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After the 5 Star high of the Fourth Drop, I’m super excited to get into Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay!

Who are all these people?

  • Ren Hojo – This drop’s POV character. Ren is an author who lives with his assistant, Rui, at the base of Mt. Hikami. He’s become obsessed with his dream in which he believes he kills a young, white-haired girl, and postmortem photographs of shrine maidens from Mt. Hikami. Could there be a connection?
    Rui Kagamiya – the organized assistant to Ren Hojo. She lives him with and accompanies him on his increasingly dangerous forays onto Mt. Hikami.
  • Kazuya Sakaki – Ren’s friend since high school, who works in the city. He was helping Ren collect postmortem photographs when he suddenly cut contact. Recently called Ren to tell him he was getting married. But to who?
  • Keiji Watarai – a folklorist obsessed with the rituals conducted on Mt. Hikami. He moved there to learn more but he, and the house he lived in on the mountain, have vanished into the mists.
  • Yuri Kozukata – An orphan rescued from suicide by Hisoka, who can see “spirit traces”, like Hisoka. She’s in possession of the Camera Obscura, the camera that can combat ghosts. She can see shadow traces of people and items.
  • Hisoka Kurosawa – Yuri’s mentor who runs an antique shop. She also reads fortunes and finds missing items and people by following their traces… but went missing on Mt. Hikami while looking for Haruka.
  • Haruka Momose – Rescued from Mt. Hikami, but still drawn there by the allure of some suicidal siren song.

There’s more and more characters each time. I think this might be the widest cast in any Fatal Frame game yet.

To catch you up

Last drop we rescued, however briefly, Haruka. But Ren is still obsessed with the postmortem photo album recovered from the inn. This album, compiled by Keiji Watarai, a folklorist who settled on Mt. Hikami, seems to bring trouble wherever it goes.

First Keiji vanished. Then the inn keeper’s father. Then the inn keeper himself. Will Ren follow suit?

Ren’s home

Back at home, Rui has secured a video tape that might shed some light on the whereabouts of Keiji Watarai. Ren settles in to watch it, and the images are immediately familiar.

This is Shrine of Dolls, and the underground tunnel of Womb Cave. But the image flickers, and now a cabin fills the screen.

Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay, Keiji Watarai's house
The house that vanished into the mists.

“I don’t remember seeing this house before.”

The person recording the video enters, cautious. “Doesn’t look like anyone’s lived here in awhile.”

Dirt and grime cover everything. And yet, there are items on the table. It looks as if someone vanished, rather than moved. An old rotary phone sits on the corner, and as they pass it chimes once, briefly. The explorer jerks away, not wanting to pick it up. I can’t blame him.

He passes a living room, and at its center is a massive black box.

The same type of box that Yuri found Haruka in.

But he doesn’t investigate it. He goes towards the stairs, moving fast and jerky. His panic is obvious without him saying a word. He climbs the stairs, panning the camera across a room with a hole in its floor. A man stands in the closet, his face dark with decay. But he doesn’t react. Does he even see him?

A little further in he finds a room filled with books. This is undoubtedly Keiji’s study. In the storage room off its side is a ladder, leading up into an attic. And against his better judgement the cameraman mounts the stairs.

His breath trembles as he lifts the camera up. Only to see a man crawling across the floor towards him, blood streaking his face. The cameraman screams and the screams and the footage sizzles and cuts out.

Ren grabs the report Rui’s written about the video. It reads:

“This folklorist, Keiji Watarai, went to the mountain due to his obsession with the mysteries of the sect living there. He then went missing, as mentioned in the diary, and rumors about what happened to him abound.

They say that he didn’t just die or go missing, but rather he stumbled on something the mountain wanted kept hidden, and so his entire house as swallowed up by the mist.

This is the origin of Mt. Hikami’s more recent stories of a haunted house.

While the veracity of this is unclear, I looked into a video tape, left behind by someone who stumbled across the house. The video is apparently famous in occult circles.

I contacted the publisher, and received the following response:

Dear Rui Kagamiya,

Thank you for contacting us.

