandy takes on all the twisted depth and presence of a lysergic parable, and such a plain choice as to steal a sip of that brandy can cause Pavol to wake up in the murky to a place of mutants, a stationary wail and profound confusion. The story progresses in stages, blocking certain tasks and offering novel ones at certain moments. Mostly you’re free to explore, but sometimes you’re locked away for a while, like when Pavol, despite being a madman, is still afraid to return to his master’s castle in his underwear after his clothes are stolen.

Weapon!  in the Highlands
In combat you have two resources: health and tools for special abilities, but only a sporadic item can replenish tools during combat. | Image source: Józef Pawelka

I wanted to make Pavol my own a little more than the game would let me. He is an alcoholic in prose, but rarely in action. There are tons of different types of spirits to collect, and I guess I expected him to get shaken up after a while, doing worse in combat if I didn’t keep him replenished, but it wasn’t that fun. The dirt, death and combat of an RPG, especially an early encounter that killed me right from the start, made me think of the Games of Fear and Hunger. I think Felvidek would have gained a bit more from this lethal, choose-your-death sadism, but on reflection and only on repeat. Instead, what you get is a brilliantly crafted and animated single show, narrated by a darkly amusing, bawdy bard who secretly cries in the night over the inevitable decay of everything, but never gives up his shit-eating grin for a second.

This review is based on the test version of the game provided by the developer.

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