This was haunting, but not in a good way. I got an anti-rec for this on the basis that it involves two very white vampires menacing a dark-skinned girl while saying her skin color probably means she doesn’t even taste good and implying that there is normally no one in Europe who isn’t snow-colored, and the race issues turned out to be the least horrible part.
This is a free game, so…I guess check it out if you want to play what amounts to Wither: The Visual Novel.
The setup is a girl, Miranda, wanders into a vampire castle. Most of the vampires are out, and the two there say they’ll wait for the others to come back before deciding if they should kill her or not. While you might expect a rather Stockholmy result from this setup, it really isn’t…because the heroine comes pre-broken. I don’t know what her life was like before this, but she’s obviously been through something horrible.
At the start, she tries to be positive and she seems like she’s a reasonably strong person, which is what the game will insist is true throughout. Pretty quickly, it becomes clear she’s upbeat because she doesn’t allow herself to have feelings about being abused, best demonstrated where when on one vampire’s route, she insists on talking about something that’s making him annoyed and dangerous because she just cares so much about his happiness, so he assaults her, and, once he’s tantrumed himself out, she can keep talking about how worried she is he’s sad. Although she reacts to the vampires being bitey human-eaters with thoughts about how she needs to remember how dangerous they can be, she responds to all other abuse like it’s not only normal but reassuringly familiar. When being scared of spiders is deemed offensive by one and leads to them both assaulting her to show her that vampires are scarier, her response afterward is “haha, even if they’re vampires they’re just like regular people! because apparently this is how regular people usually treat me!” and if anything, I got the impression she doesn’t say teasing things because she refuses to be cowed but because she’s actually fishing for precisely the response she gets, as it’s what she knows, even if it’s not what she wants. Also, when one of the vampires doesn’t like biting and prefers the more painful stabbing with a knife option, she then stabs herself a few days later because she thinks he looks a bit hungry even over his objections. With the other vampire, she says, repeatedly, she’d rather die than risk him possibly changing his relationships with the rest of the family somewhat in a way that might make him less happy, maybe, because the faint possibility is more important than her life.
This is further reinforced by the endings.
The first playthrough, I tried playing reasonably, under the assumption that this is terrifying and she should just get out. I play nice until the very end, then bolt. This actually leads to the best ending, where she successfully escapes – the vampires know what she’s doing, but they let her go. I then tried replaying and every other option just made me hate them more. If you do anything wrong with the first two questions, they brutally kill you on the spot. You never get to actually choose to pursue either vampire. Instead, your fate is determined by chance, as you get two chances to go to different locations and if you go to the ones that lead to meeting the same vampire both times, that’s who you end up with. And it’s only by properly sucking up to one of your bloodsuckers and solving his problems that you have any hope of a “happy” ending.
Making choices for yourself leads to horrors. If you aren’t locked into one of the vampire paths and don’t run for it – and running for it is obviously a bad idea when we’re spent the whole game being reminded vampires have super senses and teleportation powers so they always know where you are and can appear in front of you at will – you’re asked to choose, before the rest of the family come home, if you want to live or die.
Beg to be allowed to live, and you’re brutalized in a dungeon by one of the others to turn you into an obedient pet. (We get yet another bit claiming that she’s strong-willed so it took extra long, but given the nature of her “strong will” is denial and doormat behavior, what actually happened is probably more a matter of her already being so traumatized it takes a lot to break her further.)
Beg to be killed cleanly rather than whatever else they’ll do to you, and the game twists time itself to make the others come back early. You frantically beg them that you didn’t want to die like this, that you were asking to be killed to be spared getting torn up by the rest – and the other vampires tell you to be quiet and start smiling pretty, then you’re turned into supper.
This is made all the worse by one of the “happy” vampire endings, where if you pick the vampire who’s got pull in the family, you get adopted in and you just love everybody so much and everyone’s all nice and welcoming…or are they, really? Because we also know that vampire gets bored with things and the infatuation only lasts about two weeks, and by amazing coincidence, that’s how long you spend at the mansion, so probably he gets bored and then a second later you’re ripped apart by the rest of the family you’re blissfully cooing over as if you didn’t already know they’re a pack of murderers. (Incredibly awful murderers. It’s repeatedly brought up that they burned down a building full of people because they wanted it rebuilt in a different style.) Or hey, maybe you do get to stay! Maybe you get to spend the rest of your life playing housewife to the vampires while they continue to treat the rest of humanity with less consideration than the average person has for earthworms.
There’s also a very difficult to get threesome ending, where you get the same choice, but this time, she makes it clear she’s staying for them and how great they are rather than because she dares want things like getting to live or not being tortured to death, and she’s rewarded with two hot vampires who casually disrespect her wishes while sexily drinking her blood (one of which explicitly said earlier her blood tastes better when she’s scared or in pain, and who repeats this during the ending as she complains it hurts, but it’s okay because she’s so happy! really! she can’t imagine any other life than being a chewtoy for the two of them!!!).
Now, given the type of game this is, you’re obviously not supposed to be paying attention to the heroine’s problems but her sexy love interests. Again on the first playthrough, I did get the impression they had some legitimate issues – the setup here is that vampires have massive power disparities based on which generation they are. The guy in charge, Adrian, is a second-gen who can’t leave the castle, the other, Luca, is a third-gen who’s spending his entire unlife as servant/babysitter. So, one’s a spoiled baby and the other is lowkey hating everything.
