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Spooktober 2023 — VN Jam Game Report #1

Today I will be opening up this first of many posts about the Spooktober 2023 with 5 titles that caught my eyes.

Check out our article on Spooktober 2023!

You can also check out our other reports below:

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Fear Me: The Silent

Author: Studio Lemi (game page)
Duration: about 30 minutes

The game opens up on the main menu with a creepy animated silhouette of a face staring right into your soul. The music is intense yet keeps an eerie atmosphere with the bells ringing. Its retro-style font fits the art style of the game well, and hovering the buttons plays a custom sound, kinda like crackling or walking onto dry leaves, which I thought it was a nice detail.

Once you start the game, you have to choose the name of the members of your family—the son and his two parents. The game is written in the second person in the present tense: a rare sight in VNs, but it gives it a more immediate and personal touch. The art is pretty simple, using a reduced colour palette (two in some scenes, four in others, up to eight) and a 4:3 aspect ratio. However, it is also embellished with some animations that add dynamism to the world.

After a completely mindfuck prologue, you, a child, go on a vacation with your parents. The game is fairly short, around 15 minutes to reach your first ending, and I’ve reached 3 different endings after playing 30 minutes total (I’m unsure if there are more of them). It will take you on an absurd and idiosyncratic tale, filled with strange creatures, such as a weird talking worm and is the best house cleaner, as well as little things as being able to see the future (with a tinge of cosmic horror, to spice it up.)

This VN reminded me of World of Horror, through its simplistic art style, powerful soundtrack and themes, but a ridiculous version of it. You will be able to reach multiple endings through numerous choices and by paying close attention to the environment—and hopefully saving your family.

Sadly, the game is ridden with typos (almost every plural instance is replaced with ‘s instead) and it definitely could have used a proofreader. Also, the repetitive sound when people are talking, while being unique to each character, gets annoying pretty quick. There’s also another minor problem I faced, where it was using the name of the dad instead of the mom.

I would like to reiterate once again that the music is FANTASTIC throughout the whole game. It has a dozen tracks, all as good as each other. I really enjoyed this short experience, but I think it’s futile to try to find a deeper meaning in it, just bathe in the absurdity. Go experience it for yourself now!

Foul Repercussion

Author:  Chaiya and radiokiro (game page)
Duration: about 30 minutes

This VN features filtered photos as backgrounds, with some really cute hand-drawn CGs and sprites that are sadly not present as often as I’d like.

The game opens with the protagonist telling his friend a horror story he made up—one he’s about to live for real. Sadly, it’s weakened by the total lack of presence of any kind of sprites, only having speech bubbles on one of the aforementioned filtered backgrounds. The language level of the dialogues is in a weird place, not slangy enough to project in reality, but not proper enough either to fit a more traditional narration.

The writing was overall pretty subpar, mainly written in the present tense but sometimes confused by randomly placed past tenses. It is very fast-paced, not leaving any space to build up tension, and giving an overall comedic turn to the whole narrative. The action scenes are the biggest offenders in that regard, but there’s not really anything that lets you become attached to the main duo.

The protagonist doesn’t really show any feeling of panic, calmly planning the next steps through long sentences in the dialogue. It feels more like an omniscient being rather than someone in a dire situation trying to survive. I don’t think this is intentional, it’s rather just a symptom of the very fast-paced writing and the lack of hesitation of the protagonist. The girl is a bit gloomy, but we won’t really get to learn anything much about her, and the VN doesn’t present any choices to do that either.

The twist with a certain rope made me laugh out loud. The reveal was so sudden and there wasn’t any build-up…

The music is alright. They’re short sound loops, probably stock. Nothing exceptional but it’s serviceable enough, although they can get repetitive, making it visible there’s a lack of diversity in that area.

It was overall still enjoyable, but could have used some slowing down and built up a more tense atmosphere, as well as getting the reader to know the characters and care about their fate.

Death Research Institute

Author: EvaLancelot (game page)
Duration: about 10 minutes

The game opens up with a creepy main theme that seems to fit the ambience well. The font used is slightly retro to go with the low-res art style.

The VN starts immediately with a piece of stressful music, with a rapid beat of a drum, as we stand in front of an old Soviet research institute. As we head inside, there are a lot of backgrounds coming with every step, reminding us of a more classical point-and-click adventure game.

