09
Jul
18

Loving Horror

I’ve been on a new kick with my gaming habits of late. During my convalescence, I picked up a game for my sadly often-neglected Vita, thinking it was a survival horror game of some sort.

I was very wrong. But I found myself loving it anyway.

The game was Psychedelica of the Black Butterfly. It’s a format called a visual novel, or an otome game; to most that means “dating simulator,” with the “otome” portion indicating the main character is female and will be selecting from a series of anime-stereotype dudes who she must romance. Psychedelica ended up teaching me that there can be a lot more to the style than I first thought.

The premise – several teens find themselves waking up in a haunted mansion, lacking memories and gifted with strange guns, hunted by monsters that, when defeated, exude tendrils of darkness into their slayer and drop fragments of a device called the kaleidoscope that promises a means of escape – was much more enthralling than any of the romantic overtures Beniyrui and her male harem engage in. Honestly, the romantic aspects serve as a side plot to the mystery of the mansion, and feels less like the point of the game and more like something that occurred naturally given the revelations that were presented.

It’s probably a good thing this was my first in-depth exposure to this type of game; had it been a more straightforward “who do you think is the cutest,” I would have chucked it aside before it had time to get rolling.

Now, I’d had some experience with the genre before; I’d played both Hatoful Boyfriend and Doki Doki Literature Club, the former because the idea of a pigeon dating simulator was hilarious – and then made more worthwhile by the surprisingly deep and disturbing backstory that comes into play once the fowl shenanigans are dealt with – the latter because of MatPat’s explanations about what was really going on there. But before Psychedelica, I didn’t know that weird hooks and deep mysteries were as common as they are in the genre.

Since then, I’ve moved on to Bad Apple Wars (okay, but not as good as Psychedelica and more in line with “cute boy simulator,” though it does have a better story than expected once you get past the opening acts), Code: Realize: Guardian of Rebirth (an amazing steampunk adventure story with fictional and semi-fictional personages enacting a tale that includes immortality, vampires, airship battles, racism and a bionic dog), 7’sCarlet (A murder mystery set in a town that is much more than it appears, with a suitably twisted “true” ending path that gives some interesting concepts about destiny and has a touch of weird incest), Psychedelica of the Ashen Hawk (In which a cross-dressing cursed witch tries to protect what’s most important to her), the Zero Escape series (Think Saw with a lot more reading and elements of old school point-and-click adventures) and the Danganronpa series (if Phoenix Wright had a lovechild with Riverdale and then drenched itself in hot-pink blood.)

Wow. There’s a lot more going on with this type of game than I thought. My hunger is not yet satisfied, but thankfully there seem to be a few hundred of these things on Vita and most of them are rotting on the shelf at my local GameStop, so I can work my way through them all. If anyone still has a Vita lying around and happens to be a PlayStation Plus member, Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma is free for the month of July, so might serve as a decent introduction if you haven’t tried one of these before.

But that’s not really the core of this post; it’s about loving horror, both in terms of enjoying it, and in terms of horror with a touch of other emotions. These games have it. They may not be the most involved in terms of gameplay (of the ones mentioned, only Zero Escape and Black Butterfly have any “real” gameplay that isn’t based solely on conversational choices or variants thereof, at least that I’ve found so far) but they’re surprisingly well done in provoking the feels, much more so than most video games seem to be. There was a lesson to be learned here; even if something seems outside of your wheelhouse, be it in consumption of entertainment or production of it, sometimes it’s worth giving it a try. You might find something new and interesting in it.

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