The tape was found near a river on Mt. Hikami. It’s unknown who filmed it. There were many sections too damaged by water to be usable, and so we took what was left and edited it together.

The master copy of the video was confiscated by the police. They conducted a search of the mountain, but were unable to find who shot the film, or even the house’s location.

We advise you not to look into this on your own.”

Ha. As if they’re going to listen to you, film publisher.

As Ren puts down the report the phone rings.

Ren answers and is surprised to hear it’s his friend, Kazuya Sakaki. He hasn’t been able to get a hold of his friend in awhile, but Kazuya scarcely seems to hear him.

The point of view shifts, and we see Kazuya standing in an old house. His face and voice distant.

“I’m getting married,” Kazuya announces.

“What, you are?” Ren says, shocked. He stammers a congratulations. He asks if he knows the bride and Kazuya continues, as if in a trance.

“Ever since I saw her picture…”

Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay, Kazuya informing Ren about his new fiancee.
She secrets black water and men still love her. What’s her secret?

Black water creeps towards his shoes. The windows behind him are boarded up. This… doesn’t look good.

The voice of a woman floods the phone.

“Will you die with me?” she asks.

Beside Kazuya a grey faced, black-lipped woman stands, staring at him. The line cuts.

Shaken, Ren hangs up, staring down at the phone as he tries to comprehend what Kazuya has told him. The ghastly, feminine voice on the phone.

But he doesn’t deviate from his plan. He has to find Keiji’s house. The cameraman seemed to follow the same path Yuri took when she found Haruka. He’ll have to go to the Shrine of the Dolls, through the wooden grate, and descend into Womb Cave. From there, perhaps he’ll be able to find it.

Before he takes a step outside the door, he finds Rui’s journal. Moral quibbles aside, he peeks inside, to try and get insight into what Rui’s been afraid to say aloud.

“Mr. Hojo often cries out in his sleep.”

“Mr. Hojo often cries out in his sleep. He won’t tell me much, but it seems like he has a recurring dream, about a ceremony from his childhood.

As a young boy, Mr. Hojo said he spent a summer with relatives at the base of Mt. Kagiroi. He’s mentioned playing in an old house and in a shrine on the mountain, and some kind of festival he went to.

Is he dreaming of that ceremony? I went to festivals as a child, but all I remember is having a good time.

He often cries “don’t look at me!” in his sleep.

He’s always had a hard time with people staring at him. He especially dislikes it when women look at him for too long.”

Huh. Sounds pretty familiar to someone else. A tattooed face murderer, perhaps. Did the white-haired girl have the same ability as the shrine maidens, or is Ren just overcome with guilt at having her look at him before he kills her?

Shrine of Dolls on Mt. Hikami

Ren and Rui set out to the Shrine of Dolls, arriving unscathed. But they linger outside the shrine.

Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay, the Shrine of Dolls
Why are we here again. Why would we ever go back.

Ren follows the path Yuri takes through the side door. He opens it, and the dolls that were standing guard when Yuri was here last are gone. So are the dolls that filled the hall.

Their absence is almost more disorienting than their presence. They’ve moved. I don’t like that they’ve moved.

Rui, lagging behind Ren, hears the wordless sounds of something almost indistinguishable. Is it a child? Beckoning her to play? She turns, following the noise, into a doll display room. There on the floor is the white-haired girl, laying beside an effigy.

Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay, white-haired girl "pretends" to be dead.
What a delightfully morbid little brat.

“Don’t talk to me. I’m not supposed to talk to the living.”

“Don’t talk to me. I’m not supposed to talk to the living,” the white-haired girl warns.

She’s so petulant and bratty. It’s hard not to like her.

She opens her eyes, sighing. “A man at last. You are a man, are you not?”

“I’m a girl,” Ren states, shocked but indignant.

“Liar.”

“I am!”

“I see. In that case… Let us play.” The girl holds up the faceless doll, nearly identical to the one she had for Yuri.

“This is an effigy. Of you. … No. I’ll make you into an effigy.” She creeps closer to Rui, her scarlet eyes full of malicious intention.

