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Secret Paths in the Forest is a puzzle game that was developed and published by Purple Moon and released in 1997. It is the first game in the Secret Paths series by release order, which is set approximately one year before the Rockett series and two years before The Starfire Soccer Challenge, which was aimed to spin off a new Starfire Soccer series. The continuity as a whole is also referred to as Purple Moon as the developer never made any other games.
The game was released concurrently with Rockett's New School, but while it got considerably less publicity than its twin title, it still made its mark in the beginning of the 1990s surge of girl-oriented computer games.
The Forest Treehouse is a magical place that can be accessed from anywhere for help if someone is in need. A group of seven girls, who normally do not interact in school and sometimes outright dislike one another, have bonded in this secret place and converted it into a girls-only clubhouse. Time acts oddly around the treehouse, and two other girls from vastly different time periods have met this group before and been chosen to help them with their problems. The first is Hannah-Rose, who lived at least one hundred years before the setting; she has passed the duty to the second, the player, leaving behind her diary, which acts as an in-universeinstruction manual.
Each girl has a power that not even she understands; she can lead the player character through the door of the Forest Treehouse and end up in a mystical Secret Path. These are beautiful scenic paths that have the basic theme of "forest" in their design, although they take the theme in vastly different directions. Inside are puzzles which, upon solving, reveal Secret Paths Stones. Upon collecting all of a girl's stones, they form a Garland, or a necklace that displays a fable with the answer to her problem.
The stories of the Secret Paths games are split into optional story arcs; clicking on one of the girls in the Forest Treehouse will move the player through her path as past events leading up to her predicament are revealed.
Darnetta doesn't want to care about school. She has been making bad grades, which her mother berates her for, but her ambition lies far beyond marks. She wants to start a travelling dragonfly circus. Her older sister, Peggy, is an overachiever that can't see why Darnetta would want to waste time on something so frivolous, and Darnetta feels that she has to become her sister to please her mother. Upon completion of Darnetta's Secret Path, which resembles overgrown ancient ruins, she is presented with the tale of The Bears Who Couldn't Get Along and decides that Peggy isn't perfect either. If she asks her sister to help her with her homework, she will teach Peggy to have more fun.
Dana just lost the soccer championship for her whole team, and she blames herself, although no one else is angry with her. She even wonders if she should quit playing, deeming herself useless. Once Dana's path, a meadow filled with wheat and framed with trees, is complete, she hears "A Tale of Unity" and realizes that a team is a lot of pepole, and winning isn't the prime objective.
In the absence of Whitney's mother, her father has found a new girlfriend. Whitney fears the coming of her birthday, which her mother always "made special" with her "birthday box" of decorations and games. She reviles the idea of her father's girlfriend trying to replace her mother by using the box, but her birthday would feel empty without it. After completion of Whitney's tropical path, Whitney hears The Snow Child, and embraces the memory of her mother as someone that cannot be replaced while allowing for a relationship with her father's girlfriend.
Unlike the others, who appear in other games in the Purple Moon canon, Minh is a character invented specifically for this game. A Vietnamese immigrant, she is shy and ashamed of her heritage, just wanting to fit in. However, her grandmother is proud of her original country, and being seen with her embarrasses Minh. After finding all of the stones in the moonlit lake that is Minh's path and hearing The Hedley Kow, she recognizes that there are good things about being different from everybody else.
Jessie came home one day to learn that her mother had a "surprise" for her—she was being sent to summer camp. Jessie's irrational fear of the forest comes out in full force, and she refuses to go. Not entirely ironically, Jessie's path is a typical deciduous forest, but as she learns, the most "dangerous" things in it are benign singing spiders and a deer that is just as afraid of people as Jessie is of the forest. The Fearful Rabbit, her fable, inspires her to brave the forest and enjoy camp.
The school achiever, Miko wins all kinds of various awards, especially in chess. However, students, parents, and even teachers are speaking out against her being allowed in the upcoming chess tournament, because she will inevitably win and bring down the spirits of the other competitors. Miko herself is more discouraged with each day about entering. Her path, a tumbleweed-crossed desert, reflects a life where Miko's joy is sapped from the things that she loves to do. Sari's Story insists that it does no good to fear success, and Miko enters the chess tournament- if anyone has anything to say, she'll enter the music recital too, to prove that she's not perfect.
Viva is a skilled ballet dancer, and the only one in the class that can perform the modern dance moves that her instructor has set out for the next recital. However, none of this matters to her, she says; "I still look like a flamingo!" Not tall, slender and straight-haired like the other girls, Viva is discouraged by sticking out. Her path is an elegant Japanese koi garden with frogs, pelicans and yes, flamingos. The story that waits at the end is The Bird Who Couldn't Sing, which celebrates Viva's being different from the other girls, and she gladly returns to dance.
The Secret Paths games are puzzle games where one selects a girl (in this game, from a paper doll in her image in the top drawer of the "Friendship Box" end table) and plays through her Path, clicking warped pieces of foliage to see scenes leading up to her problem or her own thoughts. Puzzles are set throughout the Path, the completion of which presents the player with Secret Paths Stones. A purple flower appears in the corner of some screens and can be clicked to change the level of difficulty on that puzzle.