Luca works out to be semi-sympathetic. He’s an asshole who lashes out at you when you accidentally meet up with him, chat, then politely say goodbye but nope you were supposed to ask permission how dare you it’s assault time. However, you can trace it back to him being trapped under someone else’s thumb and having no power, so he’s taking it out on the only person he’s ever met who’s lower ranked. The second-gen siblings that normally reside in the castle are odd because none of them have a lot of third-gen vampire servants, so he doesn’t even have peers, and of course they don’t keep humans around normally, so he’s spent two hundred years as this supposedly powerful creature who’s forever outclassed and getting ordered around by others. And he’s not even being kept by the vampire who sired him, who he loves. I’d guess that normally there’s a degree of mindfuck that keeps the servant vampires happy because they’re around this person they insist is the most beautiful special bestest person in the whole world, but his immediate superior is instead a messed up vampire who has the mind of a child and he lives every day aware his precious best beautiful person only picked him because she wanted him to be nursemaid to her baby sibling who she actually cares about.
While the heroine shouldn’t be with anybody until she gets therapy and real supportive friends, I can conceive of Luca improving as a person once he’s out of the toxic environment and now that he’s moved on to a new relationship rather than pining after his sire, and if that new relationship was with someone who had any capability to stand up for herself. He’s the one who prefers “bitter” blood, as in, suffering and pain, yet he doesn’t display the casual sadism of Adrian. The ending with him also involves escape, as in, he knows you’ll die/get brutalized when everybody else comes home and fucking does something about it, even though it means disobeying others and losing his place in the world and never seeing his precious beloved perfect sire again.
If Luca was a possibly redeemable shithead, Adrian was just straight up shit, and the reveal doesn’t help at all. For mysterious reasons, Adrian isn’t allowed out of the castle and has to do what his older siblings say, despite getting bored and lonely whenever they leave to do other things. He insists other people entertain him but throws fits if it doesn’t go how he wants, forcing people to walk a narrow path of being assertive enough not to bore him but not actually push him hard enough to make him mad. The way to encounter him during the choices section is to go one place, find no sign of him, then find him at your room because even though he knew where you were, and even though he knew you didn’t know where he was or that he was waiting, he refused to go to you but is mad at you for making him wait. He’s the one who throws another tantrum about you being scared of spiders, and forces Luca to participate in terrorizing you to teach you a lesson. And while Luca’ second conversation goes well as fits the whole budding romance thing, as I said, Adrian’s second is him assaulting you in a tantrum…and his ending involves him getting aggressive toward you again and it’s soooo romantic because he’s jealous you might like the other vampires more! His secret is that he’s not really a second-gen vampire, actually he’s the progenitor of the whole family who got bored with life and mindwiped himself, so he’s even more privileged and unstoppable than he already was. Then poor broken Miranda argues with him that he should keep it secret rather than ordering them not to kill her to preserve the new life he made of semi-equality – bearing in mind that we have never actually seen him interact with his “siblings” and have no evidence they aren’t walking on eggshells around him and that this may in fact be no change from his previous life and it’s just the amnesia means he doesn’t realize anything’s weird – so to preserve that hypothetical improvement in his life she thinks it’s okay to die, and she only lives because he insists that he’d be even more sad if she dies.
And this also makes it clearer that he did nothing at all for you in the bad endings. Luca has no pull, so his quietness and ……. during the endings seems sincere. Adrian apparently let them take you off to be tortured without any concern or even asking what would happen to you exactly, and then I guess forgot you were there until his sibling says you’re finished and ready to be reintroduced and generally acting like he was trying to do exactly what Adrian wanted, and the most Adrian’s willing to do at that point is be unsure if this is what you meant when you said you didn’t want to die – he’s certainly not going to feel bad enough to let you outside and tell you to run for it. I’m not even sure how much he’s bothered by your obvious suffering and how much is just that you’re no longer feisty and fun to chat with. If the other vampire had just trained you to say “Adrian” rather than “Lord Adrian” and recite a few canned responses that sounded more lively, would he even have noticed a difference? I guess you could argue that Adrian is a prisoner of privilege, and it’s tragic he’s been so insulated he doesn’t have real empathy and lacks the will to do anything, but fuck him and fuck people I’m supposed to sympathize with because boo hoo their lives have been an unending series of getting everything they ever wanted all the time.
On a mechanical level, the fact we shoot through the two weeks with only a few events during that time definitely hampered things. Generally, stories where the love interest starts off an asshole have a lot of development to slowly uncover that they’re secretly a good person and/or give us time for the abuse to start to feel normal. On the other hand, there’s so much fucked up stuff packed into just a few scenes here that I really wouldn’t want to see a more drawn out version.
(Finally – while the racial aspect was a bad idea, I was willing to believe they’d just fumbled things, since it is the sheltered baby who won’t shut up about how weird her skin is so he’s probably supposed to sound like an idiot, and the writer didn’t think that racism shouldn’t be brought up so casually…but in the ending where she gets eaten, all the experienced vampires who d leave the castle all the time also comment about how weird and strange it is that brown people exist.)