Wisdom Quest is the second title in the Journey to Wild Divine trilogy of games, billed as promoting “meditation training for the mind and body”. I reviewed the first game in the series, The Passage, a while ago, and was very impressed with the use of biofeedback to solve quests and progress in the game. The Passage taught breathing and meditation techniques through its many quests, which I found to perceptibly help reduce stress and achieve a more relaxed state of mind. So it was with great anticipation that I started playing the next title in the trilogy.
I might as well get this out of the way right at the beginning: Wisdom Quest does not come bundled with the biofeedback hardware which is a prerequisite for playing it. To get the biofeedback equipment, you will have to purchase the first game in the series, The Passage, which at about $150 doesn’t come cheap (although it has sold over 50,000 copies despite the price). Wisdom Quest also assumes some knowledge of the skills and techniques taught in the first game, and you will most certainly find it harder to complete the quests in this game if you haven’t played The Passage.
In its essence, Wisdom Quest is a Myst-like adventure game, set in a realm of imposing mountainous landscapes, majestic palaces, gorgeous temples, enchanting pools and an abundance of enlightened gurus. The game is based on a loose plot to locate seven precious stones that will heal and restore peace in the Sun Realm, and presents you with a series of tasks that you must complete in order to succeed with your objective. What’s different here is that a majority of the quests in the game are completed not by solving brain wracking puzzles or finding/using/combing inventory items alone, but by regulating your body’s rhythm and energy level. The biofeedback equipment used by this game consists of sensors which hook onto three fingers of one of your hands, while the other controls the mouse to navigate and interact with objects on the screen. These sensors detect your heart rate and skin conductivity levels to determine your energy level, based on whether you’re feeling stressed, anxious, relaxed or excited. To succeed in Wisdom Quest, you will need to learn how to regulate your energy level, lowering it to become more relaxed, raising it to feel more excited, or a combination of these two extremes. The Passage taught several breathing techniques for this purpose. Wisdom Quest builds upon these, and presents more advanced techniques to enable you to achieve the level of calmness and relaxation required to complete the quests in the game.
Much like The Passage, there are several biofeedback based activities in this game. Many of these are essential to complete the game, but a few are just there to help you relax, or train you for harder activities later in the game. Several of these activities will require you to lower your energy level. For instance, one such activity requires you to drain a pool of water and reveal a secret passage. The calmer you become, the lower the water level gets. Another activity requires you to gain the trust of a sacred serpent which is guarding a precious stone. As you become more relaxed, the serpent gradually lowers itself into a basket. Once it is safely tucked away in the basket, you can grab the stone and move on.
Other biofeedback activities will require you to raise your energy level. This is typically easier to do than activities requiring you to relax, by breathing vigorously, laughing out loud or yelling like Tarzan. One such activity requires you to open a treasure chest, with the force of your energy. Another requires you to repair a footbridge, by raising and then maintaining your elevated energy level. If you do so successfully, the footbridge planks will begin to repair themselves. Once the bridge is complete, you will be able to cross it and take a ride on a hot air balloon as your reward.
A lot of the activities in Wisdom Quest are of the more advanced type, which will require you to either gradually or rapidly vary your energy level. One such activity requires you to navigate a golden stone through a crystal maze. You must raise your energy to get the stone to go vertically upwards and lower it to make it descend, as it moves in a horizontal direction. Not only must you vary your energy level in rapid succession, you must also figure out which path leads out of the maze while you’re doing so. An even harder activity involves taking a dolphin to one end of a pool by lowering your energy, and then rapidly raising your energy to make it swim to the other end and jump through an open gate. This had to be done several times in succession for all the dolphins in the pool. These advanced biofeedback activities have been specially designed to teach you to effectively control your energy levels.