Down the hall Ren, realizing that Rui isn’t behind him, turns back and enters the doll room that Rui was in moments before. But now Rui’s nowhere to be seen. It’s just the ghost children, who surround him.

“It’s playtime! You’re the groom, now find your bride!”

They run off, vanishing through the walls.

Ren stares after them, perplexed. He has no idea what’s going on but he needs to find Rui. Opening the nearest door, he descends into the waterlogged storage room. Dolls still fill the shelves but there’s a new book amongst them, too.

A soiled notebook, belonging to a priest who once lived here.

It reads:

“The children are playing. Sometimes I wake up at night, feeling their presence. The following morning, dolls that I know I’ve put away have moved someplace else.

The more this happens, the more clearly I hear the sounds of playing, and the more often I have dreams where I’m there among the children, playing with them.

I think my late daughter is one of them.

Last night, I felt like I as being watched. I awoke to find a white-haired girl staring at me.

She said, “Don’t worry. Your daughter is playing with the doll you fixed.” After that, she disappeared.

Those eyes… It’s like she could see everything. She even seemed to answer the very question that was on my mind.”

Ah, so the white-haired girl has the same ability as the Blackwater Maidens. Maybe that’s why Ren was so frightened to have her look at him when he killed her all those years ago.

Ren works his way through the shelves, finally reaching the stairs on the other side. On the other side of the shrine, he encounters a sheer, ghostly sphere, hiding in a small room. When he takes a picture of it, it transforms into one of the hiding children, who leaps at him before running away.

Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay
Found you! You creepy little bastard.

I guess that’s one child down, two more to go.

Down another hall we hear a small voice and find another hidden girl. That’s the second.

As we search for the third, we find another one of the priest’s diaries.

It reads:

“Today’s dream was stifling. It was night, and several men carrying burning flames spent a long time exploring the area underneath the main shrine.

They carried a huge reliquary underground, burying it where no one would ever find it.

The white-haired girl was sleeping inside the box.

She was waiting for someone, but it wasn’t me. I didn’t have what she wanted. I remember feeling so incredibly sad when I woke up.”

Ahh. So, does Ren have what she wants? We’ll have to wait see.

The third ghost is close by, hiding in a hole.

Now where do we go? In the flooded sanctum here the three large dolls are enshrined Ren finds another notebook, which wasn’t there just a few minutes before. But this book, with its shiny leather, is familiar.

It’s Rui’s journal.

Quickly, Ren flips through it, hoping for a clue.

“Mr. Hojo has started acting strangely. It’s like his mind is completely elsewhere. This all started when he saw that photo. He’s usually on the lazy side, but now he’s obsessed with tracking down these photos.

I have to go with him, if only make sure he doesn’t wander off willy-nilly.

Would he put this much effort into searching for me if I went missing, I wonder?”

Woof. Rui doesn’t have a very high opinion of him, does she? But it’s hard to blame her.

But Ren believes that if he uses her diary, he can see where Rui’s been taken. Does that mean, he, too, has a spiritual sense like Yuri and Hisoka?

A vague white mist glimmers at a door, and we follow it into a narrow room. Where it’s concentrated Ren takes a photo. Rui materializes, the Camera Obscura materializing her back into the living realm.

Fatal Frame: Fifth Drop Gameplay, found Rui
Was she hidden in the realm between life and death, like the photo album in the inn?

“You… you really came for me.”

“You alright?”

“Yes.”

But she really doesn’t sound alright. She keeps getting picked on by all these ghosts. Still, Ren isn’t ready to give up and go home yet. Not when they’ve come all this way. He needs to find the Veiled House.

He and Rui head back towards the doll room here she was first spirited away. But a man with a reliquary on his back attacks them. As he collapses into ether, Ren reaches out to touch him.

We see his last moments, as he contemplates the black waters, the box on his back forcing him to bow.

“My body. Lost to the depths… of the Black Water…”

He seems to have thrown himself into a lake of water. Perhaps he, like so many others, couldn’t resist the allure of that place. It’s hard to feel sorry for him.

