So, this is going to be a stressful review for me to write. First off, Saint Maker is a brilliant visual novel that any horror fan should check out. Despite its plot pertaining to supernatural entities like ghosts and spirits, the true horror of Saint Maker comes from how real it feels. Saint Maker is a game based around the concept of religious indoctrination and abuse, and how it can take the smallest and most insignificant factors in a child’s life, and use that to justify the most callous mistreatment imaginable. And there it is, that’s why this review will be so painful… because I promised Hata I would lay off the politics on this site. So here I am, trying my hardest not to go full Reddit atheist while talking about this visual novel. Place your bets on how many paragraphs I last until I start spouting Edward Current quotes.
Saint Maker is an original English Visual novel by an indie team that released their first title in 2017. It’s rare that original English VNs that aren’t Doki Doki Literature Club or Katawa Shoujo get any attention from the visual novel fandom, but Saint Maker is certainly worthy of it. Anyway, Saint Maker comes to us from Yangyang Mobile, the same developer behind The Letter, Perfect Gold, and Love Esquire. While this is my first experience with their work, if those games are of the same quality as Saint Maker, then I will definitely need to cover them as well. Saint Maker is an absolute masterpiece, and I needed to give genuine thought as to whether or not I found it better than Gore Screaming Show. Keep in mind, Gore Screaming Show is an established classic in the medium that has influenced notable developers such as Sakuraba Maruo and Kurashiki Tatsuya.
Saint Maker stars Holly Beltran, a teenage girl who is sent to attend Saint Idelora’s Convent, where she is trained to become a proper servant of God. She attends this convent with Gabriella Rivera, a rebellious teen who does not share Holly’s optimism, and there is an immediate contrast between Holly and Gabriella’s beliefs. Holly genuinely believes in the religious teachings that both Sister Adira and her parents taught her while she was growing up, but she deals with a recurring cognitive dissonance with her heavy attachment to a fantasy series of books about a young witch named Kylie, something Sister Adira views as a corrupting influence due to its subject matter, which she claims is satanic. What we see here is the way religious institutions often imbue a sense of shame into their followers from a young age. They teach them to hate themselves over the most trivial of matters, such as their taste in literature, so they can become conditioned to accept hate and cruelty from others as well. This, in turn, teaches them to believe that others deserve the same cruelty when it’s inflicted on them, and that their refusal to just blend in with the status quo is a personal fault of their own.
Gabriella decided as soon as she arrived that she’s going to give Sister Adira what she’s expecting; that she’s going to behave poorly, mouth off, and refuse to obey orders. It’s a common trend in all kinds of stories to have teenagers be portrayed as irrational and poorly behaved and then have them stop as a shallow form of character development. This stems from the fact that most writers are adults and are thus more likely to forget what it’s like to be a teenager. While this alone makes it harder to write teenage characters, there’s the even greater risk of an author going full boomer and deciding to portray teens as an obnoxious stereotype, and letting some of their own regressive views slip into the writing.
I must disclose some personal bias in regards to this topic, in that my own upbringing involved a lot of emotional abuse and gaslighting by the adults in my life, all while I was repeatedly told that I would eventually grow up and wonder “why the hell I was so mad all the time?” Well, I’m 28 now, and all adulthood did was let me realize all the ways I had been lied to and wronged when I didn’t have the means to stand up for myself. It also goes without saying that, as a lesbian trans woman, that I’ve heard countless similar stories from friends, and that I fear it continuing to happen. In my adult life, I’ve come to realize how vulnerable children are, and their vulnerabilities are rarely taken seriously by the people who should be taking it the most seriously.
I say this because Saint Maker averts this trend. They could have gone with the cliché of making Gabriella unlikable but having a tragic backstory justify it, but they didn’t go for that. They instead made her someone whose skepticism and hostility comes across as entirely reasonable; as someone who recognizes abuse because they were put through it in the past. And this brings us to the part that makes this review frustrating, the fact that the antagonist isn’t some fictional deranged cult, it’s just flat-out Christianity. That said, Saint Maker never tries to imply that Christianity or religion itself is inherently evil. In fact, Sister Adira’s hypocrisy is often directly shown by other characters citing scripture, suggesting that those who consider themselves people of faith are often every bit as prone to sin as those they chastise. Rather, Saint Maker makes a loud declaration that sometimes, children are well within their right to question or doubt authority figures in their life. There are naturally plenty of authority figures who will not take kindly to this declaration which, ironically enough, is precisely why it must be heard.
It must also be known that my appreciation for Saint Maker does not only stand for political reasons. It also exists because Saint Maker is a brilliantly written and compelling narrative with fully fleshed out and realized characters. Despite everything I’ve said about Saint Maker’s desire to make a statement, it deserves equal amount of praise for the nuance in which it approaches its subject matter. I’m sure you’re all aware of my left wing, anti-religious views, so imagine the level of talent required to write a character that I both am horrified by, and who I feel immense sympathy for. Similar to how it would have been easy to write Gabriella as a spoiled brat, it would have been just as easy to turn Sister Adira into the stereotype of an abusive religious zealot. Saint Maker choose not to take the easy route for either of them.
Sister Adira is such an effective villain because of how human she is. Sister Adira is never intended to come across as an abusive sociopath incapable of empathy. She instead, has moments of genuine care and softness between her abuse and manipulation. You also learn that as cruel as Adira’s abuse is, it pales into comparison to what children sent to Saint Idelora’s Convent had to endure in the centuries prior. Sister Adira’s character is also a study in how a life time of abuse and indoctrination can lead one to internalizing said abuse long after one’s abusers pass away. This not only adds an air of tragedy to Sister Adira’s character arc, but it draws a harrowing parallel to Holly’s own backstory. The most horrifying part of Saint Maker isn’t the super natural elements, or the attempted child murder; it’s that the only difference between Holly and Sister Adira, is that Sister Adira has the sunk cost fallacy to contend with.
I’ve spent most of this review talking about the story, since that is by far it’s strongest element. Everything else, however, perfectly accompanies this amazing story. Special credit needs to go to the voice acting. I’ve played very few games of any genre with voice performances this powerful, enough that I can count them on hand. It is truly rare that a voice performance is so strong that I can’t imagine the game existing without it. The art work is also worthy of praise, in both the level of detail and emotions conveyed. Unfortunately, there are some points where character designs fall into the uncanny valley, but at least it’s in a horror game. The sound track carries the atmosphere very well, but I wouldn’t describe it as particularly memorable. The sound effects are also well used and help sell the whole experience.
With all that together, Saint Maker is a must read. I spent a total of five hours reading Saint Maker, four of which were within a single day. The writing in this visual novel is just that compelling. Saint Maker is easily the best original English visual novel I’ve ever read, and it can easily stand toe to toe with many of the classics in the Japanese industry. The talent shown in this game needs to be supported. Not only does Saint Maker receive my highest recommendation, I now feel a personal obligation to cover Yangyang Mobile’s other titles because of it.