Friday, May 8, 2020

Trigger Happy?

The only reason I chose Doki Doki Literature Club as a source for images to illustrate the recent Lessons Learned post was because most of it takes place in a classroom. I didn't even think about the nature of the game itself.

Maybe I should have. The screenshots sparked a conversation on the Blapril Discord. A few people were praising the game, which in turn cascaded into several more either downloading it or thinking about doing so. It will be interesting to see what those who give it a try feel about it afterwards. There's a real problem with raised expectations in situations like this.

Also, it's a game that comes with quite a reputation for reasons other than just how good it might be. Wherever you happen upon it, DDLC arrives towing a raft of warnings. As Steam says, in bold, "This game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed".

Kathy Rain, on the other hand, comes with no warnings at all. Amazon thought it perfectly suitable to hand out to all Prime/Twitch subscribers last month without any preamble or explanation. Which is perhaps a bit careless of them, because of the two games I would say it's Kathy Rain that needs the trigger warnings more.

Where DDLC is a sleek, knowing excercise in metafiction, Kathy Rain is much rougher-hewn slab of horror. They both start out purporting to be something they're not but DDLC knows very well the risks its taking, while Kathy Rain appears to blunder into them unawares.

I can't really spell out what those risks are. The problem in talking about either game is there's very little that can be said that isn't a spoiler. Even saying there's a twist or that the games aren't exactly what they seem to be tells prospective players more than they should know if they want to get the most powerful experience.

Doki Doki Literature Club plays its cards close to its chest. It would be perfectly plausible for someone to be deeply immersed in the game it's pretending to be by the time it shows its true colors. That's what the developers are hoping.

Players who come to it that way are going to have quite the surprise. Even so, with the exception of one shocking incident, DDLC seems to me considerably less problematic. Kathy Rain includes the same difficult issue (twice) along with plenty more. Some are played for laughs, some for scares and some seem to have been thrown in for no good reason at all. It's a tonal nightmare.

I wouldn't think it fair to compare the two games if it wasn't for the reviews. Kathy Rain seems amateurish and clumsy in comparison to DDLC and I'd have given it a pass as some kind of indie fan project mash-up of Nancy Drew and Twin Peaks if it didn't sit there on Steam with quotes like these at the very top of the page:
Kathy Rain might just be the best adventure game I've played in a long time.”
9/10 – Destructoid

“A remarkable achievement from a first-time developer, Kathy Rain is an unexpectedly personal gem about a heroine who proves she belongs with the genre’s other big names.”
4.5/5 – Adventure Gamers

I enjoyed the game. I'm glad I played it. If there was a sequel, as the post-credits sequence strongly suggests the developers intended, I'd willingly play that, too. Even so, if this really is a benchmark in contemporary adventure gaming, it makes me wonder about the health of the genre as a whole.

For someone who isn't really much of a horror fan I do seem to have let myself in for rather a lot of it lately. Maybe it's the psychic weather.

I haven't mentioned Divinity:Original Sin 2 for a while. That's because I've stopped playing it, a least for now. It turned out to be quite an unpleasant game. I was playing it most evenings for a while, mostly because I found the gameplay quite addictive, but the relentless obsession with demonic possession and body horror leeched much of the pleasure out of the magical battling.

I finished the middle section and I was all ready to take the ship to the final showdown but I couldn't summon up the enthusiasm to carry on. I suspect from the way the plot's been going things will get worse before they don't get very much better and I'm not especially keen to see how that all turns out.

That these are the people responsible for Baldur's Gate 3 doesn't fill me with confidence. Not that BG isn't without its own dark themes but I don't recall it being anything like as eager to wallow in its own degradation.

Even when I finish gaming for the evening there's not been much respite. I finished watching Tales From The Loop, which I'm very pleased to say kept up the quality throughout the whole eight episodes. I wish there'd been more.

While it certainly isn't genre horror, it contains horror tropes and I found much of it quite disturbing, existentially. It left my thoughts racing in a way that I can't say made it ideal bedtime viewing. I had to play Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp to clear my mind after most of the episodes. Highly recommended, anyway.

I followed Tales From The Loop immediately with Amazon's newest series, Upload. It's not genre horror either but once again it does raise questions about consciousness and mortality that aren't especially comfortable. Plus there are exploding heads, so maybe it is horror after all.

For May, Amazon's free titles include The Little Acre, which comes with similarly stellar reviews to Kathy Rain:
“unique and legitimately stunning hand-drawn environments”
“sharp writing, robust voice work and wonderful animation”
“a one-of-a-kind magical tale that rivals Disney/Pixar”
We'll see. It's apparently very short, something that almost every player review I looked at makes a point of mentioning. It was also produced by Charles Cecil, one of the driving forces behind one of my five favorite games series, Broken Sword, so I have high hopes.

The Little Acre is apparently neither dark nor disturbing and requires no trigger warnings, although from the description I suspect it could still deserve one for abandonment issues.

The other free game I took from Amazon this month is Yono and the Celestial Elephants, in which I'll be playing "a young elephant tasked to save a world he’s never seen before" as I " explore the rich history of a kingdom where humans, zombies and robots live side by side."

That should be safe enough, surely. Just so long as Yono doesn't run into any ivory poachers...


  1. I have yet to play DDLC properly, however, now that you talk about Kathy Rain; I'm now interested in playing that game too LMAO. Good post!

    1. I did enjoy Kathy Rain. I sound a bit lukewarm about it but the characters are very good and the story's not bad, either.

  2. I might have to figure out the whole twitch prime thing to give The Little Acre a go. That sounds quite good. I keep finding new random things I get with prime. You get a heck of a lot for $10 a month (or whatever it costs).

    1. I haven't even looked at Prime music yet. There must be plenty on there I could try. And I was reading the free comics but I fell out of the habit...


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