You might not know this, but the Myst game series is one of my all-time favorites. Actually, for a lot of you, the most immediate question brought to mind is probably “Wait, series?” So many people seem completely unaware that there were five games after Myst: Riven, Myst III: Exile, Myst IV: Revelation, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, and Myst V: End of Ages. Actually, before it was notably common, Uru had expansion packs, To D’ni and Path of the Shell. I’d even go so far as to say Myst itself is the least interesting game in the whole series, although it does a great job of setting up what is an ultimately fascinating storyline.
If you’ve never played or heard of Myst, which before The Sims held the record for best-selling CD-ROM game of all time, I’ll quickly explain. You, who are never named (or gendered), land on Myst Island, which is covered in weird machines and curios. The way you land there is a little mysterious: you press your hand against an animated image of Myst in a book at the bottom of a fissure. It turns out this world is full of books that transport you to other places by placing your hand on them. When you arrive, there’s only a note from some dude, Atrus, asking his wife, Catherine, to find some message he left for her. What follows is a strange journey that involves Atrus’ two sons, Sirrus and Achenar, trapped in strange books in a library, trips to four other worlds, called Ages, and a tale of betrayal and abuse of power.
Unfortunately, for many people, clicking around the island and trying to figure out the honestly challenging puzzles wasn’t as exciting as stomping enemies in Mario, so many people never finished it and never looked past it. Books didn’t just transport people to other worlds. They were also there to be, well, read. Some of the clues you need are in the few surviving books in a mostly burned up library, journals written by Atrus about his adventures in the other Ages — Mechanical, Channelwood, Selenitic, and Stoneship — all of which he also wrote himself. Accessing those Ages requires solving puzzles around Myst to reveal their linking books, and once you get to each Age, it’s easy to just not have a clue what to do.
Admittedly, I only managed to complete the game by constantly traveling to Electronics Boutique at the nearby mall and flipping through the guide. (There’s a reason they’re wrapped in plastic nowadays.) But I was invested in this world enough to want to explore more. I haven’t seen lore of this kind in any other game, and I was mesmerized at the thought of people literally writing new worlds. Whereas Myst is a rather lonesome experience, what with the majority of people you interact with talking through books, the sequel, Riven, was a vast departure.
Compared to its predecessor, Riven was literally about the one eponymous age. At the good ending of Myst, Atrus informs you that his father, Ghen, has kidnapped Catherine, the very woman who was supposed to find your message. Riven is made up of multiple islands that you access by taking mysterious trams that connect them. Already, by taking one tram, more curiosities are revealed as it delves into the depths of the surrounding water. You see, the tram isn’t covered, and it looks like tunnels were dug through the water since no nonporous substance, such as glass, was used to shield these tunnels. On top of trying to find Ghen, you encounter the people of Riven, who you learn have been subjugated by him somehow. You also learn that Riven used to be just one island but is constantly being ripped apart by various instabilities in the Age.
What I loved so much about Riven was how organic all the puzzles were to the environment. Instead of shuttling off to new ages with strange objects and puzzles, Riven itself was unified. It had wildlife all its own, a unique race of people, and a culture that binds it all. It was also in Riven that you learn more about the D’ni culture, to whom Atrus, Ghen, and his sons belong. They have a numbering system unlike ours that is actually base twenty-five and has unique symbols. (Ours is base ten.) Oh, and they can write books that transport you to other worlds.
My favorite part was the big puzzle, which none of the other games even tried to match in scope or awesomeness. In order to finish the game, it’s necessary to activate a Riven-wide power system. However, when you do find and approach it, it is literally a 25×25 grid with six colored beads to place in it that has 58,752,420,690,993,751 possible solutions, so it’s actually impossible to guess. The actual solution requires players to pay attention to almost every aspect of the island in order to figure it out, an incredible challenge that has yet to be sufficiently matched, in my humble opinion. Riven also features other puzzles, whose solutions are randomly generated on each new game.
Although I enjoyed every game, I had no plan on gushing about each one here. However, I’d like to end it off with talking about Uru: Ages Beyond Myst. This game was actually not really about Atrus and his family like the others, although it did feature his daughter, Yeesha. Instead, Uru was actually about the D’ni, the driving force behind all the games. It is also in Uru that players customize avatars, which are controlled from a third-person perspective. The game was planned as an online experience, where players would meet each other to try and solve puzzles together, something later done in Journey. However, for a number of reasons, the servers were shut down (and kind of restored). Insert sad face here.
It is disappointing to hear that, but I didn’t end up playing the game until Uru: Complete Chronicles, which includes the game and expansion packs, came out. During the course of Uru, you explore the vast city where the D’ni used to live and learn more about their culture and linking books. If you were a fan of the actual Myst backstory, this was kind of huge. There is a lot of reading, but you can learn about all the kings, the guilds, and cultural quirks of the people that once inhabited this world. Moreover, it is revealed that the D’ni argued about their own abilities, known as The Art. Do the Ages they write begin life when the last word is penned, or have they always existed, where each revision represents an alternate reality? This argument creates quite the moral conundrum when you realize that the first game focused on a number of burned books.
If any of this garnered most interest in the Myst games, I implore you to seek them out and play them. I’ve linked to where you can buy all of them, my favorites all being on the amazing GOG.com. I also encourage you to download Jack Wall’s scores for Myst III: Exile and Myst IV: Revelation, which are amazing. The world as imagined by Cyan is just so vast and interesting that any good adventure gamer should check them out. If you’re a fan, I’d love to hear your stories, too!
Oh, and Cyan is finally making a completely new adventure, Obduction. You should be aware.
Gil is a video game enthusiast and professional meanderer. When he’s not giving people his unsolicited grammar corrections, he is out and about seeking exciting food and even more exciting single-player experiences. He’s got one of them Twitters (@gilmeansjoy) and a blog or something (fromthebacklog.blogspot.com).