Merendam: Escape from Seram Isle Review

 Merendam horror adventure room- screenshot

Developer Erocona brings us Merendam: Escape from Seram Isle, a small horror game that from the looks vaguely reminded me of Fatal Frame, which is one of my favorite games ever. So of course I had to give it a try. This game is available for android (which is the version I’m reviewing) and PC (the PC version is free). It’s also been on steam Greenlight since forever, so if you happen to like it, help the developer out and give it a vote.

You take the role of a young girl who appears to be asleep as she is being driven… somewhere by a not creepy at all old man who is saying some not totally creepy stuff along the way. Thankfully for you, some evil spirit attacks your car and you end up stranded in the middle of some old abandoned place, because it wouldn’t be a horror game otherwise. Well, if you can call abandoned a place fully inhabited by evil spirits that will attack you at random times. I still think she dodged a bullet there.

The game has 3 modes: hard, normal and no ghosts. Obviously, the latter has no ghosts popping up and lets you focus on the wonderful puzzles. Let’s talk about them for a bit, because they’re a big part of the gameplay.

Like all horror games you’re to find your way out of that place and back to civilization intact, and you do so by completing (i)logical puzzles with plenty of backtracking, because backtracking is fun! All the puzzles seem to be randomized, which means that while you might have found out how to do things or where codes and keys are, you won’t use the same code twice in different playthroughs. The puzzles were rather illogical to me (a bit of a hit and miss in logic, really, and you’re never explained why you need something or the other, even if you know it’s for the end goal), and there was no clear way of knowing when you would need an item for a puzzle and when you could safely drop it. Why is this an issue? Well…

You can only hold 2 items at any given time. No more than that. You want a third item? You have to drop it and pick the other item up (which requires a few more steps), because there is no swapping them either. Which means that if you carry with you the wrong items you are in for a world of backtracking (you probably are anyway). Thankfully there are only two main parts to the map each with their respective sub-sections, but you’ll know them quite well by the end of the game.

 Merendam horror adventure room- screenshot

Other than those weird puzzles, the game isn’t too hard. The ghosts will truly pop up anywhere and at any time, but they are easy-peasy to defeat in normal mode. You have two ways to fight them in mobile: two buttons will appear on the screen and you will have to smash them not to be cursed, or, some blue and red arrows will appear on the screen and you will have to swipe the finger of the correct side of the screen in the direction of the arrow (blue is for the left hand, red for the right). This latter one is a bit trickier until you get a hold on what you are supposed to do, but then it’s not too difficult. There seems to be no penalty for making the wrong move anyway (at least in normal mode) and you have plenty of time to correct your mistake if you don’t panic.

The ghosts jump up at you for cheap thrills and jump scares, and after the first few you just get used to them and don’t even jump anymore. I don’t much like when horror games go by jump scares alone, but this one gets a pass because the entirety of the game is pretty eerie on its own without the ghosts anyway. The closer you get to the end the more often ghosts seem to appear, but that might have just been me.

There are two savepoints located at each main section of the maps, they’re useful, but the menu they pop up is a bit full.

Story-wise there’s unfortunately nothing to say. The girl has to get out of there, there’s nothing new to it. Nothing else seems to happen, stuff isn’t explained. The ending was… a little puzzling.

It’s a short game, it clocks in at under an hour if you know what to do, but might take longer if you have to do a lot of backtracking.

So, let’s get a bit more technical here.

The interface isn’t exactly minimalist, there are plenty of buttons and things going on and changing colors and symbols at the same time. It’s a bit bothersome, but at the same time I liked it, even if it was a bit too bothersome to have it displayed all the time. For performing most actions you have to hold your touch, and although I found this a tad bothersome at first, I grew to really like it because in most actions it makes a slow, creepy camera pan as you do (although it was pointless to have this when picking things up). When this lines up with a ghost jumping out at you for a scare, you’re in for a bit of a heart-pounding fright.

Although the graphics are 3D, it really is a side-scroller game, barely 2.5D. The character designs are far too anime-cutesy, which is not in itself bad; it doesn’t lend itself much to horror, but it fit strangely well in a cutes-y horror kind of way. The animations were very nice, not the smoothest I’ve seen, but pretty darn good compared to the average “cheap”, and the settings and atmosphere, with their darkness and perpetual rain, were gloomy and scary enough that it did put you on the edge of your seat for most of it.

The sound effects were on point, but the music nonexistent, which I barely noticed at all anyway, mostly because I usually mute it anyway in most games.

The English translation is not the best, but it’s quite passable compared to others I’ve reviewed lately.

I honestly think this game is full of potential and a fun little play, but it’s short and has a few shortcomings in terms of story and puzzles, which bumps down the rating quite a bit for me. Still worth a try, though!

