Disclaimer: The reviewer received a steam code from the developer for the purpose of writing a review for Inescapable. The developer also participated in the Fuwanovel Advertisement Program with 3x Banner products and some social media posts across multiple places. This review, however, was not part of the Advertisement Program.
Have you ever watched a reality TV show? Chances are, you’ve glimpsed one or two at some point. Heck, technically even current Youtube culture is a derivative of the “reality” formula TV shows have been employing since the start of television as a concept! People put a lot of stock into shows that showcase everyday life. Shows like Big Brother, Survivor, and more recently Too Hot to Handle are only a few examples of reality television that people like a lot. They have a lot of drama, conflict, and colorful relationships that spawn from bringing actual strangers together. It makes sense that they’re as big of a franchise as they are today!
But have you ever considered what it’s like being at the other side of the screen? Wondered what the contestants think when TV stations broadcast their controlled lifestyle to millions of people for the purpose of their own entertainment? Their dreams, their feelings, their personalities—they become aspects of the show to enjoy from the comfort of viewer’s homes. Doesn’t it feel a little bit weird describing it that directly? How about the part where viewer votes dictate a participant’s placement in the show? Perhaps there’s something more sinister lurking behind the glare of our own screens.
Inescapable: No Rules, No Rescue is Dreamloop Games‘ first foray into the visual novel scene. Published with the help of Aksys Games, it simultaneously released on Steam, PS4, XBox, and Nintendo Switch last October 19th. The game features over 50 hours worth of content, ranging from traditional VN elements to sections that have their own unique gameplay. It also boasts English voice acting for its entire cast, with snippets of other European languages inserted in between lines.
Dreamloop Games Ltd. is a Finnish video game developer based in Tampere, Finland. Since their inception back in August 2014, they’ve successfully completed over 30 projects involving game development. They offer a wide range of services including, but not limited to console ports, full scope game development, and co-development. If you’re interested in their works, visit their official website for more information.
You play as Harrison Tailor, a British bus driver who seems to lack self-confidence. He was invited to a reunion with a few friends, but along the way he suddenly loses consciousness. Upon waking up Harrison finds himself in a container with a curiously placed puzzle in it. He solves the puzzle and exits, only to discover that ten other people suffer from the same predicament. Suddenly, their phones ring. Two women, Naima and Naomi, explain to them that they are now all participants in a show called Inescapable. They explain that all of them will be stuck on the island for at least six months, but if they’re able to wait it out, they win 500,000€ in return. There’s only one catch: they won’t be enforcing any rules.
Will you play the sisters’ game, or will you try to find a way out of the miserable situation you find yourself in? Socialize, scheme, or find love—the island invites you to experience its thrills. This is Inescapable: No Rules, No Rescue.
Inescapable makes use of an in-game day system to track your progression. It splits each day into three parts: Morning, Afternoon, and Evening. You can choose to visit an available location during these parts of the day to perform an action, usually dialogue involving other characters. At some points, the game will spawn automatic events that can consume part of a day, or at times, even the entire day. Inescapable also provides minigames that can serve as alternative options to let a day pass by.
The in-game day system serves as an important point of reference for you since the story progression is closely tied with the timing of specific decisions you will be making. Having this system adds an additional layer of complexity to the overall experience; it demands that you stay alert to avoid missing particular time-sensitive events and achievements. But, more importantly, it helps you organize and plan out your actions to achieve the endings you’re aiming for.
Core to the game’s day-to-day system is the plethora of character interactions available to you throughout your playthrough. In Inescapable, the choices you make as Harrison directly influence the kind of person he becomes — which dictates the ending you’ll reach. You are free to interact with all ten of the other participants, and depending on the topic at hand or the action related to the character, Harrison’s behaviour will slowly start to change. This is why even after arriving at a chosen destination, the game gives you an option to either pursue your choice or pull back and consider something else.
Do we really, Harrison?
The option to peek before engaging characters is an important part of the game since your interactions ultimately influence the route it takes. Instead of presenting you with obvious choices, each conversation you decide to pursue in Inescapable acts as the equivalent of a choice you’d make in a typical VN. There’s no real length of time where you’re free to just immerse yourself in the game’s world and characters similar to a common route. Instead, after a brief introduction to the setting, the game leaves you to fend for yourself and figure out what kind of life you want to live in your forced captivity. Just be aware that there are consequences!
Now what would a survival show be without a trusty way to introduce and monitor drama among the participants? That’s where this handy phone comes in! However, in the spirit of the “inescapable” theme the phone has limited functions. Only the bare necessities are enabled — messaging and a map. But wait, there’s actually more! While that does sound boring, it also doubles as a useful tool for you, aye! (Get it, UI?)
