Like the Crooked Man, this contains a content warning. Unlike that one, it is well and truly deserved. While not excessively gory, it has detailed images of bloated bodies. I also found it overall to be much creepier and I spent much of the game on edge. Go play it!
That said, it’s got its issues, mostly in the story.
As usual, there’s a lot of running around an area looking at everything until you find the right thing, although I found it somewhat more manageable than I usually do. And the atmosphere is really, really good – every time anything got weird, it terrified me and I rushed as fast as I could to get away, with the sound in particular being amazing. I have no idea what happens if you don’t move fast enough, because I did not ever wait to find out.
But the whole story, including the ending and resolution? Well…it’s weird. It’s really good right until the end.
Okay, so there’s two things going on. One is supernatural events, the other is the secret background that seems supernatural but isn’t. These two mingle in the most mind-boggling of ways, to the detriment of the whole.
See, the unraveling of the non-supernatural bit? It’s awesome. But we get the majority only after dozens of explicitly supernatural events have happened. The character explaining it rationally tells us there’s no such thing as mermaids, but apparently there is such a thing as ghosts and possibly other forces depending on if the ghosts were behind everything or not, and he’s explaining this after he personally just got done being possessed by ghosts/lingering evil/mind control/IDEK, which is actually the second or third possession that’s happened. Also, although again there are definitely psychic ghosts and god knows what else, the mermaid story must absolutely function like a real normal legend, where it was invented by people for some purpose. The story can only be solved using this reasoning, and yet everything about the game contracts its basic premises.
This confusion is only compounded by the ending, or more accurately endings, since it’s an RPGmaker game therefore we’ve obligated to have more than one. This one actually seems pretty good – there are four endings, and yes, irritatingly, they do involve events happening early on so you’ll be replaying a lot, but the first three work okay. I got the second-best ending first. In it, avatar-girl and the rational boy made our way down to the underground mermaid tanks, where, despite my best clickings, I could not pick up the prominent dynamite outside the door. Inside, there were some creepy bloated “mermaids”. Rational boy starts to say something, avatar gets upset at the mermaids because she blames them for the death of her friends, rational boy stops and agrees and then they leave, then we cut to days later to find they can’t leave the area, there’s no food and she keeps thinking how it’d be so nice to drown herself, so suicide time.
And okay, pretty creepy. So I go to check out the other endings. The worst end with only her survival means she gets locked in the room with the mermaids and left to starve, but she ends up eating one of them instead, never realizing they’re not alive at any point in this, so when the creepy old guy returns to unlock the door he finds her alive but totally insane. Since insanity is forever, he then lets her go because no one will believe anything she says. That is really horrifying and absolutely worthy of being a bad end. And the version where the other boy is still around but rational-boy isn’t involves the creepy old guy killing them and implying he’s going to add their friend to the mermaid collection.
So, weird, but nothing definitely doesn’t make sense. It’s the final ending that destroys that – without her dead friends, avatar girl doesn’t interrupt, prompting rational boy to give an explanation on exactly what’s happened because obviously there is a scientific explanation, one that somehow fits with avatar girl hearing ghosts asking her to bury them. They do so, curse lifted, creepy old guy explains he trapped them at his house in the hopes they’d do this and end the horror because he was too weak and creepy to do it. Which is why on the worst end he locks her in to starve? And in the second worst decides it’s shooty time? KILL HIM KILL HIM KILL HIM! The ending I got works out with this because he apparently just hung back and waited hoping the characters would fix things until they went crazy and killed themselves, but has the problem of it making no damn sense! Rational boy could’ve given his explanation any time. Even if for some reason I accept that her being upset about her friends’ deaths at that moment made it a bad time, and honestly it seems like a pretty appropriate thing to say but fine, he then had days and days of starvation and imminent death to explain his theory. And it’s also not explained how he’s masterminding this when it appears to be a supernatural force keeping them trapped, which means the ghosts and/or whatever else is acting on their own.
What’s really disappointing is the non-supernatural part is really, really clever. I was barking up so many wrong trees! Is the mermaid girl the kid? I wondered. Did she have a split personality? Or is this showing her changing over time? Or are there normal kids too and she’s their playmate, maybe? And then a character starts explaining how wait, legends usually mean something else and if we look at the story in those terms…Much of the apparently supernatural could then be explained as his interference – their car really does just break down and it’s a naturally remote area. The guy then sabotages the power, poisons their friend to produce the curse and so on for his own purposes, finishing with him locking them in the underground room where it requires two people to break the door down again.
The supernatural half is also fine right up until the point where we have a character reasoning out that it can’t possibly be mermaids because those aren’t real. It’d have been fine to just have them suddenly realize at the end that oh god, it’s not an angry mermaid it’s the ghosts of normal murdered women instead! The place being the ancestral home of some serial killing necrophiliacs who’ve created an undead vortex of hatred and madness is a perfectly good twist.
Also, the video I watched for the other endings also managed to summarize something that was nagging at me.
See, the girl isn’t exactly your avatar in all ways. She’s the one you control for most of it, but in the cutscenes, she’s stupid and needs everything explained to her. It’s not particularly in your face, because it’s common for games to have side characters explain information while the viewpoint character is there to be exposited at, but unusually, the game jumps at the few chances to switch control over to the boy, so we don’t have the usual division of player character vs exposition character. Indeed, if the second boy doesn’t die, the ending plays out with you controlling him and her following you. And as the video’s creator explains, the reason the good ending requires rational boy is because rational boy is the one who’s actually important. She solves the puzzles under your direction but can’t accomplish anything else. That’s really not a subtext you want sneaking in when your game is already textually centered on misogyny and murdered women.