Dear Red has some amazing graphics and atmosphere. The banner, the game’s description…
Red had grown, she understood what happened, why he always mentioned those words although she couldn’t stand watching and being overwhelmed by the old memories all the time. Now that he’s dead, it doesn’t have to be so anymore…
Then there’s the art within the game, which is similarly lovely.
The game itself, sadly, is nothing much. It’s a lot like Hello, Hell…o? except that this game opens with an extended cutscene (half of which is totally unnecessary) and then the game itself is “played” by trying to navigate increasingly long dialogue trees, followed by a quick credits bit to further delay you. If you’re on the ball, you sometimes get a chance to save part of the way in, so you don’t have to do it all over again. Given there’s no point to seeing the opening every time, I have no idea why it makes you replay the entire thing instead of returning you to the house.
A lot of the endings seem abrupt or outright nonsensical, often cutting out mid-conversation, and half are just variants on “and then he dies”. Only a couple advance the plot, such as it is, and those give you barely anything. It’s particularly frustrating due to the fact you very quickly pick up the basics that there’s something weird and her memory is unreliable, but you can’t actually make sense of it – made all the more annoying by the fact that even if you then try to make your way through the dialogue tree toward actual discussion, you’ll just be rewarded by the story cutting off before Red gets an explanation.
I’m left with the impression that there simply isn’t much of a story, so the writer’s trying to hide that under the flimsy pretense of being mysterious. We eventually put together that the doctor had some amnesiac patient, that Red can’t remember anything about her mother but the fact she was murdered, and that her father and the doctor had some agreement with the intent of making Red happy. In one scene, he suggests it was her father who murdered her mother (by killing her and telling her to go ask “him”), in another he says that Red was just never right in the head suggesting she did it. Why amnesia + letting her think doctor guy murdered mommy = happy is far from clear. My best guess at this point is Red is a murderer, they tried fixing it with amnesia, but it didn’t take and it was really just her dad holding her back from a murder spree this whole time. Except, of course, how she seems to only be motivated by revenge and like she wouldn’t kill anyone otherwise.
Which brings up the next problem. This is a game about characters, and the characterization is shit. If we were going to have a conversation re: videogames as art, my opening move would be to grab this game, throw it off a cliff, and spend the rest of the conversation insisting that I did no such thing because the thing you are talking about never existed, haha, you’re silly. Red gets one and a half teaspoons of character development. If the little girl starts screaming, she kills her and then acts horrified, suggesting she’s not really in control of herself. And…some endings are her wandering off for poorly explained reasons, which is technically character in that it’s a cutscene and sure as hell isn’t my choice. And that’s a good one and a half teaspoons more than anybody else. I haven’t a clue what’s up with the doctor guy, given his behavior on different routes is impossible to reconcile. Sometimes he’s willing to kill you. Sometimes he’s willing to let you kill him. Sometimes he ties you up instead of killing you, then waits for you to get loose and kills you. When he talks, sometimes he talks about the plot and sometimes he just frantically insists he’s innocent, like he hasn’t a clue what’s going on. The little girl’s entire character is to be an innocent sick little girl at people.
That cool tagline about “Be a good girl and everyone will love you”? Nothing and nada to do with the game.
Frankly, the best part of the game was the second half of the opening, where you see the doting parent labeled “Murderer” rather than “Father” and I passed a few happy seconds thinking that the game was about a kid knowing her father had killed her mother and having to decide what she’d do. Nope. Scene is a total waste of time, he’s not labeled “Murderer” for any such clever reason but just to establish that’s who Red’s aiming at. Maybe we’re expected to find it shocking that a guy who likes his kid is supposedly our murderer, but wow no game, not in the least.
Also, the translation isn’t particularly bad but does have a lot of awkward bits and some outright errors. Given the game is nothing but dialogue, this is pretty annoying.
In contrast, The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo is text with minimal visual elements and some sounds, but the far stronger game and worthy of being held up to say that there’s a certain type of writing that can only be done in interactive form. Play it!
My only complaint is that the way to unlock new options was a bit unclear at times – I kept trying to pursue the brother issue, which is apparently unimportant, or I’d waste a turn on an option by not clicking on a secondary text chunk that playthrough that was needed to move forward, and overall, it seemed like there was a bit of a bottleneck where things could only proceed once I hit the one conversational path that’d work. An undo/save option would’ve made navigating the dialogue trees easier, but I admit that hitting the first two endings over and over really disturbed me, so as horror, it worked. And it does make sense that you need to go on those tangents to unlock things, since your reactions to things can only happen if you notice them.
Also, quite liked the fact your friend being female leads to a conversation about sexism, but found it a bit ironic that the game seemed to be written assuming you’d be male, since there’s a strong focus on the need to stand up for a friend that makes more sense with the protagonist being a boy watching other boys treat her like this, rather than the two of them getting treated the same way.
And finally and most importantly – this one time the game option had me play some weird game that was just a person talking or something, and then I was asked if I understood what was going on or something, but it’s never popped up since. What was up with that?