The phone is not only the participant’s tool—it also serves as the general user interface that you will be interacting with as you play through the game. The Mail and Map function are important for the in-game universe, but you also have access to standard QoL features like a backlog, inventory, settings, character bios, and even an in-game achievement tracker via the phone! It’s a pretty cool way to be creative with your game’s system, and honestly, it very much fits the overall aesthetic of the game.
But the phone’s functions don’t just stop at your typical QoL features. In fact, because it is so closely tied to the game’s plot, the phone will also introduce specific functions that are key to specific routes. Talking about these, however, will spoil part of the game so take care in opening this spoiler box.
Depending on the game’s route that you’re on, you will gain access to one of three additional features: the Money Pot, Voting App, and Island Sleuth. While not necessarily impactful – the story essentially becomes linear past the box activity around Day 50 – they embody specific themes that represent their respective endings. These features are essentially checkpoints for your playthrough. If you gain access to one of them, you’re heading towards a specific ending.
Island Sleuth is special; beyond being a route-specific tracker it introduces an additional function called “Deduce”. Deduce serves as an additional skill check for the player; it tests your knowledge of the current situation by forcing you to link pieces of evidence together to form convincing arguments for Harrison to present to his fellow participants in the appropriate time. If you identify the related pieces of evidence correctly, you receive an additional piece tying the previous ones together.
Inescapable features a number of puzzles and minigames made available to you after a specific point in the story. While some in-game events can be considered mini-games by virtue of their general idea, these mini-games are usually separate from automatic story events that consume a unit of in-game time. For the most part, they are irrelevant to the narrative, past a particular point. In total, you will encounter one puzzle and six minigames.
The puzzle presents you with a diagram resembling a power grid. The goal is to direct the power (indicated by the bright green color) to the other core (red circle). You achieve this by using the available rotating parts of the grid. When solved, a new part of the story is unlocked.
The six minigames can be categorized into arcade games and non-arcade games. I’ll describe them briefly:
- Seagull BBQ is an arcade game that utilizes three elements: bullets from the player’s gun, birds (targets), and a grill (goal). The objective is to stay alive as long as possible by shooting birds into the grill to create burgers. The more consecutive shots you land on a bird before it hits either the ground or the grill, the higher its point multiplier. Every bird that doesn’t land in the grill takes away a portion of your in-game HP.
- Space Rocks is a shoot-em-up game where, instead of fighting spaceships and aliens (or sometimes youkai), you’re shooting rocks to gain points. Powerups drop at random from each rock or other entity destroyed. You start with three lives; the game takes away one life every time an enemy projectile or rock hits you. The game ends when you lose all three of them.
- The last game is Neon Runner, a Geometry Dash-like arcade game. You control a square entity that continuously moves right, your goal is to dodge obstacles and remain on the platforms as long as possible. The square has two actions, which are jump and dash. Dashing allows you to move forward a certain distance, breaking red obstacles that might be present along the way.
- Word Guesser is the game’s version of the browser game Wordle. It involves guessing a five-letter word in a select number of attempts. The game will highlight each letter used in your guesses in a certain color, giving you hints towards the solution. Gray means a letter is not part of it, yellow indicates the letter is in the wrong position, and green denotes the correct placement of the letter.
- Fishing Game is essentially a rhythm game. It doesn’t exactly follow the BGM, instead it generates a random sequence of notes to hit in specific intervals to kind of mimic what it would be like if you were playing a song through beats. The fish you get after a run is random.
- Slots Machine plays like it would in real life: you press a button, and if it displays a certain pattern corresponding to a reward, you cash out. You have the option to bet in increments of 1000€ (up to a maximum of 3000€). You can only use the slot machine 10 times in a day, however.
If I were to describe the art in Inescapable in one word, it would probably be “vibrant”. A lot of the in-game CGs make use of vibrant, eye-catching colors that leave an impression on the player. Moreover, the effects that accompany them do their job well enough to make the colors pop out even more! It’s a treat for the eyes (and honestly an exercise) with how brilliant it looks.
I also like how even though it’s obviously anime-inspired, it doesn’t lose that indie-like feeling in how the art expresses itself. It’s one of those things where you look at it and it immediately screams “EVN”, which isn’t bad per se. It’s actually pretty amazing that they can put out high quality art like this even with Dreamloop Games’ small size. Being the first VN from the company, it sets a very nice precedent for the next titles they’ll be releasing.
