Game: “The Letter”
In the space of 12 months, I’ve gone from playing next to no visual novels to becoming absolutely hooked on them. They are simple enough to wrap my head around, and can be taken at my own pace, rather than having to rush through a world that’s about to explode, or whatever ridiculous hoops games want to make me jump through. The Letter: A Horror Visual Novel is the latest in a growing number of game-but-not-really titles added to my library that I’vebeen reading/playing lately, and it’s a game that doesn’t waste any time before scaring the absolute pants off you.
At A Glance
|Positives||+ Creepy story with genuinely uncomfortable moments|
+ Well developed characters
+ Sprawling story paths
|Negatives||– 3D character models look cheap|
– Scripting issues
– Lulls in the story, particularly towards the end
|Price (When Reviewed)||£17.99|
|Our Playtime||22 hours|
|Available On||PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Mobile|
The Letter as it centres around seven people who are tied together through a spooky, and very much haunted property. As the characters slowly start to explore the mansion, they uncover a letter, written in blood that asks for help otherwise bad things will happen, and that they do! The developers Yang Yang Mobile have taken inspiration from classic Asian horror films such as Ringu in telling the story, which I initially felt would be a disservice as I’ve seen how these films play out, but as this is a video game, the story doesn’t have to be so linear.
Each chapter plays out over the same two weeks in October, with a focus on each of the characters and how the Ermengarde Mansion spirals into their lives. First up is Isabelle, an up-and-coming estate agent who has been given the listing to sell the mansion, and who plans to use the commission from the sale to send back to her family to pay for her brother’s education and father’s medical bills. It’s a rather deep introduction and one that is well represented throughout the game. There’s a slow, almost meandering approach when it comes time to learn about each character that gives them life and believability when they are thrown into an unbelievable situation. As I progressed, I got to learn about each one of the cast before getting to their individual chapter, but I was still left caring about what happened to most of them to an extent that I started to think how they’d handle a situation rather than how I would approach it.
I thought this approach to character building worked to The Letter’s advantage, and after Isabelle’s introduction, which also sees a brief intro to the rest of the cast, the scene is set to progress the story, and it’s at this point the game kicks into gear and doesn’t look back. As soon as the letter and cursed spirit was introduced, I was on edge knowing that she could jump out at literally any point. Quite how Yang Yang Mobile manages to pull off jump scares when most of the scenes are static is truly remarkable and they always managed to catch me off guard. I don’t think I have been this on edge playing a video game since attempting to play Resident Evil 2 back in the late 1990s.
It probably doesn’t help (me) that The Letter follows true Asian stereotypes for their horror – ‘the ghost is a young girl, with long hair and a creepy voice’. The deranged look on her face as she slid closer to the screen set my fight-or-flight triggers off to an extent I felt like I could only play the game during the day. Sadly, the rest of the game’s visuals are a bit of a mixed bag. The static mansion and city scenes are well put together and really sell the look of the game, but the main character models, while varied, felt like they had been pulled out of a free-to-play mobile game. This wasn’t really a problem until our ghost-girl appears and there is such a clear disparity between the two parties.
The main problem with The Letter however is the fact each of the seven chapters are set across the same period of time, which opened itself for a lot of repeated lines. This was a particular problem towards the end of the story as I found myself around the same dinner table, having the same conversation multiple times. It’s at this point where I felt the game started to wobble, but fortunately it was close enough to the end that the credits rolled before the game could fall apart completely. and The Letter managed to rescue itself well. It also helps that there are a number of dialogue options to explore, each with the potential to unlock different parts of the story, as well as alternative endings.
According to the developers, there’s more than 700,000 lines of dialogue to explore, and with my first playthrough totalling upwards of 25 hours, I can attest to this – there is a lot of reading! It might seem hard to keep track of where the story was going, but as I progressed a dialogue tree sprung up in the menu, allowing me to look at what I’ve said and what paths I have missed. It was a handy option and while seasoned VN players will know the importance of having multiple save files, the dialogue tree helped me determine what I was missing in each chapter.
As The Letter proudly incorporates a lot of text, it is all the more impressive that the vast majority of this is voice acted. The seven main cast members have a lot to say and even the supporting cast who are often relegated to a small section of the screen have voices, which is a lovely change, despite some scripting issues. While the story of The Letter is enjoyable, the script treads a fine line between so-bad-it’s-good and plain bad. There is the odd line that comes off as plain cheesy, and some downright offensive, such as dropping the N word for absolutely no reason. In this case, it was uncomfortable reading because there was no context, and no rebuttal from the rest of the cast. It felt like a relative making an excuse for someone, “Oh, don’t mind Uncle John, he gets like that when he’s had a few, take no notice”. It’s a mark against the otherwise brilliant story.
This moment aside, The Letter is a scary, if somewhat predictable affair riffing heavily from Japanese horror films such as Ringu and The Grudge. The plot starts off strong but by the end game, when you’ve heard the same lines of dialogue seven times, I ended up wishing death upon all of the characters as I skipped through the same dinner party, although the final conclusion wasn’t one I was expecting. Once the main story has concluded there is still a large amount of game left to explore and branching story options to discover, which does add more context to the whole experience and gives the game a tonne of replayability – it’s just a shame that the visuals and scripting hold it back from being a truly great experience.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.