3.5/5

Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly

Welcome to PS2 Review Week! Each day of this week I’ll be reviewing an old PS2 game I love and still play, focusing on the slightly lesser known or lesser played games and franchises (so no, even though I loved Final Fantasy, you won’t find reviews of it here).

For day 2 we have Fatal Frame 2 (also known as Zero ~Crimson Butterfly~)!

Following into the steps of Fatal Frame, this second installment of the series also focuses on a story of siblings. This time it’s twin sisters Mio and Mayu. Mayu sees and follows a crimson butterfly deep into the forest. Worried, Mio follows after, but loses sight of her sister when they reach a lost, abandoned village. As you can imagine, the village is cursed and in it dwell plenty a ghost, again created by dark rituals once performed there, this time (surprise, surprise) involving twins.

While searching for her sister, Mio comes across the Camera Obscura, which will be her only weapon against the ghastly apparitions…

During the game you mostly follow Mio, though there are a few scenes where you play Mayu.

Much improved upon the first installment, not only are the controls and the twin’s pace much better, but the saving points seem closer in between as well. There are some puzzles, and the camera has been improved upon plenty, making it easier to handle and better and faster to work with.

Like before, the game has a few difficulty settings and with each comes a different ending, adding variety and making you want to replay it with a harder challenge. And of course, there are costume unlockables, camera upgrades, and story bits to find throughout it all, as well as ghost pictures to collect in a beautiful album… that sadly just about takes up the entirety of your card’s memory… so you better have a large one prepared for it!

Much like the first installment of the series, all the sounds, voices, effects and music are perfect to get you into the mood of the frightening, eerie village. While Fatal Frame 1’s events happened only within the one mansion, here you have an entire village to explore and get lost in, which can sometimes prove fatal… The ghosts are once again frightening, even a bit more so than the ones on the previous game, and the typical Japanese village’s run-down, eerie looks and story are done superbly, transporting you into this world once more with a little too much ease.

I highly recommend everyone plays Fatal Frame at least once in their lives, and out of the first 3 installments, Crimson Butterfly is definitely my favorite.

 

5/5

Fatal Frame (Project Zero)

Welcome to PS2 Review Week! Each day of this week I’ll be reviewing an old PS2 game I love and still play, focusing on the slightly lesser known or lesser played games and franchises (so no, even though I loved Final Fantasy, you won’t find reviews of it here).

For day one we have Fatal Frame!

“Fatal Frame, also known as Project Zero in some countries, is one of the best, most innovative (for the time) survival horror games”

Turned into a Franchise so far 5 titles long, this series by Tecmo was one of the first I played on the PS2, and one of my favorites too.

“Set in 1980’s Japan, the story follows Miku and Mafuyu Hinakasi and she journeys into one of the best horror stories to grace the PS2”

Armed with a mysterious camera that has the power to expose the supernatural, Mafuyu goes investigate a haunted mansion where many a grossly murder has been committed with the hopes of finding out more about it – and perhaps even finding a renown lost folklorist in the process – shortly after disappearing himself. This prompts his sister Miku to go in search of him. Within the mansion Miku finds his brother’s camera and, armed with it, sets off in search of him, in the process unveiling dark rituals and fighting the spirits it has created.

“The original gameplay mode was centered around the camera itself, the only weapon you have against the ghostly encounters (your only other option being running from them)”

Taking pictures of ghosts with this camera saps their energy and eventually kills them. The more accurate the picture, and the more upgrades you make to the film and camera, the faster you dispose of them. Not all ghostly encounters are a fight, many are simply part of the story, showing you more of what went on, and, if you manage to snap a picture of them in time, become collectibles.

“Like any good horror from Japan, it focuses a little bit less into jump scares (though there are some, of course) and more into the eerie atmosphere and story – a very dark story that is very, very interesting, and apparently based in a couple urban legends from Japan”

There are ancient rituals and powers at play here, trapping the spirits in the realm and lurking at every corner as you explore deeper and deeper into the mansion.

“Everything in Fatal Frame, from the music, the sounds, to the dark visual of the rundown, ancient Japanese mansion, help immerse you into the world of Fatal Frame”

The ghosts are frightening without resorting to making them look like monsters, and it certainly manages to keep you on the edge of your seat wondering if the next apparition you’ll come across will be just an echo, or one that might hurt you. This is definitely a game best played in the dark and with headphones on to get the complete feel of it.

Of course, the game has plenty of unlockables: mostly costumes, a few camera functions, and an extra “battle” mode in which you forego the story to instead simply fight certain ghosts in order to earn points to unlock things. In addition, if you end the game in the “Nightmare” difficulty, you get a different ending.

Seeing as it was the first in the franchise, the controls leave a little to be desired though, such as Miku’s slow, slow pace. The only thing I really disliked however was the lack of a free save, having to resort to save points instead, sometimes a bit far in between, or making you backtrack since you had no idea when the next one would be.

All in all, though, the game is definitely worth a play if you’re into survival horror. It’s different, it’s scary, it’s creepy, and it’s wonderful!

