Disclaimer: This is a review of a visual novel game that I was asked to review and I got a review copy free. This is a mystery, not an otome game, but the main character is female and there is a little romance.
Curse of Slate Rock Manor, by Red Panda Games, is set up as a mystery, but most of it is kind of locked room game, where you start out from the same point all the time and try to figure out the correct course of choices to get to the end. You can’t see the end and solve the mystery until you try 25 different paths (I think there are more than that possible, but there’s a minimum number, I believe, to get the ending). There’s a guide on the creator’s website if you get stuck.
Story: During the intro, you, Delilah, get a phone call. It’s from a woman you don’t know who claims to be the girlfriend of your boyfriend, Trent. She asks if you’ve seen Trent lately, because he disappeared after going up to a place called Slate Rock to investigate ghost claims. After Delilah hangs up, she gets worried about Trent (not to mention wondering what’s up with this other woman, since Delilah is actually pregnant with Trent’s baby (!!?)) so she and her other friend Lyle head up to Slate Rock to search for Trent. Delilah’s relationship with Trent is a secret, so Lyle doesn’t know about it – as far as he knows, the three of them are all just friends. Once they get up to Slate Rock, the real story begins where you choose how to go about investigating the creepy Slate Rock Manor, which is supposed to be haunted.
Sound: It’s fully voiced! The voice acting is pretty good for an indie game. The heroine, Delilah, is the best IMO. The music is suitable but nothing stands out. Sound effects are done well. There’s a great extra at the end, where outtakes are played during the ending credits. Quite fun.
Visuals: The avatars are also very attractive, in an anime style. They have different expressions which fit them pretty well. The backgrounds are based on stylized photographs or simple 3D CG, which makes the characters and scenes seem unmatched, but I stopped noticing it after a while.
Characters: The main character Delilah is pretty likable, although I was surprised she didn’t seem that upset by hearing that her babydaddy-to-be was cheating on her. Then again, there were hints of issues from the beginning, and I don’t think Trent was supposed to have known yet. Lyle was alright, but was a little whiny at times – Delilah was definitely the cool head in that partnership.There are two other characters that are in most of the scenes, the maid and a police officer, and they play their parts well. Officer Dooley was great in a put-upon authority figure way who’s tired of all these stupid kids running around way.
Story: The background story to the manor is interesting, but most of it is told through information dumps and not through conversation. Also, the writing is kind of stilted, so a lot of the suspense and mystery is not as intense as it could be. The story that you actually go through is alright, but the gameplay mechanic makes it kind of choppy. You have to go through the same lines quite a few times so I ended up not paying as much attention as I should have to put the pieces together.
Many of the routes end abruptly on bad ends, but are not very realistic (you’re arrested on trespassing charges and are stuck in jail forever? not too likely), but that really didn’t bother me much, as the point of the game is the mystery, not a realistic drama. The real end was also a bit sudden and over-the-top (and there were some ablism issues), but definitely surprised me.
Gameplay: This is where I think the game falls down a bit. There were a few small things that could have been done that would make this a lot easier and fun to play. First, there’s no skip feature. That means that everytime you start at the beginning and decide to go with Lyle or wait for him, you have to start clicking the enter key many times to get through the dialogue and story. To make it worse, choices come up suddenly and it’s easy to mistakenly hit enter again and choose the first option. There’s no back or history key, so if you make a mistake you just have to play through to the end of that chapter.
There’s also no indication of what choices you’ve made before. Already-read text isn’t a different colour, nor are the choices you’ve picked already. So if you leave this game and come back, you’ll have to go by memory as to what routes you’ve done.
There is, at least, a progress bar when you finish a chapter to show you how much you’ve completed (and so roughly how many more routes you need to do to finish). That’s very helpful.
Summary: I don’t think I can fully recommend this game because of the gameplay issues. The story is interesting, and the voices are a definite plus. I would, I think, recommend it with the caveat that you should play through using the guide from the beginning, so you don’t get frustrated by trying to figure out the different routes.