by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
Out Of My Element
I don't play 'visual novel' style games often. I have nothing against them, they just typically don't appeal to me. The ones most advertised always seem like they are dating sims or some sad experience and that's just not my sort of idea of a good time. But throw me a game that promises horror elements? You know I'll bite.
Death Mark, developed by Experience and published by Aksys Games is a port of a title released on consoles in 2018. The premise of the game is a sort of against-the-clock setup, with many lives on the line including that of the protagonist who just happens to be unable to remember a thing. Yes, that's been done before in a lot of games including a community beloved horror title Amnesia: The Dark Descent. But, is it possible for a visual novel with its anime art style to actually deliver on scares and tension?
The Death Mark
No, it's not a profound question muttered by philosophers of old or angsty teens of the current day. It's the actual state the player finds themselves in as they take on the role of an amnesiac who is inexplicably the only one who can save those around him. The player character, and those around him, all carry a strange mark upon their bodies (a Death Mark, if you will) which is the root cause of his amnesia, as well as a ticking time bomb for anyone who wears it. The Death Mark, is a death sentence; death will come unless you can stop it.
The game is spread among multiple chapters, spanning different settings with different spirits being tied to each of them. Traversing these environments, as well as investigating them, plays out in a point and click manner as you move your flashlight around the screen. The environments are incredibly well drawn with some of them being incredible intense despite the static view. The same can be said for the characters and monsters that arrive, each sporting unique appearances and the monsters varied enough in design that you never expect them until you see them face to face at the end of these chapters.
At certain points, the player is literally met with life and death decisions and failure to choose the right option, or choose it quickly, spells death. Most of the time it's a great element of adrenaline, and then in others it just becomes frustrating because the choices are more obscure than they need to be. If you're able to survive these moments, and solve the mysteries regarding the environments, you have a face to face encounter with whatever ghoul it is dwells in that area. These 'boss battles' if you want to call them that, are heavily based in the clues you found during your investigation and you have to use certain items against them in order to quell the angry spirits. Failure to do so, of course, spells death. The spirits you face range from mild, to incredibly unsettling.
A Pleasant Diversion
Is Death Mark my favorite game ever? No. Will I ever play through it again? Perhaps in time. But for the time I've spent with it, it was a pleasant diversion among the other games in my library. Visual novels are not my thing, but this one was a treat that I'm glad I checked out and it's easy for me to suggest it to fans of horror games and visual novels alike. Its run-time is just long enough not to wear out its welcome, and the mystery and tension keeps you going through to the end.
Excellent art, compelling story of mystery, incredibly tense buildups to chapter endings.
Some quick-choice moments are a little too obscure.