The music is good as well. The tracks convey particular scenes’ atmosphere in a fitting, perhaps even entertainingly sarcastic way at times, which breathes a lot of life into the game. The tracks themselves also serve as a way of tracking your own in-game progression, as there are obvious hints as to what path you’re taking depending on what’s playing in the background for the majority of the time. *wink wink*
Now if only the game actually had an “Extras” or “Gallery” option to view the CGs and the OST…
Look at everyone getting along with each other so well! I sure hope nothing bad happens!
Inescapable‘s cast boasts a sizeable number of characters, ten of which you can interact with and get to know better throughout the story. Perhaps due to Dreamloop Games’ background, the characters are also noticeably all European. Throughout the story, each of them reflect their place of origin in the words they use, their cultural mannerisms, and their preferences. Hence, the cast ends up being what you would call colorful—vivid, full of life, and quirky to a fault.
The way Inescapable handles the cast’s characterization is satisfying; it doesn’t dwell on the country-based stereotypes character-building is highly susceptible to becoming a victim to. More accurately, while those do play a part in molding the characters, they don’t represent the entirety of who they are. Each character has their specific trait, quirk, or weirdness that play into who they are as a person beyond their nationality and honestly, it’s pretty fun discovering more about them. I loved Isak’s out of place regality and cultist vibes, Sasha’s suspiciously crude wokeness, Valerie’s youthful stubbornness, Lumi’s awkward intellect, and so much more.
Although there’s a lot to love from the cast, because of its mostly Western influence, I feel that opinions about them would probably be split between “I love them” and “They’re incredibly annoying”. Despite its obvious anime inspiration, Inescapable does not shy away from expressing ideas that have been polarizing for a lot of fanbases. Gender queerness, asexuality, depression, emotional abuse and trauma—these are all topics implied via the game’s character interactions, and while there are dialogue options that talk about aspects or experiences related to them, they are mostly taken in stride. This in of itself isn’t grounds for arguing lazy writing, of course. It promotes a healthy perception of normalcy; a sentiment that’s especially important in today’s context.
Are you sure you should be telling me this, Isak?
Inescapable has 4 main endings, with 3 special endings being bonuses for one of the routes. These endings all exhibit a particular thematic resolution for the game’s cast, mostly circling back to the initial quote about how “no man is an island”. Just like how Harrison is ultimately influenced by the nature of the interactions you consciously pursue, these endings serve as culminations of the type of person you become along the way; a testament to Harrison’s six month journey of discovery.
Of course, not all routes are created equal, and while I’d love to blabber about them freely in this review, Inescapable‘s endings are all heavy spoilers just from the names themselves. If you’re curious enough to find out without wanting to know specific details, I recommend skimming through the game’s achievement list. The endings are listed there without any shame. But for the “you” who is currently reading this and still want to open it, be my guest. I warned you; I won’t be shying away from possible spoilers!
This section formally starts the spoiler-riddled thoughts I had throughout the game. The order I comment on them is specific—it follows the order that I read them in. If you’re mistakenly here, last chance to turn back!
Good thing I only play gacha games!
Inescapable‘s Greed Ending is honestly an ending every achievement chaser out there will encounter. Its conditions are closely tied with performing well in every random minigame or event the game throws at you, which implies “save scumming” or the abuse of a game’s save feature to achieve the best outcome possible. Essentially, it’s a punishment for players that chase efficiency or value no matter what it take.
It’s a pretty heinous route because of its initial emphasis on the importance of teamwork in captivity. It makes sense from a logical standpoint to try and maximize profits as a community, but to see Harrison’s ambition unfold in such an ugly way was kind of a wake-up call. The guise of a community is so thinly veiled over an unpleasant atmosphere that emphasizes “contribution” creating a person’s relative “value”; an uncomfortably relatable yet sickening notion.
I was very surprised when I ended up in this route. It was kind of frustrating to a degree that it ended the way it did when I just played the way the game wanted me to play, but I get the gist of it. Playing through the route actually makes it very apparent what kind of commentary Inescapable wants to provide, and in a way it made me excited for what else it had in store for me.
Annika’s watermelons bring all the boys to the yard.
Enter the Lust Ending, the second one I achieved. As a VN reader, it’s not really weird to pursue attractive characters. The overall gist of some of them is quite frankly this: talk to a girl, help them out in some way, be called a nice guy, end up in a relationship. So of course, if you want to pursue your happy ending, you’d want to keep talking to the cutest characters, right? And that’s exactly where the pitfall this ending exposes lies.
