As part of our ongoing Spooktober 2023 coverage I will share with you my impressions of four titles that stood out to me as I browsed the entrants for games to cover. As always, read our original post and check out all the games on the detailed Spooktober VNDev Jam overview page
Check out our past coverage here:
The end is never The end
Length: 1-2 hours
Accompany Sarah on a train ride to her childhood home in The end is never The end by Purechito. A locked box and a torn note – those are the only mementos reminding Sarah of her late mother. Her initial aim is to find a way to unlock the box, but the journey quickly takes an unexpected turn towards Sarah’s own past …
This game immediately grabbed my attention while I was browsing through the entries with its striking artstyle, reminiscent of Milk outside a bag of milk outside a bag of milk. Great image composition, facial animations, particle effects and clever use of the many CGs further bring the art to life. The visuals are underlined by an atmospheric soundtrack clocking in at a length of 20 minutes, which you can listen to on YouTube.
Over the course of the story various themes – most importantly dealing with the illness and subsequent loss of a loved parent – are explored through the lens of accompanying Sarah on her trip. A literal lens, in a way. The player can interact with Sarah throughout The end is never The end, as they do the sound effects and visual effects may remind older readers of a diascope changing slides — a very neat detail. Without delving into spoiler territory, the main themes of the story are resolved in a satisfactory way over the course of the two endings you can reach, depending on your choices in the game’s interactive sections. Some aspects of the setting and story leave room for further exploration, but not to a point where the game would feel incomplete. Another small detriment are spelling and grammar since a number of mistakes made it past proofreading stage.
I very much enjoyed my time with The end is never The end and am looking forward to Purechito’s next project.
Shape of the Circle
Length: 30 minutes
Experience the world through the eyes and ears of a depressed office worker in Shape of the Circle by l a r i. The player follows the unnamed protagonist as he struggles through his day. Acting as the inner voice, you may comment his actions or attempt to influence them, but in the end you’re just along for the ride.
Shape of the Circle‘s central theme is depression and every aspect of the game reflects that. The synth-dominated soundtrack is melancholic and oppressive. Grey, black and brown are the dominating colors of the game’s expressionistic background and character art. Faces of background characters are scrawled out and various foreign languages reach your ear whenever someone talks to the protagonist. Even his own home is depicted as a dark and cramped place that offers no respite. Each of the scenes features unique artwork and music, a very impressive feat considering the limitations of a game jam.
With its story Shape of the Circle does convince as well. The interactions with coworkers, the dialogue with the protagonist’s inner voice, the general behaviour – all of them hit very close to home. The technical aspects and the writing seamlessly form a window into life with depression, so I highly recommend experiencing this game for yourself!
Length: 30 minutes
See the world with different eyes in this entry by GreenClovers… or, at least at the beginning, don’t. Summoned‘s premise is a simple one. You are a demon, usually far removed from humanity’s plight, who got summoned into this world in a desperate bid for power. Initially, you are nothing but a mass of consciousness – blind, deaf, and without a body to call your own. As you regain your senses of sight and hearing, the visuals fade in and background music starts playing — a very nice introductory touch. Eventually you gain a body, and with it comes the realization that reality hurts you. Your aim is to escape your summoning circle by any means as quickly as possible – your summoner, however, has all the time in the world.
The means to escape the summoning circle are twofold: Either close a deal with your summoner or trick them into disrupting the circle. To achieve this goal, you can take on various bodily forms, influence your conversation partners with your behaviour, and prey on the insecurities they reveal … in theory. Summoned has a very interesting concept, but doesn’t manage to quite realise its potential. Owed to the time limitations of the game jam format the script is quite condensed – a major detriment to a game about a demon outfoxing their summoner. Just as the proper feeling of waging a war of words sets in, you’re railroaded towards a conclusion. This holds true across all the forms you can take and the behaviour you choose to display.
On Summoned‘s itch page GreenClovers expressed their intent to add more content in the future. As the lack thereof is what my criticism boils down to, I’m looking forward to it.
Length: 1-2 hours
A bad harvest, spreading illness, and no one left to help – life is looking grim for Isgard and the rest of her village in Shared Beauty by Night Asobu. As all hope seems lost, news of a nobleman travelling through the region arrive. In their desperation, Isgard and her friends fetch a plan to tie the passing nobleman down to the village with the help of the beautiful Faralda. Certainly, everyone’s life is at stake, but more sinister motives rear their ugly head as well …
A village shrouded in mist, somber music playing in the background, and all villagers but Faralda reduced to silhouettes. Shared Beauty very effectively sets a bleak stage for its story. The presentation is top-notch and doesn’t need to shy away from paid releases. It’s hard to believe this entry was created in a mere month! I felt that the characters were well-written, their motivations and flaws each serve to inform their decisions. As the story progresses and you get to decide how to interact with Faralda and your co-conspirators, you can reach a total of four endings. Avid readers of fairytales will feel right at home here and it’s fun to guide the story to a conclusion of your choice. Each ending rewards you with a CG, so make sure to read them all. A guide is included, but you do not need it as the consequences of your choices are logical within the story.
I had a great time with Shared Beauty, it was a most impressive entry in this Visual Novel Jam.