As mentioned previously, all ages in this game, barring Tomahna, were written by Atrus to illustrate driving principles of the Art to his sons. Each is therefore associated to a specific concept, appearing as a bolded phrase in Atrus’ journal. While this plays into the criticism the game receives for making its puzzles too obvious, it also makes sense: what better way to teach than by example? Besides, this gives each age a more defined identity than the usual ‘industrial’ or ‘natural’ categories. Also, it makes sense to reward a lesson well-learned, which I find is ample justification for the ‘rides’ that Voltaic, Edanna and Amateria end on. Some people thought they were superfluous, but I had a blast. As for Narayan, it’s a reward in itself, the combination of the lessons from all the other ages, which also explains why Narayani writing is present in each of them. Each is also connected to J’nanin via two linking books: one at the beginning, should you get stumped and decide to try your hand at another age (be warned, however, that this will reset all the current age’s puzzles), and one at the end, to bring you back once you’ve achieved your goal. Just as in Myst, there’s no set order for visiting these ages, so I start with the one I like the least and end with my favourite.
Tomahna: A spectacular canyon of red rock somewhere in New Mexico, where Atrus and Catherine have built a home for themselves. You don’t spend much time here and can only visit two rooms (a terrace and Atrus’ office), but the little you do see is lovely, with a general architecture that smacks of art déco and a prevalence of greens and yellows. The terrace overlooks the canyon, combining sunlight with abundant shade provided by plants. Atrus’ office is more muted in design, but features tapestries depicting his experiences with the D’ni survivors and elegant wooden furniture. If you’ve played Riven, you may also experience a twang of regret upon finding its linking book on a stand behind Atrus’ desk. Yes, you can open it. No, it isn’t pretty.
J’nanin: Accessed via the linking book Saavedro leaves behind after stealing Releeshahn, this age serves as a hub between the remaining four. Also, considering that its purpose is to provide a lesson on the Art, it strikes me as no coincidence that its name should resemble “jnana”, the Sanskrit word for “knowledge”. The weather is sunny, with a fresh breeze blowing in from the sea, and the age itself is a rocky island with what appear to be three gigantic white tusks towering around its perimeter. A fourth tusk rises up from a lake in the middle of a deep hollow located at the centre of the island and supports a lookout post, where Saavedro barricades himself on arrival. At the base of that tusk is an exquisite little building which looks like a gem floating on the lake and houses an office, which Saavedro has been using as living quarters. There’s also a very strange rock formation which produces an eerie sound when the wind blows through it. Each tusk houses a linking book to one of the ages connected to J’nanin. The three peripheral tusks each have a window halfway up their length, depicting a symbol associated with the age they link to and are each accessed in a manner typical of that age. Each is also associated with a colour: red, green or blue. The central tusk contains the book for Narayan, which Saavedro uses to escape your pursuit and which can only be accessed once the other three ages have been completed.
Voltaic: As its name suggests, this is an ‘industrial’ age, based on the principle of energy, and therefore the one I like the least, due to its barren landscape and the prevalence of oversized, rusty machinery. Its linking book is located in the ‘red’ tusk, which has a symbol that looks suspiciously like the Playboy Bunny and the most complicated access mechanism of the three, but also the most visible, which is another good reason to do this age first. The age itself is a formation of reddish rock, somewhat reminiscent of a fortress. The link-in spot is located near the remnants of a watchtower of sorts, although its entrance door is locked. Across from it, you can see a dam. Once past the island’s outer ‘wall’, you’ll find a large hollow space, occupied by a gigantic metallic shield enclosing a gondola (which is what was actually depicted on the tusk symbol) and a long pipe which looks like a spine, running between the shield and the opposite rock face. The age also features underground power and thermal plants. The goal here is to find a way to power up the entire complex, although the conclusion to this procedure may come as a surprise.
Edanna: The nature age, located in the ‘green’ tusk with the symbol of a bird. Accessing it is fairly easy, although it does involve decidedly unconventional methods and requires you to get acquainted with one of Edanna’s native denizens: an adorable little critter called a squee, which looks like a cross between a chipmunk and a rabbit. The age itself looks like a gigantic, inward-growing tree: a pillar of grey bark rising out of an ocean, protecting a complex ecosystem. The top of the tree is exposed to the elements and therefore sports scant plant life, but the lower levels are a bona fide tropical jungle, teeming with the most curious flora and fauna. I don’t think that the resemblance between “Edanna” and “Eden” is coincidental. Almost everything here is organic, from structures to pathways, to light sources, and, in the purest tradition of the ciiiircle of liiiiiife, everything is interconnected. Aside from the squee, you’ll also encounter a strange species of fish, somewhat like a mix between a squid and a stingray, and a very large bird. This is definitely one of the most inventive and unusual ages in the Myst series, but the squishy, squelchy textures and noises of most of the plants put me off a bit.
Amateria: I love everything about this age: the gorgeous sunset captured in the perfect stillness preceding a storm (which you can see brewing in the distance), the glassy surface of the sea reflecting the gold and purple sky, the Asian vibe of the architecture and decorations (special mention for the little boat lanterns), the inventiveness of the puzzles, the ‘physics theme park’ feel of the whole thing, and the breathtaking final sequence. Incidentally, the Asian thematic is also apparent in the age’s name, which resembles Amaterasu, the sun goddess in Shinto religion. You’ll find the linking book to this age in the ‘blue’ tusk with an oval symbol (which is recurrent in the age itself), and while accessing it is a bit of a slapdash business, it’s still representative of what you’ll find once there: forces and motion. The age consists of a large wooden pagoda, situated in the middle of some rock formations which, as is clearly apparent on the Western side of the island, were inspired by the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. In some places, the rocks exhibit a strange phosphorescent substance, which appears to give them the faculty to levitate. Access to the pagoda is protected by three codes, each obtained by solving a puzzle which involves making a large ball of ice travel safely along a circuit, hence the rails you see all over the place. However, herein lies my only criticism: these codes are the same on every playthrough, which means you could essentially bypass the entire age once you’ve jotted them down. Riven, this is not. And yet, it’s still my favourite age in the entire series.
Narayan: The fact that its name is based on one of the names of Vishnu (the most important deity in Hinduism) is probably meant to reflect the status of this age as the culminating point of the lessons learned via J’nanin and its attendant ages. This is Saavedro’s home, but your explorations will be limited to the small structure you link into. All around is an energy shield that looks like a cocoon, which makes everything beyond it appear indistinct and lifeless. A smaller shield blocks the exit to a terrace, off which a gondola is anchored. The building itself seems to be a mix of metallic structures, and a complex weave of branches and veiny green membranes. There’s a furnace supplying power to the building, and a small turret where Saavedro locks himself after confronting you. The link-in room is hung with Narayani tapestries, depicting symbols representing various concepts, although Saavedro has ripped one off to make some new duds for himself. If you’ve been paying attention throughout the game, the puzzle here should be self-evident, but the choices you can make afterwards…maybe not so much.