While I generally like this style of art style, it seems to be here the result of some crude downscaling filters on real photography, and as such, the pixel placements can be really weird and it’s hard to make out what most of the things are. We’re presented with CGs after CGs (most of them lasting for but a single line) and while that may seem like a good thing, it could have toned it down and polish it all a bit more.

The text could have used some proofreading as it’s plagued by grammatical and cohesion mistakes.

I quite enjoyed the different endings, but sadly the lead-up to them is way too fast-paced. It just feels like we’re rushing from one room to another, looking at things left and right, without any build-up leading to the endings. Simply adding a bit more description could have slowed down the pace a lot and made it more memorable.

Rooftop Love Match

Author: Arty Farty Games (game page)
Duration: 1 hour

The game opens up with a cute and bubbly music on an animated background of clouds and a pretty logo bopping up and down. I feel like it’s gonna end up very violent.

The nameable protagonist wakes up in a cold sweat over a piece of music that makes you want to go on an adventure, but it overstays its welcome and gets tiring since it’s the only music for quite a while. The UI is pretty basic but looks good, except for the nametag part which stays on even during narration and looks pretty jarring.

We’re very quickly presented with multiple choices—this VN has a lot of them. There are presumably multiple endings, but I only took the time to do one of them as the VN is pretty long and I have no clue how to reach the others.

The girl has a Live2D avatar. While I do give an A+ for the effort, it twitches around way too much, distracting me from the text. The expressions are way too over-the-top too, so it’s hard to take them seriously. It also gets a bit weird when switching animations.

There are a few typos here and there but overall, the writing is really competent and enjoyable. The dialogues aren’t too cliché either and they can be very funny according with the choices you can make.

This VN starts with a romance storyline and ends up with a twist, plunging us into a surrealist meta-narrative with a touch of social commentary, exploiting the visual novel genre capacities well, all of it with superb artwork. Although the gimmick (and music) ends up dragging on for way too long, losing most of its impact, and the long explanation sequences start to feel like a political lecture. This VN would have gained a lot from being shortened and leaving some of the backstory up to the imagination. I really recommend giving it a go for yourself as there are plenty of choices to experience.

Author: Studio Victrix (game page)
Duration: 30 minutes

The game opens up with a strident music piece, on a grim background with a bloody eye staring at us. The custom menu UI is well made and forewarns us of what’s about to come next.

A sound of ragged breathing, only a few planks visible on the screen, a dark piano soundtrack, and a mysterious voice (no voice acting, though!)—seems like we’ve got ourselves in some trouble. The game is written in the second person and in the present tense, giving a very immediate and personal feeling. The numerous sound effects throughout the game really add to the ambience.

Then the camera pans around, as if we’re directly looking through the eyes of the protagonist, and stops. I thought the game bugged out for a moment there, but turns out it is a point-and-click section, as elements highlight when you hover them. I think a small explanation or an added visual element for the first time this happens could have helped. Otherwise, some players might get really confused (like me.) There is a similar—a very trivial one, mind you—issue just after that, as you’re supposed to click 4 different planks of wood, but you can click the same one over and over again. It’s quite common in this type of gameplay to have to click something several times until it breaks but it’s not the case here, so maybe disabling something once it’s been clicked would have made things more intuitive. Those are of course all very minute details, but they can add up and lock out some players, so as a developer, never assume what is obvious to a player (just check the recent Twitter debate about the yellow paint.)

Well, that went on a tangent. Obviously, I’m aware it can be hard to get this kind of polish in a jam, but I like nitpicking, so no hard feelings? 😛
Let’s continue!

The VN continues on, and the camera zooms and pans really draw you in, although the walking animation is a bit too much and might give some of our friends motion sickness. The music continues fitting the atmosphere perfectly, sometimes more intensely, sometimes more eerily. There’s still a mysterious voice talking, but with no indication of where it comes from, I have to assume it’s just in my head at this point.

This VN has a lot of choices, and taking the wrong ones will lead you to intense, brutal and grisly deaths. Save often, and if you’ve made the right choice the first time around, then load back later to experience all the bad endings!

The art style is made of CGs with brush strokes: simple and unique. It serves this VN well, keeping an overall creepy feeling and leaving most of the details up to our imagination.

The writing was very competent, drew me in immediately and made me speechless at the masterful ending. Go experience it for yourself now!

Other reviews will follow by our Fuwa writers, so keep an eye out!


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Sirus

Writer in training & technical writer. I love everything horror and mystery.

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