This particular route emphasizes the tendency of people to gravitate towards characters that they consider charismatic, beautiful, or attractive. It plays with these stereotype some characters have and the kind of personality that comes with it. Add Harrison’s interactions with them and you end up with a perception that “hey, this is like a dating simulation isn’t it?” That’s the point where you start to get punished. Mia, who I personally think is one of the more important characters in the game, succinctly expresses the frustration that comes with being at the other side of that interaction. In her own words:
And it’s in this way of calling the entire thing out that you suddenly find yourself inseparable from the character Harrison. Suddenly, his decisions aren’t just his own. You, the player, have consciously picked choices that led to this route where Mia feels like a trophy among others that you want to keep. And that’s honestly pretty horrific as an ending. Beyond what it turns Harrison into, the game makes you aware of your part in making him who he is by the end of the route.
Sometimes you need to shut up, Snape.
Playing into the whole “mystery” aspect of the cast’s captivity, the Suspicion Ending cranks the doubt to 11 and pits everyone against each other. In this route, Harrison turns into the island’s detective after a freak incident sends the cast into disarray. How will he handle the fact that there’s someone among them with blood on their hands?
The route forces you to ask “now what?” after every important junction. Okay, we solved the current murder mystery, but how does that get me closer to getting off of the island? A lot of lies and deceit feed into individual characters’ actions, filling the ordeal with lots of that tension and excitement you’d want as a reader. Overall, it’s an enjoyable scenario.
I loved the tension throughout the route. Honestly, it’s that kind of thing that keeps you on your toes. There’s just really one thing that I find a little bit jarring about it. Sure, it fits the motif the two preceding routes established (aspects of human nature in decision-making) but I feel like it does some of the characters disservice. For example:
Or perhaps that’s the entire point of it? Harrison as the protagonist, blinded by his suspicions, doesn’t fully throw himself out there to get to know the characters as they are. He harbors his own thoughts about everyone, conditioning himself to normalize prejudices based on his limited experiences with them. That goes for the other characters as well, of course! Similar to how some stories vividly paint differences in people’s perceptions of the world assuming a paranoid mindset, Inescapable plays into its mystery trope by exploring the dissatisfied feeling of being unable to accept the outcome of something because we held ourselves back. Is it our own insecurities? Prejudices? Fear? Whatever it is, it’s the reason we can’t fully absolve ourselves of fault—an admission of indirect guilt.
Woah Harrison, easy! Think about the kids!
At this point, it’s clear that pursuing your usual objectives in a game leads to varying degrees of a bad ending in Inescapable. Achievements represents greed, targeted relationships conditions lust, and assumptions breed suspicions. What path can we pursue to help us land a good ending then?
Well, as cheesy as it sounds, Inescapable‘s gameplay actually gives you the option to consciously avoid engaging these dispositions to foster trust. Avoid eavesdropping, confront the person as much as possible, do not engage in romantic getaways amidst captivity—do not play the game. The Trust route serves as the antithesis to Inescapable‘s show setting and provides an ironic alternative to solve the original source of conflict. How do you clear a game in the best way possible? By actively avoiding its mechanics.
The route is a culmination of your journey through three endings that emphasize particular aspects of human nature. Instead of centering itself around unique mechanics found within the game, it forces you to actively think about your decisions and pursue rewardingly wholesome relationships with the cast. It felt pretty nice to find combinations of interactions that lead to more scenarios where characters were just simply having fun. Boardgames, cooking, talking about mundane stuff—these everyday things we take for granted are the key to beating Inescapable as a game, and fittingly, it resolves the entire situation in an anti-climactic way.
The best part? You actually get to know the characters better! Staying true to the route’s theme, trust is gained through bearing one’s self bare. Their dreams, insecurities, fears, and way of thinking are all exposed not via an unfolding plotline, but because you chose to spend time with them to discover it. That’s why it’s filled to the brim with friendship achievements! The Trust Ending, thus, is a rewarding pursuit that doesn’t sacrifice the excitement found in the other three routes. It’s a creative way of opening up the conversation of conscious, active decision-making in relationships both platonic and romantic in nature.
Unexpectedly, Inescapable‘s four endings end up painting a cohesive picture of people and what it takes to create meaningful relationships. It actively pokes at various motives that people can have engaging others and punishes them for it. Without doubt, there is something to be gained by looking at it introspectively and retrospectively; an exercise of reflection that puts you, the player, in the literal shoes of Harrison Tailor and the decisions he makes.
Recommended Order: Greed/Lust > Suspicion > Trust
At its core, Inescapable is more of a social commentary than it is a mystery VN. Putting various kinds of people together to form a ragtag cast is definitely one way to create a convincingly thrilling mystery, but on the other hand, isn’t that just what modern society is? With all its emphasis on creating relationships and connecting with other people, Harrison becomes the player’s vehicle to explore the implications of moving within a microcosm of a global society. This is the reason why Dreamloop Games made him a relatively bland character. He’s gullible, easily influenced, and quick to assume a situation’s inevitability; Harrison is an incredibly frustrating MC to read because of how easy the waves sweep him away.
