I never thought I’d find myself interested in Philosophy. The idea simply never seemed appealing to me. While I may be prone to bursts of keyboard-warrior outrage from time to time, it’s very different from making points on our existence itself straight in front of the opposition. From my memory, I can not recall a single game that explored this concept through a video game, especially not as utterly bold and smooth as this game manages to do. Socrates Jones managed to spark some sense of interest in the subject matter, luring me in with a deceptively simple Phoenix Wright style system that immediately managed to catch my eye when browsing the many, many games that make Kongregate their home. Again, I never thought I’d find myself interested in Philosophy but here I am making a debate for my opinion on this small, compelling little game. If anything, it’s at least been able to convince me to that and that is a merit to be celebrated.
As I said in my introduction, Socrates Jones takes very obvious inspiration from the Phoenix Wright series, a somewhat popular series of games about playing the role of a lawyer and making your case in court. Both of the subjects these games focus on are very similar in that in both games, you are tasked with debating your point to the opposition, being careful not to say anything stupid and lose all credibility. In Socrates Jones, the argument you are making is the much debated discussion of just what morality is. Throughout the game, you have to pinpoint the flaws in your opponent’s beliefs; your opponents being many famous philosophers throughout history. The developers obviously did their research because most of their names were lost on me, except for Socrates who is sure to ring a bell in the majority of people.
After a short tutorial in which you are introduced to the game’s mechanics through deer repellent(don’t even ask), these renowned philosophers will present a variety of ideas which you’ll each have to approach from a different angle. While I am impressed by the developers’ attempts to construct a game around something so complex, the gameplay is ultimately shallow and repetitive. You listen to what your opponent says and then relentlessly assault them over and over with “Ask for clarification”, “Press for backing” and “Question relevance”. There is no penalty for simply brute-forcing your way through with this until eventually you make a counter-claim from your sheet of limited options to highlight a discrepancy in their reasoning. This can be brute-forced too, albeit slightly slower as it does take away from your credibility bar which causes a Game Over once it runs out. However, I often found the right point quite easily or entirely on accident. As well as this, the difficulty curve is wobbly at best. Maybe it’s just me but the guy I had the most trouble on was the one you face first(not counting the tutorial).
What propels you forward in the game isn’t the gameplay, it’s the writing and to a certain extent, the story. I felt some kind of connection to the protagonist in the sense that, he also has(or had) literally no interest in Philosophy. The only reason he’s engaging with these famous faces of Philosophy is to cheat death and come back from the dead along with his daughter by finding the answer to what morality is. Shortly after the start of the game, Socrates crashes his car while taking his teenage daughter to school leaving him dead and his daughter comatose. Ariadne, the aforementioned daughter, and her father end up in some kind of weird philosophical afterlife where the only way out is to be granted a wish by finding an answer to the question. This gives you more motivation to slug through the endless barrage of question-posing and kept me playing to the end of the game.
As well as this, the writing is well-phrased and you can tell a lot of time was put into replicating Phoenix Wright’s style and making the plentiful sentences less of a bore to read. For example, the “NONSENSE!!!” a character shouts when refuting a point is an obvious parody of “OBJECTION!!!” from the Phoenix Wright games. Humour and wit also sneak their way into the exposition and questions with such guile that they provide a good reason in themselves to check out this game.
While the game may be somewhat at a bore when simply looking at the gameplay side of things, the writing and wacky yet structured concept with not-so-subtle hints of Phoenix Wright hold it up. Though there are not many characters and there isn’t much animation to speak of, the bits that are there are done in enough flair to make up for it. If you like a bit more action in your games then Socrates Jones will most likely bore you, but for anyone else, it’s… still kinda boring but such a bastion of uniqueness in a world of grey clicker and launch games you’ll still definitely enjoy it.
- Great writing
- Nice art style
- Unique concept
- Unique concept
- Shallow and repetitive gameplay is a bore
- Drags on a bit
- Can just brute-force your way through the debates