Inside the doll room, the white-haired girl is sitting on the doll display.

Ren is taken aback. He remembers her immediately. And she clearly remembers him. She stares at him intensely, contemplating him for a moment.

White-haired girl knows Ren and gave him a token before she died.
She’s so disappointed in him. But I would have tossed that token too.

“You didn’t keep it with you. My token… Did you lose it? But, our promise…”

She turns, disappointed, away from him before vanishing into the ether.

Ren says nothing. He just goes to the wooden grate beneath the doll display and enters Womb Cavern.

Womb Cavern

“Th-thanks… Y-you know, I… I’ve been waiting,” Rui stammers, sounding chilled.

“Hmm?” Ren asks, clearly confused. Not turning around to look at her as he works his way through the waterlogged tunnel.

“For… for someone to choose me. I’ve been waiting… so long… for you.”

Uh-oh.

“What are you talking about?” Ren demands.

“I… It’s not important. I understand now…”

“… Well, I don’t understand it at all.”

“The girl… She’s been waiting too. For the person with her token.”

“Huh?”

It seems that more than just a murder happened during Ren’s childhood. But that, too, seems to be blacked out of his memory. But more pressing, is Rui possessed?

They reach the main cave, and the pool is still filled with black boxes. In the center, the women who attacked Haruka and Yuri attacks. Her arms swing wildly and blind towards Ren, but soon she vanishes. In her wake is an Iris key.

It occurs to Ren now that there is a woman in each of the boxes that fill this cavern. But he has the key to the metal door that leads out of this place. And he doesn’t linger, quickly unlocking it so they can leave.

And outside the cave, they find it. The Veiled House. The vanishing home of Keiji Watarai.

The Veiled House

“Is… is someone there?” Rui asks, as they approach it, cautious.

It looks decrepit and long abandoned. Just like in the video they’d seen. But the moment they step inside it’s undeniable – this is surely the house that Kazuya called from. I recognize that boarded up window. And that phone, that started the explorer in the video. That must have been the phone that he used to call Ren.

So, he’s here in this house, somewhere.

“It’s just like that video..” Rui murmurs, her head swinging back and forth, nervous.

“Yeah.”

Ren heads up the stairs, and catches a glimpse of Keiji staggering through the halls, towards his study.

“This box… is there something inside of it? What lies within… and what is its purpose?” Keiji’s voice drifts out of his study. “Have others been submered elsewhere on this mountain too?”

There are countless books here, but they are all unreadable because of water damage.

We see another trace of Keiji in the hall, murmuring to himself. He seems entranced.

Keiji Watarai mumbling to himself about a maiden

The TV in the sitting room is on, its monitor full of white static. A tray with two teacups and tobacco sit on a dusty table. It feels as if someone’s been here recently.

Ren approaches the phone, and it rings.

“Ren. You’re… too late… I… I’m already…”

“Kazuya?”

“Really? Was that him?” Rui asks, shocked.

Rui spots an old photograph on the floor by the phone and picks it up, giving it to Ren.

“This is just like the picture you were looking at.”

Ren stares dumbfounded at the photo. It’s the precise same postmortem photo he had in his photo album. The photo of a beautiful shrine maiden.

Did Kazuya come here because of it?

Keiji’s spirit appears in the hall behind them, stumbling away. He mumbles something almost too quiet to hear:

“The living and the dead… Bound by ceremonies of Ghost Marriage.”

“The living and the dead… Bound by ceremonies of Ghost Marriage.”

So, he married a dead girl. But why are all these men obsessed with her? These photos seem to have a siren effect, similar to the call to the suicidal Mt. Hikami has. But why? Why are they luring men here?

Near the phone there’s a hole in the floor. Beneath it is dark, murky water. But there are traces of water on the floor, as if something had been dragged into it.

We follow Keiji’s trace and hear him murmuring. “The photo… she’s smiling at me. The photo’s smiling at me.”

His ghost vanishes into the next room, and Ren follows him. Here the room is filled with shelves of books. And still Keiji talks to himself.