So what’s the point of Inescapable being, well, inescapable? At the beginning, the game throws you a series of passages that feel-good posts scattered in the internet commonly quote. You’ve definitely seen it before, but in it’s entirety? Maybe not.
The quote, or more accurately excerpt, is as follows:
Taken from John Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions
Harrison and all the other participants consider themselves as their own islands, but are they truly? John Donne, in this poem, argues that no person is actually truly ever alone in the world. Instead of an island, it’s more accurate to say that we’re all part of a single landmass connected by the simple fact that we’re all human. In contrast to being separate clods, it makes much more sense to stick together to form something stronger that can’t be washed away by the waves from any sea. Thus, in being connected, humanity ends up stronger than if they were apart.
This “connection” is what’s at the core of Inescapable, and is the key to solving the inevitability of its situation. Instead of being washed away by the waves rippling in the participants’ captivity, the various interactions we have create the foundation necessary to form relationships that connect them to each other. There isn’t a real inescapable situation; it’s an assumed inevitability caused by our own reservations in making those connections. It’s scary to reach out to others because it makes us vulnerable to whatever might affect them. The moment we step out of our own island, the bell ceases tolling for just one person; it now tolls for us.
Inescapable knows this and actively integrates it in its gameplay, overall concept, and extra features, making it a pretty satisfying experience. Its characters all employ a certain barrier that serve as hindrances to making those important connections, which is why at the end of the day, it’s not a mystery thriller; it’s a VN that tries to break personal and social barriers. It’s not the situation you’re trying to explore, but the people that live with us in this landmass we call the world. Breaking away from our self-induced isolation—that’s what we need to escape from.
Inescapable prides itself in its well-crafted string of meaningful character interactions; however, while it is a novel experience in and of itself, its heavy focus on player-initiated actions create a sort of slow-burn narrative. That’s not a deal-breaker on its own since there’s a lot of good slow-burn fiction out there, but Inescapable deals with it in a way that makes it feel like a slog at some point.
Despite the presence of a skip function, the save file cap greatly limits your freedom to explore possible time saves in-between routes. You essentially will have to restart without a guide, and it takes forever to get to the turning point on Day 50-ish even with skips due to mandatory events with their own unique mechanics and the animation in-between scenes. It’s bearable, of course, but the worst thing a game can do to its player is to make it feel boring playing through it.
Possibly a personal grievance, but adding the lack of a blatant in-game progress tracker to the limited saving option makes it annoying and painful to chase particular achievements in-game. It feels frustrating to spend an hour skipping, then just resetting because you can’t save in-between well enough to feel like it’s worth actually loading a save at some point. It’s in no way a narrative defect, but it’s a detriment nonetheless.
The minigames, while entertaining, are only really that. While they serve as nice distractions in a specific route, their replayability greatly diminishes after achieving the high score and its accompanying achievement. If you wanted, you could even fully finish three of those minigames in only one section of the in-game day. With alternative forms of gameplay being present in a VN, I think I’d prefer something that ties in better with the game’s overall narrative. I suppose it applies for particular features in the game’s phone UI, but they’re highly inconsequential because of the narrative turning linear after a certain point.
As a final criticism, I find the lack of a gallery or extra mode very weird for a VN. It should be a given for any VN to have the option to view in-game CGs and OSTs as much as the reader wants to because they’re vital assets to the game. This is something that, quite frankly, just doesn’t make sense to me from the standpoint of the general VN audience.
Inescapable: No Rules, No Rescue is a VN that deals with nuances in human relationships. It primarily deals with establishing connections with other people to pursue your goals as a participant in a twisted show. Reflecting these core mechanics, the game’s themes are overall cohesive and make sense in its greater context, making a satisfying experience overall. What kind of person do you want to be, and how will you do it? These are questions that you’ll continuously face and reflect on throughout the game, and by the end it will have been an exercise well worth it.
As a first VN entry from Dreamloop Games, it was a satisfying read. For people interested in trying the game out, I recommend looking past initial grievances about its marketing and whatnot and approach it as it is. These kind of sentiments misrepresent what kind of game it is. Pick it up, read it, and experience it for yourself. You never know, it might be the next thing that might stick to your mind like glue!
In summary, my final score is as follows:
As a final gift, have this very cute (and funny) picture of Mia:
If you’re interested in trying out the VN for yourself, you can buy it on Steam, the Playstation Store, the Nintendo Store, on on Xbox. For more information, you can also access the game’s official website.
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