Demo Review: The Letter

11/19/2015

At the heart of Anslem village stands a 17th century English mansion that is rumored to be cursed by a vengeful spirit. Various disappearances had been linked to the mansion, while people living near the vicinity spoke of seeing and hearing unearthly things. Dismissed as a hoax, the mansion was listed for sale by Briar Realty Corporation. Before its grand opening to the public, Isabella Santos, an agent under BRC, was double-checking the place when she accidentally uncovered a letter that said “HELP ME” over and over again. At the bottom of the letter was the phrase “Send this to 5 people or else...”


First of all, I want to make a comment on the very intro of the game. Legend has it that the featured haunted mansion in the story was home to a woman named Charlotte Ermengarde, who was orphaned at the age of four when her parents died in the Great Plague. Hmmm. I wonder... is someone in the development team a fan of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett? (Haha, I really loved that book as a kid!)

Anyway, let's get on with the review. I hope you forgive me in advance, though, as I don't know where else to place... a lot of stuff in this interview/article.

The Letter is an upcoming horror visual novel which boasts of its "six playable characters, animated backgrounds & sprites, and engaging quick-time events." Sounds good enough for me. I'm personally a huge fan of the horror genre, so when I found out that there's a horror visual novel currently in the making, I knew I just had to try it out.

However, the first two lines of this VN irked me. "The Ermengarde Mansion. It was built for Lord William and Lady Elizabeth Ermengarde." I don't know. Maybe it was the writing style, or the way the sentences flowed-- or didn't, for that matter-- that seemed off to me, but considering that it's going to be a commercial release, it didn't seem like good way to start the game.

Ignoring that little gripe, though, I think writing is generally okay. I'm a completely average writer, so I think it's safe to say that I recognize average writing, riiiight? There weren't any noticeable errors or anything, but like I said, the game didn't have a good start writing-wise, at least for me.

Character-wise, we didn't meet a lot of people here. We have a total of four: the protagonist, Isabella, her friend, Becca, her co-worker, Rose, and another dude named Ashton. We only get to see Becca's and Bella's sprites, however.

Isabella is an okay protagonist. I didn't like her much, but I didn't dislike her either. I'm kinda just neutral towards her as a person. However, as a working woman, Isabella sounds like a non-professional, to be honest. Just imagine. She's in the real estate business, so it's safe to assume that she's already a proper adult, right? Yet she sees a chain letter in a supposedly haunted mansion, and if we deduce from the implications in the game's thread, she actually does what the letter says. Um, come on, please don't let your fear get in the way of your life.

On the horror scale, it's not very scary game, as far as the demo goes. There is one genuinely creepy scene in the game thoug! Brace yourself for it, because it's quite a nice scene to play through. However, it's mainly because of the art (+ animations) and the music not the writing. As a horror fan, I'm hoping that there's more to see in the next updates, or perhaps, in the actual game itself. Creepy writing can transform any piece of horror literature from mildly spooky to completely terrifying, because our imagination fills in the gaps for us. That's what I'm looking forward to in this game, story-wise.

Art-wise, Isabella's sprite at the side seems a bit unusual. Her expressions also look quite off. Seriously, her eyes kinda creep me out. Same goes for Becca, too. While I find the art style pretty enough, the characters' eyes are really quite off. They look, um... not-living? Yeah, that';s about it.

There are animations, but they're sort of a hit or miss. For example, light animations, the way the sun passes through the windows and through the tears, are absolutely gorgeous. But the other types of illusions aren't so lucky. Becca looks like her chest area us throbbing whenever she crosses her arms. It's quite unsettling, really. But speaking of unsettling, in the one genuinely creepy moment of the game, the awkwardness of the animations made everything so much creepier to me!

Backgrounds are alright. They look nice, but angles are a bit too straight and sharp if you ask me. Ah, but this is more of a personal preference, as I don't like super straight art that look like they were drawn with a program or something. The outside exterior of the, apparently haunted, mansion, which is supposed to be creepy I believe, looks like it came from a children's show on TV due to the bright colors and awkward animation. Inside is no better, as the symmetrical designs and bright colors make the backgrounds look unsuitable for a supposedly horror game. No part of the house is actually creepy, if you base the creepiness level on the backgrounds.

I would understand all these if this was a freeware VN, but considering that it's not, I hope you guys also understand where I'm coming from here. Commercial games, in my honest opinion, must be worth one's money. Sure, both freeware and commercial VNs are supposed to give the players an awesome experience, but the latter has more pressure on them because they have to make sure the players get the bang for their buck. :)

Music-wise, well, there weren't many tracks used in this gane, but I did enjoy the ones that came on.  I absolutely loved the sound effects though! Even though the backgrounds didn't do a very good job at setting a creepy vibe for the game, the sound effects definitely did. I found myself surprised at every creak and little noise in the game. Kudos to whoever was in charge of the sound effects and their placements. Oh, and remember the creepy scene that I mentioned? That scene worked for me because of the brilliant sound effects. The effects were awesome, I'm telling you.

For the GUI, well, it's pretty simple and quite reminiscent of the default Ren'Py GUI. It's actually a little too simple for my tastes, but at least it does its job. Keep in mind that The Letter isn't made with Ren'Py, as it uses a completely different program that allows animations like the ones here. :)

The Letter is a horror visual novel, one that caught my attention because of my fascination with the genre. I love all sorts of spooky stuff, so I greatly enjoyed this demo, despite my gripes, and despite the fact that it wasn't quite what I was expecting. But it was a really, really short demo, and it did show us a glimpse of what it has the complete game has to offer! I can still safely say that it is a worthy read, and I urge fans of both visual novels AND horror to try this out.

Good news: The Letter just got green-lighted on Steam! Yay for you, people!

You can check out their Kickstarter page here. The funding period ends on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015, so you better hurry if you want to support the game!

P.S. Sorry for the lack of pictures! It's already super late here and I'm too lazy to take screenshots, since my laptop sort of can't handle them. Huhu, baby. Hahaha. But anyway, I'll try to update this post tomorrow!

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