“The picture… From the moment I let her draw me in, the union was already complete. I must go. I can’t just keep waiting until it’s too late. Even if I risk ruin…”

Until what’s too late, Keiji? He’s giving us more questions than answers. But amongst the shelves we find one of his books, filled with notes on Mt. Hikami. It reads:

“Here on the mountain, water is considered the source of the soul. A person’s soul is then said to return to water upon death, rather than moving on to an afterlife.

Those ready for death would gather at the mountain and return their lives to the water.

Water connects everything.

I’m glad I came here. The people on this mountain have a yearning for death. That is to say, they have a yearning for water, and a yearning for nature.

Life and death are both connected to water.”

There’s a cassette tape with the notepad, but the label has been left blank.

Fortunately, we can listen to it now. Ren plays it, and Keiji’s voice fills the room.

“The shrine maidens use the water as a conduit between the living and the dead. Those who come to the mountain are transfixed by death. To die is to return to the water. The water is connected to everything. The shrine maidens glance into the souls of the dying, taking on their final memories. Then the shrine maidens become the Pillars, and those memories are submerged into the water.

If water really is connected to everything, then this mountain, overflowing with water, must also be overflowing with death.”

Well, he isn’t wrong. There’s a lot of water and a lot ghosts.

At Keiji’s desk, Ren sees the trace of the missing folklorist standing, looking down. He takes a photo and Keiji vanishes, leaving in his stead two notebooks.

The first reads:

“I saw this silhouette of a shrine maiden from within the mist that envelops the mountain. Something about her seemed somehow… unnatural. I’ve been told there are no more shrine maidens on the mountain now.

Would that then imply they are trapped within the mist?”

The next notebook is far newer than the others. There’s no dust on it, as if someone had just written in it.

“It’s said that human sacrifice was once practiced through this region. Rather than returning people to the water upon death, the ritual involved placing so called “Pillars” in special reliquaries and sending them to the water while still alive.

It’s the role of shrine maidens to become such Pillars. They would take on the memories of the dying, and thereafter return to the water themselves.

In doing so, the subject would continue living on as Pillars.

But what did these maidens who became Pillars fear, or hope to appease?

There are various teaching in Japan about where the afterlife, also known as the Netherworld, or the hereafter, is located.

Some teaching say it is above the mountains or across the sea, where others claim it lies underground, within the very earth itself.

Here on the mountain its’ said to lie within the water, implying a close link between water and death.

The Pillars within the reliquaries would be in a place close to death, but would go on living.

Perhaps it was the special reliquaries that allowed them to evade death and continue living, frozen in time.

It’s thought that perpetuating these Pillars allowed those close to death to live longer lives.

In a sense it was believe that proximity to death helped develop a resistance to it.”

Ah. So, they were submerging these shrine maidens alive. For what purpose, though? Why did they need to become pillars? Why would they need to carry the memories of the dead with them?

In the side room we hear a low murmuring. Ren opens it, and the head of a doll rolls off its shoulders, onto the floor. This is the room that leads to the attic. To the place where the explorer was attacked.

But on the shelf is another cassette tape, and Ren plays it, putting off the inevitable.

“The shrine maidens were sacrificed as Pillars… but to what purpose? Pillars from shrines of other mountains, too, were routinely brought up in this custom.

But through sacrifice… what did the aim to appease?

Those who died but were revied were considered strong pillars. Being touched by death must create a strong pillar.”

Well, looks like Keiji has the same questions I do. But that gives me hope that they’ll eventually be answered.

With nothing left to distract him, Ren mounts the ladder, lifting his head up into the attic.

There’s something, no, someone here. The man from the videotape. He lunges towards Ren, crawling on his stomach, but just before his out reached hands can claw at Ren’s face he vanishes.

Beneath him is another of Keiji notebooks.

The notebook reads:

“Mt. Hikami seems to have been both revered and feared as a “mountain of death,” where only those prepared to die may enter, and those who visited were never allowed to leave.

Visitors to the mountain had to pass through the shrine grove at the foot of the mountain, where shrine maidens kept strict watch in allowing only the qualified – that is, the dying – to enter.

