Abarat, by Cliver Barker

Michael Baker

Once upon a world, where time is a place...

— Clive Barker, Abarat

When designing or borrowing an imaginary world to act as the setting for a game, there are a few important things to keep in mind. Is the world suitably fantastic, or otherwise suited for what you plan to do with it? Do the inhabitants "fit" within it? Is the villain suitably menacing? For those looking for a ready-made fantasy world, Clive Barker's Abarat manages to meet all these criteria.

Let us imagine a world that is an ocean, broad and deep. Upon its surface lies the archipelago known as the Abarat. Twenty-four islands, some big and some small, represent the hours of the day while an ominous pillar of wind and stormclouds obscures the 25th Hour at the center of it all. Calling them the Hours is not just a figure of speech, as each isle is permanently fixed at a certain time of day. Here are just a few:

At high noon lies Yzil, an overgrown jungle wherein lives a goddess who constantly breathes life into new species.

At eight in the evening lies Yebba Dim Day, a monolithic spar of granite carved into the bust of an ancient tyrant and now covered with a ramshackle city built of flotsam.

At three in the morning sits Pyon, recently become a neon-lit technopolis ruled by a rapacious plutocrat and his conglomerate.

And at the dark, dead hour of midnight lies Gorgossium, a land of horrors ruled by the lovelorn Christopher Carrion. He is a man who so treasures his own nightmares that they have gained an independent existence outside his skull (he feeds them useless slaves sometimes). Villains and brutes from across the Abarat flock to him in the hopes that their depraved acts may win them a place in his family's book of the unspeakable. He is a villain who fully embraces his role in the balance of light and darkness, whose moral compass is firmly fixed at Lawful Evil, and who is completely smitten with the Princess of Day.

If there is one thing that the Abarat does not lack, it is variety. From toothy-grinned tarrie-cats to pumpkin-headed goblins, from friendly merfolk who play poker on top of the waves to the unspeakable horrors that dwell beneath them, from late-night ziggurats to bazaars that never end, this is a world filled with the impossible and the insane. It is the sort of world that Chrono Cross and SaGa Frontier wanted to be. Its inhabitants are the sorts who would never fit into a more logical universe. The Abarat rose from the stuff that dreams are made of, and as with dreams anything may be possible here.

Few games ever approach the extremes of fancy found in this series, but perhaps they should. Sometimes it's more fun to just throw reality out the window and enjoy life as we wished it could be — with technicolor sparkles and black neon rainbows.

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