Retrospective: The 7th Guest

Have you ever replayed a game that you remember loving as a kid but that, in retrospect, wasn’t really that good?

For me, that game was The 7th Guest. To be fair, it isn’t a bad game at all. In fact, it’s pretty fun at points and has a creepy and sometimes goofy atmosphere that somehow works. It was also on the cutting edge in terms of graphics when it was released in 1993. Unlike its more mellow puzzle-adventure game cousin Myst, however, The 7th Guest hasn’t aged well at all.



The story of The 7th Guest is confusing at best. From what I could tell, a crazy murderer named Henry Stauf had a dream of a doll and then made that doll and sold it and eventually became an extremely successful dollmaker. Then he expanded into sliding block puzzle games. Then he went even more crazy and shut himself in a creepy horror movie mansion he also dreamed about (and then designed and built, I guess?) Finally, he invited six seemingly random guests to a dinner party at said creepy mansion full of his dolls and sliding block puzzles, promising them stuff that each wanted desperately if they attended. All of this is explained in the opening cutscene, but it still doesn’t make much sense.

Speaking of cutscenes, boy are there some fucking cutscenes. They’re really grainy and badly recorded and their sound is nearly impossible to make out. Then again, this was 1993, and FMV games were still pretty new, so maybe The 7th Guest can be given a break. The contents of the cutscenes, though, aren’t excusable, because they often make even less sense than the opening video and feature extremely bad acting. But hey, I couldn’t do any better myself, and I can’t imagine Trilobyte had a huge budget for acting talent, so whatever.

Stauf's guests, minus one.

Stauf’s guests, minus one.

So, the story. It’s kind of a mess. It’s not really clear why Stauf is doing what he’s doing, except that he’s crazy and possibly sold his soul to the Devil (Stauf = Faust?) His six guests are all assholes in their own special ways, which makes them pretty much unsympathetic victims to Stauf’s death trap of a house. I won’t spoil anything except to say that it’s weird as hell this game was given to me, because as stated above I played this when I was seven and there are some sexual references in it. Really weird, goofy references that are played for laughs more than anything else, but still. There are also loads of skulls and spiders, and Stauf’s voice makes fun of you sometimes if you can’t figure out his puzzles. By the way, Stauf isn’t anywhere to be seen in person at his own party. Not a very good party host, is he.

Stauf as the subject of one of his own puzzles.  Yeah, this guy seems pretty stable.

Stauf as the subject of one of his own puzzles. Yeah, this guy seems pretty stable.

And yeah, there are puzzles in this game. In fact, The 7th Guest can be fairly described as a puzzle game, because they’re about 98 percent of the whole experience: certain puzzles must be solved before some doors in the mansion can be unlocked and the story can progress. Some of the puzzles were pretty difficult to complete when I was a kid, but most of them are really just straightforward trial-and-error deals that aren’t too hard to work out. And of course, most of the puzzles have some kind of creepy skull/blood/spider theme to them. Oh Stauf, you wacky guy.

A few of the puzzles were especially frustrating (for example the Reversi blood cell game you played against the computer. That one sucked.) Also, some of the results of the completed puzzles were, well, puzzling.

I won't spoil the answer to this canned goods word puzzle, but it's pretty stupid.

I won’t spoil the answer to this canned goods word puzzle, but it’s pretty stupid.

One problem with The 7th Guest is that Trilobyte, the developer, clearly didn’t have enough interesting puzzle ideas in its stock to fill a whole game. Some of the puzzles were fun and interesting to work out, some were all right and a few were kind of dumb. Puzzle themes are also sometimes repeated, which can be annoying.

1 of 3 chess puzzles in the game.  Stauf was running out of ideas for puzzles at this point.

1 of 3 chess puzzles in the game. Stauf was running out of ideas for puzzles at this point.

Despite its problems, The 7th Guest was a fresh experience in the early 90s. It also stood up well against its competition and sold a lot of copies, which makes sense when you consider the typical quality of FMV games (shit.) This success spurred Trilobyte on to make a sequel, The 11th Hour, which like most other people I’ve never played. I hear it’s pretty bad, though. It was also a commercial flop. The success of the original probably couldn’t have been repeated anyway. By 1995, people were getting a lot more used to playing good games on their PCs, and I imagine Trilobyte’s stuff looked pretty poor with all its pockmarks by comparison.

What with the resurgence of gaming nostalgia, however, The 7th Guest recently returned from the grave. It’s been on Steam for a few months. Getting The 7th Guest on Steam is probably the only way to play the game today without using a virtual machine program to run Windows 95 and buying a probably expensive as hell original copy of the game, so it’s the best way to play it by far. Just keep in mind that The 7th Guest is 20 years old when you’re playing it. I’d recommend waiting for a Steam sale – a few dollars is well worth the cost of experiencing an essential part of PC game history.