Schuld was a really disappointing game.
The opening really grabbed me – you find yourself in a ruined city full of rust and rotten food, the closest sign of life you see is that one of the doors has been crudely shut with wire, the walls are covered in missing persons notices and a newpaper, dated at year 9999, talking about how meat prices grow ever higher. So, obviously cannibalism? Just about everything has a little piece of flavor text.
A little beyond, there’s an area of money littering the ground, fluttering down from the sky, and flowing in place of a river across the screen. Press the button by the river, and you get a thousand dollars over and over again. What better demonstration of how meaningless it is?
It’s all downhill from this point.
You finally see another person, and it’s a cutscene so you can’t actually investigate. This was the beginning of my hatred of the cutscenes, they meant you can’t investigate your surroundings yourself. The other person appears to be a legless stump sitting on the ground and warns you that people are coming to take your healthy flesh. People then appear and you have to run from them in a particular path or die for a while, while hitting arbitrary switches. Adding insult to tedium, they don’t actually chase you, they just run in a straight line, so you can dodge them and watch them pile up at the end of the path, although it does you no good because touching them still kills you so you can’t get past.
Get to the end of that, and you find yourself in some sort of hospital with people. We learn that the people are afflicted with a disease that makes their bodies rot from the outside in. The description is wonderfully gruesome; the sprites completely fail to pull it off. The little girl is led off, assured they have a new arm ready for her, which, after a second, makes you wonder how they’d have spare arms.
It’s what you’re thinking it is.
Exploring the hospital, you find people lamenting that this is a punishment for their sins of greed. You also start the game with a book that has just a list of the seven deadly sins, although they’re kept in German so it’s less obvious the section would be about avarice. As you continue, an angel shows up to be your guide. You find yourself in a room full of afflicted people. One man offers you a lifetime supply of cigarettes for your arm, since he’s only got one left himself and it won’t last much longer. When you refuse, he offers them to anyone who gets your arm for him, and a clunky battle commences. Later, there’s an even clunkier bit where you have to escape through a timed-interval deathtrap made of cigarettes, because the angel explains that while nothing has value, cigarettes are the exception because there’s no need to stay on message and anyway cigarettes are inherently evil. They’re valued because they lessen the pain. Also, you find him again as just a head and torso, smoking cigarettes, and this time you’re told they speed up the rot which is presumably how he went from three limbs to none so quickly. Then you get ambushed and have a limb hacked off by a fatalistic doctor. Meanwhile the angel keeps trying to say you should feel sympathy for the guy.
I kept playing, feeling frustrated. It felt like it just wasn’t quite coming together with the rot thing. You could see doctors in a triage mentality of trying to keep the greatest number of total people alive for as long as possible, even if that meant lopping limbs off whole people (certainly having only one arm doesn’t hold you back much from escaping), but of course that means increasing the number of sick people and maybe perhaps preventing anyone from surviving. But none of that seemed to actually be in play – you’re forced to give up a limb to help someone smoking to speed up the disease, and who has no limbs left and is just going to die in short order, while you’re displaying no symptoms at all and this seems a great way to get infected. The fact you’re chased by swarms of evil limb-stealing doctors also goes counter to this place dying, since there seem to be enough healthy people to pull that off.
The story resolves with finding your way to a family’s house of apparently friendly people, where they’re eating meat (which they got…how?) and have nothing else, despite meat not storing all that well, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to be sudden second twist that actually there is cannibalism going on too. Their daughter has lost her eyes, so the main character pops one of his out, saying that under the circumstances, people should share, and so she gets to see the ocean one last time…blood red and stuffed with the bones of the dead somehow.
And this ends the first section. I was starting to get a bit annoyed, because I’d started this on the promise it was really short and half of what I’d played already was a matter of slogging through to try to get to the ending.
The next sees him with two arms and in a new area, this time with the theme of war and guns, so wrath this time. He had a flashback to his life before where he was in an affair, and thinks he sees the woman and tries to chase her. He finally finds her and we learn her tongue was cut out for disobeying her owner and yes, yes we are doing the thing where terrible things happen to the woman to motivate the male main character. She’s then murdered, and he finally decides to pick up a gun and go murder the guy, which seems like it’s not displaying the desired virtue, and you do so and then you find yourself back at the previous section because you failed wrath, but your angel friend is all confused because you remember being there and he starts asking the judge what’s going on. Then you end up in a weird area with weird enemies and puzzles, then see a freaky god, then end up in what appears to be a serial killer style hell where, supposedly, your girlfriend is being tortured forever to punish you (it is really embracing that women suffering to motivate men thing). You run across other people but they won’t react to you and you can’t do anything to free them from their cells despite running about with a wrench and crowbar. Your angel friend is acting weird too. Finally you reach the devil who’s just finished torturing your girlfriend to death and get forcefed her remains.
So anyway, the reveal is that you’re actually in a computer program, which is supposed to rehabilitate prisoners but instead drives them insane for the amusement of rich people. The guy in charge is the judge who sentenced you, and for some reason he wasn’t satisfied just letting the established torture setup drive you insane and started messing with it, which upsets the AI enough that it intervenes to free you. Turns out he murdered his wife and got away with it, then you broke his back, then he sent you to torture rehabilitation, and now the AI is going to blow up the space station but you have just enough time to kill him yourself first, and then you do that, and then presumably everything blows up rendering your “vengeance” meaningless and killing a whole mess of other people in the process.
In sum, this had a more exaggerated version of the problem I had with OFF, where I found the main setting far more engaging than the secret real setting. The initial rot setting was by far the best, and a series of dystopias themed by sins could’ve been interesting if they managed to all be done in depth. But if I’m supposed to feel investment centered on the main character and building toward the reveal of IN SPACE IN THE FUTURE, it should’ve been much shorter sequences focused on the character and the dilemna directly in front of him, and probably more flashbacks along the way. As it was, the whole thing felt like bait and switch – the game opens with a dystopia full of delightful flavor text everywhere, then cutscenes start to take over, then fewer and fewer things can be clicked on, then it all becomes meaningless.
On a brighter note, the puzzles were decent enough – not obvious on first glance but pretty easy to work out, which I think is especially good design when it’s not the main point of the game. Getting stuck on a difficult puzzle when you just want to see what’s next is frustrating and wrecks immersion.