Today, the shrine at this grove has been rebuilt as an inn, whose innkeeper kindly let me borrow records of the time period.

The records from the shrine’s final year list one individual who was able to leave the mountain alive.

Kunihiko Aso.

After taking his Postmortem Photographs, it seems he was invited to the mountain to photograph the maidens.

I have heard his research into the hereafter allowed him to develop a special camera.

If I could see these photos of the shrine maidens taken with this special camera, I’m certain I could come closer to unraveling the mysteries of Mt. Hikami.

When invited to the mountain, it is said he was allowed into a house visited only by a select few individuals.

If I were invited to the mountain, would I be able to reach this place, too?

I truly wish I would.”

Kunihiko Aso? The creator of the camera obscura?

But Ren doesn’t have time to contemplate it. The room begins to fill with mist. And the maidens seem to move through mist, like they’re able to move through water.

Sensing that things are getting very dangerous, very quickly Ren quickly descends the stairs, headed back to the house’s entrance.

… It’s locked. Of course it’s locked.

Cautiously Ren turns back around, and opens the closed living room. Within is a black box. A reliquary. Its lid opens and a man comes sliding out of it.

Ren dispatches him, and sees the last moments of Keiji. Keiji… was he put into the reliquary? Is that where he’s been all this time?

The vision of Keiji’s moments are black and white static, slowly coming into focus.

“I made it… at last. She’s waiting for me inside this house,” Keiji gasps. He clutches the postmortem photo of the shrine maiden.

A door slides open for him, and she sits there in the room waiting for him. For a brief moment she is beautiful, dresses in the white bridal kimono. And in the next she is ghastly, her face grey, her lips black.

“You came for me me… Will you end yourself with me? After all this time,” the maiden croons.

He’s dragged into the room, screaming.

But where the ghost of Keiji was is another book. It reads:

“On the way to the summit, I found a photo on a small path lined with spider lilies. The path seemed to head into the forest, but it has become overgrown and is unpassable. Could it lead to that mansion, that only the invited can find?

It is different from the other Postmortem Photographs. I can only describe it as being beautiful. It had a beauty and a sadness unlike the others I’ve seen.

Was she alive?

As soon as I thought how beautiful she was, I was bound. I heard whispers of love from the photograph. They were the words of a curse.

Love after death.

I must go to that place.”

There’s also another cassette tape accompanying the notebook.

“There is a ceremony to bind doomed men with the shrine maidens, to keep them secure once they have become Pillars.

…Ghost Marriage.

A man’s fate is sealed once he recognizes a shrine maiden’s beauty. Whispers of love come from the photographs. They are a curse. The words are a curse. And yet… my heart is drawn to one word they utter. Suicide.”

Ren is desperate to leave this place. But before he can even try the door again, a wall is torn down, and the man with the tattooed face stampedes through it, attacking Ren. Why is he here? I don’t know.

Rui’s cluelessness is highlighted in this fight, as she stands there, looking vaguely uncomfortable. Occasionally the tattooed man swings through her, and she shouts.

But once the fight is over, she still doesn’t say anything.

And yet if we peek out of the massive hole in the wall that the tattooed man makes, we can see a tall woman that is surely meant to be Hachishaku-sama, the eight-foot tall woman.

urban legend easter egg!
Well, that’s a cool easter egg.

She wears the same hat and everything. (I’d post a link of her but it’s a lot of weird fanservice. Go look her up if you like giant women, I guess. Or listen to her cool urban legend!)

Ren, instead of walking through the giant hole in the wall and out of the house, goes back for the front door.

But now there’s a new box, and it opens. A woman floats upwards, as if caught in the eddies of water. I’m so tired of fights.

She floats around, teleporting before before diving in, like a miserable little barracuda.  But finally she goes down, and Ren and Rui are able to escape. But the moment they step out the door the house vanishes into the mist, leaving nothing but an empty space where it had once been.

“Was that the folklorist?” Rui asks.

“I guess so.”

“What’s going on on this mountain?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Is Mr. Sakaki here on the mountain, too? Just like the folklorist.”

“Enough.”