To successfully navigate the more challenging of these biofeedback activities,Wisdom Quest teaches in-depth meditation and breathing techniques. The Tibetan monk from The Passage makes an appearance again, and sits at the lower right hand corner of the screen, guiding you through the activities at the click of a mouse. There is also a butterfly which appears at the bottom of the screen, beating its wings rhythmically to guide the tempo of your breathing for some of the activities. And time and again, a magical fairy will pop out of thin air to give you some much needed hints if you get stuck.
Wisdom Quest has tied up with Deepak Chopra, the new age guru, who makes several appearances in the game, to give insights from his latest New York Times Bestseller, “The Book of Secrets”. There are also several other characters that appear throughout the game, some of whom were also present in The Passage, to teach you new activities and skills, or offer discourses on spirituality and new-age philosophy. The gorgeous graphics, soothing background music and sound effects in the environment blend seamlessly together to create a tranquil atmosphere, which you will want to return to again and again.
So how does Wisdom Quest fare compared to its predecessor, The Passage? While the look and feel of the new installment is quite similar to that of the original, there are several subtle enhancements. In fact, it seems that almost every issue that irked me when I played The Passage has been addressed in this sequel. The graphics engine uses QuickTimeVR features to now allow you a 360 degree view of your surroundings. The lengthy motion animation sequences which are triggered every time you move to a new destination can now mercifully be interrupted with a click of the mouse. The MAP feature has also been enhanced, so that now you can click on the map to be transported to any previously visited location. This is light years better than the scheme used in The Passage, which limited you to being transported to a maximum of two bookmarked locations.
One of the biggest improvements is the inclusion of several difficulty levels. The Journey to Wild Divine series of biofeedback adventures are not by any means easy to plough through. Some of the activities can require an extraordinary amount of patience as you learn to regulate your energy levels. While the learning curve is not really all that steep, some of the more advanced activities can be fairly challenging. The choice of difficulty levels, which can be switched at any time during the game, allows a convenient way to overcome particularly difficult activities, and keep you moving in the game. Another very welcome feature in Wisdom Quest is the Guided Activity mode, in addition to the normal Quest mode. The Guided Activity mode allows you to select and play through several of the biofeedback activities (there are a total of 20 included in this mode) from the Quest mode. Included with the game is a booklet which describes the activities in the Guided Activity mode, and tells you how they can be useful to you. I found this an extremely useful feature, since I often returned to replay several of the biofeedback activities to relax and unwind.
That is not to say that I did not have any complaints about the game. Some of the new-age video clips from the game were vague and nebulous, seemingly the product of an extremely spaced out mind. I was left scratching my head after viewing some of the clips, wondering whether there was any meaningful message that I failed to latch on to. I also felt that some of video clips of the characters were quite inexpertly spliced together. Then there’s the save game interface, which makes use of an ugly windows dialog box. I doubt it would have been too hard to create an integrated save game interface, consistent with the look and feel of the rest of the game. Finally, I had expected the graphics from The Passage to be completely overhauled for Wisdom Quest. They are definitely better, but still nowhere near as good as a majority of the games that have been released of late.
To wrap up, despite all my criticism, Wisdom Quest does manage to make several improvements over the first game, providing a deeper, more meaningful experience. There is much more to explore and a greater variety of biofeedback activities, than what The Passage had to offer. The game creates an immensely serene environment for you to relax and learn skills which will help you to alleviate stress and anxiety from your everyday life. If you bought The Passage and liked it, you will definitely enjoy Wisdom Quest. For those of you who are still to play the first game, might I recommend glancing through my review of The Passage to help make up your mind?
Final Grade: A
- Biofeedback Hardware (available with The Journey to Wild Divine: The Passage)
- Available USB port (for biofeedback hardware)
- 1.5 GB of Disk Space
- 256 MB RAM
- 800x600 screen resolution
- SoundBlaster or compatible sound card and speakers
- QuickTime 6.5 or higher
- Windows 2000/XP
- Intel Pentium III, 800 MHz processor or higher
- CD-ROM drive
- G4 or higher, running at 800 MHz or more
- OS-X v10.2.6 or later
- DVD drive