Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Witch's House

I'm not sure what to do image-wise... maybe this?
Kinda bland, I know.
Or maybe this? It's fan-made, but it's pretty cool.

Unfortunately, because it's a Japanese RPG horror game, there's no official cover image. I'm not even sure how I found this, but I tend to have a soft spot for these kinds of games, and they can be really good. This particular game is no exception, and it is seriously dark.

It all starts when you, Viola, a 13-year-old, blonde girl, wake up in a forest. The only thing you have on you is part of a note from your dad, which says, "mind if you go to her house, but just stay away from the forest. Hope to see you home soon." Not super helpful at this point, but whatever. Then you find a machete, cut your way into the house, and explore. All around the house are diaries written by the aforementioned witch, so there's some backstory. If you don't mind jump-scares, the atmosphere has a great feel to it- the music is creepy and does a nice job setting the mood even if it is a bit unremarkable, there's never something right around the corner until there is (by that I mean, you never quite expect it), and having pots fall or statues follow me never stops freaking me out... there's something about environments like this, where there are not only dangerous entities but the whole goddam setting is out to get you, where you can't help but appreciate how damn creepy every little thing is. It's awesome.

So you're Viola, right, and you have to get to the top story of the house so you can tell this ghost girl to let you leave. This girl appears several times just to mess with your head, and you can always recognize her by her blueish-purplish hair. Couldn't tell this was Japanese. Anyway, one of the only major complaints I have are for the characters. They really don't have much personality because there's no dialogue. I know that in games like this, you control the main character and develop him/her yourself, I get that, but it isn't until the final ending scene that they really show a clear personality, or any clear relationship between characters. The diaries are good, but they're just not enough. Also, who the hell leaves around a bunch of open diaries, especially ones that only contain little tidbits such as "I was sick, so no one played with me. My father and my mother didn't love me." I would be embarrassed, personally.

All that being said, the final scene (the True Ending, not the Normal Ending... I'll explain later) paired with the diaries could be enough to satisfy my craving for deep characters and development, and I think that the two combined make for characters that you can at least identify with, maybe even love. I mean, there's a ton of fan art, so I'm sure it's enough for some people, but... I don't know, I just feel like they're settling a little. But on to the many positives.

The game feels pretty much how you'd expect; you've got your arrow keys, your action button, a menu with inventory, and, surprisingly, sprint. I found the ability to sprint very useful. Actually, speaking of, there are an ungodly amount of ways to die. Seriously, there is a vast plethora of demises ranging from expected to frustratingly unannounced, and from brutal to unimaginably inhumane. Which is good, it's fun, especially considering that there are plenty of save points. So here's a video I compiled of me going back and re-experiencing the first five minutes, where I died six times. As a side note, the game's usually much smoother than it is in the video, but recording it lessened the quality.

And I love the fact that my untimely perishes come in so many forms, it just means you need to figure out how to avoid them. It only took me about an hour and a half to beat the game, but then again I've been told I'm a video game master, so don't hold yourself to that standard. Some of the puzzles are really tough to figure out and could take you quite a while, and there might be some that you just have to look up, but they're pretty clever puzzles so almost all of them are a lot of fun. And then there's my favorite part of the game: the endings. 

There are two: the Normal Ending and the True Ending. Most people get the Normal Ending, and it's good, it's satisfying, hopeful, and pretty plain. But if you get the special object in the final chase, you get the True Ending, and it explains everything, it's what really develops and explains the characters, and you need to get it. The truth will change the way you view the game, a twist that redefines the characters, setting, the entire plot. I find that the main theme in this game is ignorance, and it handles the theme very well. In this game, ignorance is truly bliss, it's comfort, but it won't make you any progress. The only way a character, or the player, for that matter, can truly succeed is through knowledge, so you, as the player, make a choice: will you allow yourself to remain blissfully unaware, believing that the story concludes with a happy tie-back, or will you choose the explicit ending, end your ignorance and expose exactly what the characters know- and what they don't.

Another Diary Entry:
"I don't like illness. Because it keeps me from going outside. Because it made no one love me." It's never just friend drama with this girl.

Conclusion: A great game, no matter what you do. But it's exponentially better if you do the True Ending, especially if you get it after the Normal Ending. Great atmosphere, good feel, good plot, great ending, this game has it all (except strong characters throughout). Overall, I had a lot of fun and I think that people who can appreciate games of all genres and types will too.

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