Great. Scintillating conversation. Wait to show you care about your friend, Ren.

But they run towards the forest station, where a  decrepit train waits for them.

I don’t trust this train. But that’s the end of the fifth drop.

Final Verdict

Welp. The final verdict on Fatal Frame 5: Fifth Drop Gameplay… Ren’s drops are always a little… lackluster, I suppose’s the word. Maybe it’s because he’s the folklorist, his drops are always full of exposition. But the entire drop was paced very poorly.

The Shrine of Dolls and the game of hide and seek now feel very repetitive, even if this might be the most relevant time for it to happen. Keiji Watarai’s house felt like a huge exposition drop that wasn’t really “earned”. And a lot of what we read felt repetitive, much like the ghosts.

The end of the chapter was also too fight heavy. Why was the tattooed man here? His bursting through the wall like the Koolaid man just felt ridiculous.

I really enjoy lore, so I’ll give it a 3 out of 5… but that’s very generous. I think Yuri’s drop will be better. I just hope we don’t have to go back to the Shrine of Dolls.

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Gaming

Ring of Pain Review: An Addictive Dungeon Crawler

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Ring of Pain is a rogue-like dungeon crawler developed by Simon Boxer and Twice Different. In the game, you travel through layers of a dungeon collecting loot and killing monsters. Each layer holds a series of cards containing enemies, curses, boons, and exits. As a character, you gain equipment, spells, items, and stat increases that help you defeat your enemies (or just run away better). 

Ring of Pain is a fantastic game. I received it in a charity game bundle, but it had sat untouched in my Steam library for a year. On a whim, I decided to try it out, telling myself I would play an hour or two and then review it. I ended up playing for four hours, only stopping because I had prior engagements. Every time I sat down to write this review, I instead played another couple of hours in Ring of Pain. The point of this story is not my weak will, but instead the highly addictive nature of Ring of Pain.

A screenshot of gameplay from Ring of Pain.

The gameplay had a good mix of strategy and luck, making it rewarding to succeed. There are also many viable strategies to pursue, which means there are many ‘correct’ ways to play the game and still see success. As someone who can get frustrated with rogue-likes, I liked how each run was relatively short but rewarding. This meant that I didn’t feel like I was sinking hours into gameplay that led nowhere. Also worth a mention is the absolutely stunning artwork that masters being atmospheric, creepy, and comical. 

My biggest gripe is that I wish there was more diversity of items. I sometimes felt as if I was just getting the same boring equipment over and over again. That being said, the developers have been consistently adding new content to the game since it released. Therefore, my largest issue is being addressed. 

Ring of Pain is a great game, and I highly recommend it for those who enjoy quick rogue-likes with dungeon-crawling elements. However, try another game if you get frustrated by random generation that could be impossible to surmount. 

Available on Steam for $20, I would say the price point is a little steep for the diversity of content. However, it’s a must-get during a sale!

4.7 out of 5 stars (4.7 / 5)

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Gaming

West of Dead Review: Six-Shooting in Purgatory

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West of Dead is a rogue-like horror game developed by Upstream Arcade and published by Raw Fury. In the game, you play as William Mason, a dead man trying to rid Purgatory of evil spirits. As part of the game, you travel through different areas within Purgatory, killing enemies and collecting loot. Between each area, you spend the souls you have collected to unlock more permanent upgrades that persist after you die, unlike your loot. As you progress, you can find shortcuts that allow you to skip levels entirely. 

I greatly enjoyed playing West of Dead. It is fast paced without feeling overwhelming and supplies many chances for advancement within a single run. The mechanics are interesting and feel relatively smooth, especially compared to many top-down shooters in which your movement can be unclear. There is a wide diversity of abilities, weapons, and ways to play which increases the satisfaction of runs. Also worth mentioning is the game is artistically stunning. The stylized art and music do an incredible job of immersing you within the world. Not to be forgotten, the voice acting is outstanding. This should come as no surprise since Ron Perlman voices your character, William Mason. 

A screenshot of West of Dead gameplay at the shop between levels.

