Video Game: L'Abbaye des Morts

An obsolete videogame for a dark passage of history

Early XIIIth Century in the French region of Languedoc. The Albigensian Crusade, promoted by the Catholic Church against Catharism, is taking place. Jean Raymond, a Cathar monk, is fleeing from the crusaders and finds refuge in an abandoned church, not knowing that it holds an even greater evil inside...

A minor project from Locomalito after their Magnum Opus Hydorah, made in two weeks and just 23 screens long, L’Abbaye Des Morts is no less interesting due to the choice of making it similar to a ZX Spectrum game, specifically to platformers like Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy – but not as hard, luckily.

Can be downloaded here, along with a few nice extras. A map (which contains big spoilers, obviously) is available here.

Has been ported to several platforms, but most interesting is the actual ZX Spectrum version released in 2014.Also of note is an online HTML5 version that allows for switching between the original graphics and a new set.

Provides examples of:

  • All There in the Manual: Or better, on the net or history books. (The actual manual has only a scant explanation of gameplay and controls.) Beside the premise, you’ll need some research to understand the context – compared to other crusades, the Albigensian one is certainly not the most known.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: Not a bad case but the custom DVD cover for the game shows that English isn’t Locomalito’s mother language.note 
  • Busman's Holiday: For the developers. The inspiration came during a summer trip in Languedoc, and was such that they started making the game during the nights of the trip.
  • Church Of Evil: One of the game's screens is even named "Evil Church".
  • Creepy Cool Crosses: The Wheel of Faith changes inverted crosses into Cathar crosses (which have four arms all of the same lenght) and vice versa.
  • The Dark Ages
  • Downer Ending: Satan is banished but leaves a scroll telling Jean that he will be killed not by him but by human hands - in fact, Jean is burned at stake by the crusaders coming soon after. He is, however, welcomed in Paradise, so it may be considered a Bittersweet Ending in some ways.
  • The Dragon: There's a literal one in the catacombs beneath the church.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Bats, rats, spiders, worms, drops of water (Jean must be Made of Plasticine), skeletons, ghosts, dragons, even Death itself. Oh, and there's the crusaders knocking at the door...
  • Excuse Plot: Only apparently. Beside the historical context, the game's story is very thin, but more can be deduced thanks to the hint scrolls. It's implied that the four bodies hanging from the tree are of the monks who "changed their faith"; maybe, along with other eight monks, they were tasked to protect the church from an evil influence (or the church was built where it is for this reason). However, they betrayed their cause and became members of a Religion of Evil - 4 crosses out of 12 are not Cathar but inverted and need the Wheel of Faith to be collected. The four were discovered and hanged on the spot, and the church abandoned. Jean didn't know of the church's dark past but at least some of the crusaders did – so he was automatically thought as another evil cultist.
  • Foreign Language Title: The title is "The Abbey of the Dead" in French. The manual is in English and Spanish.
  • The Grim Reaper: Present as a boss of sorts – like everything in the game, you can just avoid its attacks to try and get a cross.
  • Leap of Faith: As a hint scroll says, you'll need to perform one at some point.
  • Nintendo Hard: Surprisingly averted, given Locomalito's previous game. Abbaye is challenging but fair, with nine lives, a few extra ones scattered around, and reusable checkpoints. You can move freely while jumping, which is useful in tighter situations. It also helps that the game’s short, and takes about ten minutes if you know what to do.
  • One-Hit-Point Wonder
  • Retraux: 16 colors palette, 1 color per sprite; 1 channel monophonic music, using only squarewave form. In Locomalito's intentions, it's also helpful for the atmosphere, thanks to the bright-colored sprites standing out over the black background.
  • Satan: The final enemy – as in the rest of the game, you have to avoid its attacks and get an item to win.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: The crusaders burn Jean after they mistakenly believe he was a worshipper of Satan, but they probably would have killed him anyway.
  • Shout-Out: Like in the games that inspired it, every screen has its own name. One even drops a hint for the player.
  • Updated Re-release: The HTML 5 version. The game is always the same, and the sound too, but the new graphic set has much more color and detail (although it's also quite darker), looking like a game from the 16 bit era.