Originally titled “Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe” (“Leonore, or The Triumph of Marital Love” in English), Fidelio was Ludwig van Beethoven’s only opera (which is quite incredible in itself). The Fidelio Incident draws some if its inspiration from his opera, placing the story on a backdrop of political turmoil and melding its characters into the middle of the chaos. Also like the opera, the game’s story does not delve deep into the politics of the time, but rather focuses on the love story between Stanley and Lenore, the married couple, but this is where most of its similarities stop; the game starts thirty years after the couple have left Ireland, for reasons you’ll discover through reading the pages of Lenore’s diary. The opera takes place squarely in the present while the game combines the use of present and past tense fluidly.
This is a game that tugs at your heartstrings from the beginning, quickly connecting you with Stanley and Lenore though smart, economic character development. Their emotions are easily accessible within the first few minutes of The Fidelio Incident, all done through casual conversation. So, when their plane starts to go down, and Iceland’s frosted landscape inches closer with each millisecond, you don’t feel worried for the sake of dramatic context; you feel worried because you are emotionally connected to the characters.
This connection remains consistent throughout the entire game, growing with each page of Leonre’s diary that you find. For such a short game (around two hours), this is a difficult feat to accomplish; it seems like the developers employed some trusted methods for short story writing to cram a thirty-year relationship into two hours of play and keep their relationship authentic. Bravo.
Much of the couple’s backstory is told through the diary pages that have been scattered about the mountain landscape after the crash; they interlace the couple’s history with one of the most tumultuous times in Irish history – The Troubles, a decades-long conflict that resulted in the deaths of more than 3,500 people, over half of them civilians. If you travel to Northern Ireland today you will still find IRA and UVF murals painted on the sides of houses and “peace walls” that separate nationalist and unionist neighborhoods. It’s a period of history that we seldom hear referenced in America, let alone see any kind of fictional portrayal. I don’t know many specifics of The Troubles, but the time I spent living in Ireland made me realize that it’s a part of their history that hasn’t faded into the background and won’t for a long time.
The voice acting and dialogue work in tandem to make the characters even more likable. Both voice actors create authentic-sounding accents. Bess Harrison, the voice of Leonore, nailed the northern Irish accent, and I would expect Glenn Keogh to, the voice of Stanley, since he is from Ireland. There were bits of funny dialogue from Stanley, and the parts where I laughed the most involved him cursing at swarms of bugs – “Take that, you fuckers!”
There were parts where both characters divert into waxing, poetic monologues, which were beautiful, but often felt out of place, especially Stanley’s. His often changed the entire tone and mood of the action happening on screen, and when compared to the diary entries, his monologues had a similar feel; it felt like he was reading or reciting something he had written Leonore, but there was no indication of where he was reading it from or if he was saying it off-the-cuff. It felt more like prose than dialogue.
Without spoiling anything crucial to the storyline, the order in which you discover these pages will eventually reveal a Chekhov’s Gun, but unfortunately it’s never fired. Players will discover what Leonore means when she says, “they can’t find out who we are,” and yet the tension around that reveal is never fully realized. The tension surrounding rescuing Leonore grows, but the reason behind their leaving Ireland is simply pointed to and left unexplored. The story ends without offering a conclusion to her words of warning. It still packs a punch, but it was disappointing to have such a large “gun” dangling right in front of my face for the entire story only to have it never come up again. Furthermore, the story was so heavily focused on the romance that I nearly missed the importance of Leonore’s warning to Stanley.
The mechanics of The Fidelio Incident are simple. You won’t do much other than turn on/off steam valves, run to conveniently-placed, burning piles of debris to stave off hypothermia, and open a lock or two, but they are well-suited for the environment. While most of these elements seemed logical, there were two in particular that seemed odd. The first is part of a code that was written into Leonore’s diary. Players must take this partial code to unlock a hatch that will take them to a different part of the mountain.
The story doesn’t say if Stanley or Leonore had flown over this region before, and Stanley does not seem to be familiar with the area at all. (He was surprised to find a shelter near his crash site, for instance.) So, how is it possible that Leonore just happens to know the combination for a specific lock? The second part is an extremely localized hail storm as you walk up the side of a mountain; that didn’t seem realistic, but maybe a meteorologist out there knows something I don’t.
Aside from the character development, another strong-suit of The Fidelio Incident are the visuals and sounds. Equally beautiful as they are haunting, you’ll find yourself slogging through the snow, one agonizing crunch after another as your foot presses into the powder. An icy frost will obstruct your vision if you do not get warm soon enough. Monochromatic visions and full-blown hallucinations of your past pop-up time and time again, elaborating on Leonore’s diary entries. Everything just worked seamlessly to bring the story to life and personify the triumph of marital love.
PUBLISHER – Act 3 Games | DEVELOPER – Act 3 Games | ESRB – N/A | PLATFORMS – PC
Recommend – The Fidelio Incident creates a beautiful, modern story around a seldom talked about period of world history. The characters are easily accessible and authentic, and the visuals are gorgeous. Even though the Chekhov’s Gun of the story is never “taken off the wall,” the number of things the game does right outweighs its shortcomings.