While a great game, at times I was frustrated with the progression rate. It always felt awesome to make it to a new level, however, unlocking items could feel slow. I was often annoyed when I died at the end of a level and hadn’t been able to unlock a new item for my additional runs. Since runs usually lasted at least thirty minutes, I sometimes found myself wishing I progressed more for the amount of time and effort I was putting in. It’s worth noting this is a common feature of rogue-like games and my annoyance is more of a commentary on my own game preferences than the quality of West of Dead.

I highly recommend West of Dead, especially if you are a fan of rogue-like games or top-down shooters. It might get tedious at certain points if you want guaranteed rewards for every run, but it still delivers in progression via shortcuts and new level discovery. West of Dead is also worth playing just for the masterfully designed atmosphere and art.

Find West of Dead on Steam for $20.

4.2 out of 5 stars (4.2 / 5)

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The Dark Pictures: The Devil in Me (2022) Review

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Personally, The Devil in Me was the installment I have been looking forward to the most. While I can’t turn down any horror game, there is something about a group of people killed off by a masked killer that just hits the right note so to speak. While this Dark Pictures anthology entry is by no means perfect, I feel like some reviews have been a tad harsh on it. Anyway, let’s check it out, shall we? 

Plot

A film crew – director Charlie, his assistant Erin, cameraman Mark, technician Jamie, and Kate, the face of the show – receive an offer to visit a model house of H. H. Holmes. The team has just completed filming an episode dedicated to the notorious serial killer but is struggling budget-wise. Wary but in need of a big break, the group accepts and travels to the location, a remote island they can only access by ferry. It’s not long before they are separated and picked off by their host.

A mansion is seen in the distance next to the sunset in the sky.
Welcome to the Murder Hotel with a 0 star rating on trip advisor (source: https://www.thedarkpictures.com)

One thing I would note is that the plot doesn’t seem as branched out as some of the previous games. There are certain characters who have plot armor and some decisions are set in stone no matter what choices the player makes. In true horror slasher fashion, even if some/all characters make it out, the threat still looms, and the cycle continues. It’s debatable how much excitement it takes out of playing as some could argue even Until Dawn and The Quarry ended up having a pretty linear narrative trajectory.

Characters

In my opinion, this is where The Devil in Me falls a tad short. On one hand, it works, as slasher horror is known to have characters that fit into specific archetypes and are mainly there to get, well, slashed. On the other hand, for a game that thrives on character dynamics, they are not the most developed. 

While Jamie and Kate’s rivalry is its own bearing, it does not hold that much merit as they are quite quick to bury the hatchet. Erin and Jamie’s budding romance is cute but on shaky grounds based on some gameplay decisions. In addition, I never bought Kate and Mark as exes, as while their dialogue was well written for a broken-up couple, they didn’t seem to have much chemistry (although I have to give props to Jessie Buckley as she really put it all into her voice acting). 

While all of this sounds a bit harsh, I still find the group entertaining to watch in this setting and who knows, perhaps I haven’t unlocked specific interactions just yet. 

Gameplay

This section of the feature has probably received the most divisive feedback. Developers made some changes to gameplay, such as letting the characters jog and adding inventories. Some people have remarked that these things take away from the game rather than add to it as it makes The Devil in Me more of an RPG experience and not an interactive movie that the company is known for. 

A woman with red hair is looking ahead, looking concerned, half her face is buried in a shadow.
Do you think Google Earth has a nighttime camera mode? (source: https://www.thedarkpictures.com)

For me, these changes did not affect the playthrough, although I do see where those people are coming from. It might’ve been better to save the changes for season two to show the progress the team has been making. One thing I should mention is the intro scene – while I loved the concept of it, the animation was noticeably worse than the rest of the game and should’ve been patched up in the final stages. 

Final thoughts

Even with some drawbacks, I consider The Devil in Me my personal favorite out of the four installments of season one. The atmosphere and jump scares were especially effective for me and unlike a couple of others, I genuinely found this game scary, which is the whole point (although I know what people find scary is entirely subjective). I am very much looking forward to what Supermassive Games has to offer next. 

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