Tomorrow is Halloween and, with that, the end of October as a whole. Boo hiss. I LOVE OCTOBER, DAMNIT! LET ME ENJOY THIS!
Anyway, with tomorrow being the month’s death knell and the fact that there are still some horror games I wanted to highlight, I figured a “grab bag” post of sorts with multiple games would be the most ideal way to do so. It’s kind of like trick-or-treating on Halloween and finding that house that gives out more than one piece of candy — perhaps they even have a large bucket sitting on their porch, unattended, leaving it to the honor system. So, instead of getting one game today, you get three! See! I’m nice, so don’t egg my house, you little shits!
Today’s games are The House in Fata Morgana, Vampyr, and SOMA. Talk about choice pieces of chocolate!
The House in Fata Morgana: Dreams of the Revenants Edition
This lengthy visual novel takes place throughout multiple generations via the eyes of a mysterious mansion. You awaken inside one day, met by a maid who claims you’re the mansion’s “master,” though you seem to be stricken by amnesia. This isn’t a cliche JRPG world-spanning conquest, though.
The term “Fata Morgana” literally means “mirage” and the mansion itself seems to magically appear to those who need it — from a traveling merchant lost in the woods to a young beggar in need of a new home.
Each chapter focuses on one generation of owner, narrated by the maid, while you mostly watch and listen. Later chapters actually force you to make important dialogue choices in order to reach one of the game’s multiple endings, but, as I mentioned upfront, The House in Fata Morgana is a VERY LONG visual novel. The artwork is absolutely beautiful, blending hand-drawn character models and heavily altered photographs as backdrops, alongside expertly written tale(s) of innocence lost, tragedy, mental struggles, racism, and, of course, murder. It also has the best soundtrack of 2019 and it’s not even close.
It’s not horror in the sense that it’s full of jump scares and hungry monsters and whatnot, but more psychological with its many woven tales and branching narratives. This version of the game not only includes The House in Fata Morgana (the main story, which is ~40 hours long), but a prequel chapter, a sequel chapter, and a few short stories. What’s more, it’s cross-buy on PS4 and Vita, so if you have both (like many of us VN genre fans), you get access to both versions.
I can’t actually find a good Let’s Play for this one, but if you’re into visual novels that lean on the darker side of things, The House in Fata Morgana is one of my favorite games of 2019 and I still haven’t seen it through all the way. It’s just an expertly written visual novel with a great look and an even better soundtrack that all just works so well in tandem with one another.
TaotheNinja does have a full playthrough of the main story, but he doesn’t vocally read the text and tends to go through it rather quickly. At the very least, this should give you an idea of what to expect if you’re curious.
Recently released for the Nintendo Switch, Life is Strange developer DONTNOD’s genre-blending Vampyr is, at its core, a horror game with large chunks of action, adventure, and RPG mechanics, along with a heavy dose of brooding atmosphere and narrative consequences that take place during the outbreak of the Spanish Flu.
You play as the newly turned Dr. Reid, who awakens in a mass grave for victims of the epidemic. As you slowly regain consciousness after being bitten, your newly acquired thirst for blood takes a dark turn when you unknowingly feed upon your poor sister. If this were an anime it’d be considered horny as hell, but it’s not. This is serious vampire shit.
The town itself is not only dealing with the Spanish Flu, but also a series of murders at the hands of your new fanged fam. Things really aren’t looking great for the citizens and the oppressive nature of things weighs heavily on just about everyone.
As Dr. Reid, a war veteran and coincidental expert in blood transfusion, you have to adapt to your new lifestyle, which also determines how the story plays out and how difficult the game itself is. Vampyr takes an interesting approach to difficulty scaling since all of your vampire powers and stat growth come by way of an experience system that doesn’t offer you all that much if you decide to hold on to your humanity. Instead, copious amounts of XP is offered should you feed on (and ultimately kill) important NPCs that help keep the world in shape.
Vampyr’s hub is an actual hospital where you’re taken in by a fellow doctor who not only happens to be a fan of your work, but is fully aware that you’re a vampire and is actively searching for a cure. The hospital consists of its working staff and their patients, all of whom have their own personalities, quests, and bits of history to discover about them, and doing so increases the amount of XP they’re worth if you decide to off them later. Talk about turning a dangling carrot into a dangling cupcake.
The game is actually quite difficult if you don’t embrace your dark side since you don’t level up very often and won’t really earn enough XP to strengthen Dr. Reid’s powerful vampiric abilities. I tried and failed miserably, then decided to go full vampire and the town descended into chaos, so it’s all about finding the perfect balance. You want to make friends AND have the ability to hurl spears made of blood! It’s a big vampiric yin-yang, man!
As for a good Let’s Play, I’d recommend Keith Ballard’s 53-episode series. It’s incredibly thorough. Usually, I’d put Cryaotic ahead of everyone, but I forgot he never actually finished the game.
SOMA is one of my favorite games of all time, sitting comfortably somewhere in the top 10. It’s a first-person sci-fi horror game with bits of stealth (that can be removed entirely if you play on easy mode) and narratively delves into the definition of consciousness and what actually defines us as human.
After suffering severe brain trauma in a car accident, Simon is given the unfortunate news that his injury isn’t healing and his expiration date is fast approaching. He then accepts an experimental study that captures images of his brain, but wakes up wayyyyy in the future in some sort of underwater laboratory.
The lion’s share of SOMA lies in its excellent environmental storytelling as you slowly piece together what happened to Simon all those years ago. Why are there robotic figures seemingly acting like humans? Why is he underwater? And what the future holds are all questions that are answered along the way, and the ending to it all is one that still haunts me years later. It is far and away my favorite ending to a video game ever. E-V-E-R.
SOMA is developed by Frictional Games, whom you may know from their work on Amnesia: The Dark Descent. These people know cosmic horror; they know the effectiveness of environmental design and how to piece together an intriguing tale of hopelessness and insanity.
If you’re looking for a Let’s Play, I highly recommend Christopher Odd’s run through. He’s usually thorough and has a tame voice, which is most welcome when watching a horror game.
Have you folks played any of these three before? If so, what did you think of them? I’ll have a full-length review of The House in Fata Morgana as soon as I finish everything it has to offer. It’s far meatier than I anticipated and I wanted to talk about it in some capacity during October since it’s seasonally appropriate, but expect a more detailed write-up at some point in November.