 

Space Incident

Space Incident is a very, very short adventure/management game with various possible endings. Free on Kongregate, but paid on Steam, this little game by Vogd3 has a lot of potential packed in a rather disappointing package.

I read the introduction and it sounded promising: You play as the AI of a ship stranded from Mars to Earth and have to help the crew figure why you’ve suddenly stopped and get back on track to return to earth with hopefully no casualties. I was expecting something pretty big, so I was a bit disappointing in finding that playing through it once takes less than an hour in whole. In fact, once you’ve played through it once and read the options, any consecutive plays to unlock the various endings end up being pointless and taking less than ten minutes. I wasn’t motivated enough to run it more than twice.

Now, the art of the game has that typical retro pixel style. I have a love-hate relationship with pixel games: I know how hard it is to do pixel art and how much time it takes, yet at the same time it seems people do it less out of a “retro” look and more out of a simple “too lazy or poor to hire a proper designer” reasoning. The pixel art works quite well for this little game, though, and I’m really fond of the detailed ship backgrounds, but I’m not into the way the characters look, at all.

The music is pretty basic, sort of background sound effects, and though it’s not bad, after a while I just muted it because it annoyed me. The menu, btw, is pretty simple, having only a few options, and at the end you’re shown all possible endings, which include various combinations of who survives and what happens to the ship.

Interaction with the characters isn’t of your own choice. The characters, each which have various levels of needs such as hunger, psychological state, tiredness, etc, must want to talk to you in order for you to interact, and are otherwise autonomous, making their needs almost pointless unless you send someone who is starving into space and they have no time to come back. The only need that truly comes into play is when they start panicking, because if you don’t deal with it the right way they go into a temporary full-panic suicidal mode… but it’s not like you can actually do anything about that after you’ve botched calming them down, so…

The options offered in dialogue are poor and pretty obvious on which way they will lead you with the person- if it’ll help or not. The characters themselves all kind of blend in with eachother, at least two out of the three do (and the third is just annoying), and the story in a whole is, although not entirely bad, also not at all imaginative. In fact, it kind of leaves the only interesting thing (the reason behind why they were stuck in the first place) without a proper answer.

And finally, the english text… ah… it seems alright for parts of it, but suddenly the punctuation will be off by a bit, or the translation in whole, grammar and spelling alike, were outright bad.

At the price tag of a whooping $7 (on sale at the time of writing this), there is no way I could recommend it as worth it. But as a free casual game it’s actually not all that bad.

2.5/5

Fatal Frame III: The Tormented

I’ve talked before about Fatal Frame I and Fatal Frame II. The third installment on the franchise, Fatal Frame III barely makes the cut of my favorite PS2 horror games.

The story follows Rei Kurosawa, a photographer who has recently lost her fiancé in a car accident. During one of her jobs she believes she sees her dead lover, and afterwards she begins having nightmares of an old Japanese manor, and a mysterious tattooed ghost woman.

In the style of the previous two, the entire gameplay is based on you taking pictures of the ghosts in order to defeat them. The whole old Japanese setting is still as eerie as ever and serves to give you goosbumps all through the game, as does the modern one, for that matter.  As you advance in the story both Miku and Mio (from Fatal Frames 1 and 2) make appearances – a very nice way to tie up all the stories.

So what is different from the first two?

Well, not much, if I’m honest. The camera controls are fairly similar to Fatal Frame 2, not having any notable improvement, unlike the changes made from 1 to 2 which greatly improved gameplay.

The most notable difference then is on the split timing of wake/dream. Unlike the other two, you’re not physically going into the house and getting lost, but dreaming about it. During the times Rei is awake and at her own home it’s spooky and has creepy sounds and happenings, but can be considered the “safe” time, while the times she dreams about being in the manor are most certainly not safe.  Later in the story the lines of reality and dream get blurred, but the idea of having a safe time to explore and investigate was something I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, you never see much outside Rei’s home so it felt kind of boring in the end, and didn’t give as much freedom as it seemed to offer. For that matter, you never see much outside the (admittedly very large) manor, except for what’s considered it’s underground and surrounding areas. I do wish there had been plenty more to investigate during the time Rei is awake, and more proactive actions to take.

Another change to the game play was the addition of a gimmick; namely, candles. On the one hand, the idea was nice. On the other, I thoroughly hated it because it added a sense of rush that was not necessary on a game that to me should be slow, spooky exploration (as the first two were). This gimmick only comes into play after a certain point in the game, however, and it involves finding certain candles to prevent quite dangerous ghosts to appear around you at every turn. Should the candle run out these ghosts will appear to make your life impossible, until you find the next candle… or die in the process.

There are two endings to the game, which as usual is nice to have. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

All things considered Fatal Frame III is a beautiful third installment to the series, but I would highly recommend the second one over it.

4/5