Review by Matt620
"Ugly things are beautiful, and beautiful things are ugly..."
Horror. It's perhaps the most under-appreciated, and improperly used, genre. This isn't just in video games, but in general. It seems a director's principal idea of horror is limited to "jump" scenes involving a psychopath wielding a sharp object chasing the necking teens through the forest. It gets a rush for a brief second, before things start delving back into the teenage sex-romp or whatever the movie is supposed to be about. That's not what horror is supposed to be.
But then again, there are a few horror games. These tend to be psychological horrors, where the monster is created in the mind rather then some strange alien, that shows us, like the Twilight Zone did so long ago, that the real evil is humanity.
So, here comes Theresia, from WorkJam. As an avid fan of horror, and of the old style "escape" games, I figured it was worth a shot. What I saw was certainly an impressive piece, and deserves it's status as a gem, if not an overly shiny and well-polished one, in the sea of what passes for horror in these days.
Theresia is a point-and-click adventure game, divided into navigating corridors and looking into rooms and other important points. One navigates with either the D-pad or touching arrows on the touch screen, and interacts with the environment exclusively with the touch screen. The goal of the game revolves around the fetch-quest style of finding various items, such as keys or weapons, and using them to interact with the environment to open doors or claim new items, with the ultimate goal of escaping the maze-like building.
It's not an original concept by any stretch, but, unlike most other types of horror games, the real "horror" is quite passive. Aside from the player character, there is not a single living person in the entire game. Not a one. Instead of being chased by murderers or monsters, one finds themselves surrounded by traps. Razors, acid, arrows, shrapnel, it's one giant kill factory, and the player character will often find themselves triggering trap after trap, getting graphic descriptions of arrows hitting a vein, or the smell of burning flesh once they touch something poisonous. In fact, this blood is pretty much the game's principal animation, as a visual of what trap you've triggered followed by a blood spatter. One cannot simply trigger traps with impunity. The game provides you with a life bar, and triggers traps decreases this, and if it's out, you die. It is possible to restore your life via elixirs and test dangerous areas with planks of wood, which helps set the game apart from other adventure games. The game also provides a hint system in the form of an item that can be used, but this hint system isn't all inclusive, and there were a few times when I found myself completely stuck. It can be helpful for wondering whether or not there is still something interesting in the room, but it won't help you determine which area is a trap and which area contains the next item.
Graphically, the game does an competent job of painting a very somber picture. The game takes place almost completely underground, and the dark, sepia-toned hallways and rooms covered with smatterings of blood and corpses certainly tells us we're not in Happytown. The look might feel bleak and depressing, but that's what it's supposed to feel like. So, while the game's graphics are nothing impressive, they do what they are supposed to do with a high degree of success. But even the game's graphics has it's shining moments. During the game, the player is treated to a variety of impressive, anime-style drawings of different characters. Visually, these still pictures are quite appealing and certainly make good use of the DS's graphical capabilities.
The soundtrack, like pretty much all soundtracks in all games to date, has some great songs, but a few annoying ones. All of the tracks are instrumental, and a few of them really convey their meaning, especially the "garden" tune. It certainly invokes the feeling of peace. Some of the music does feel ominous of threatening as well, and it does it in a fair amount of competence. The main music of the game that happens while you're wandering down hallways is pretty annoying as it's heard so much, but that tends to be the case with all soundtrack music. This soundtrack is really the only sound in the game; there are only a few number of sound effects, usually when a trap is triggered, with the resultant scream of pain, or something is blown up or destroyed.
The story of the game is actually quite impressive. Theresia is a story divided into two arcs. The first, Dear Emile, takes the role of Leanne, a strange woman who finds herself in an old prison, and attracted to all the blood from the numerous dead corpses, and finds messages about a blood-soaked sociopathic woman named Emile. The second, playable after the first in completed, is Dear Martel, which takes the role of a young man who wakes up in a strange mansion, seeing messages about a beautiful woman named Martel. Both protagonists are stricken with amnesia, and awaken to find these areas deserted, covered in blood, corpses, and strange, bead-like, but harmless, red creatures. As the characters progress through, trying to escape their surroundings, they come face to face with their pasts, the truth of these strange women, and uncover the mystery behind the red beads. Although the stories are played separately, it's clear that, between the beads and a few characters mentioned in flashbacks, the stories are related. At the end of the game, one is left wondering a few things, but not in the fashion that the designers overlooked something, but it certainly gives one something to think about when the game has been completed.
There are only a few characters in the game, and the characterization of the characters is certainly detailed, but depraved. The protagonists of both stories definitely seem driven, and, despite all the pain and heartache they endure, they push on, despite being subjected to enough blood loss to cripple thirty people, to discover the truth about themselves. They also seem strangely enchanted by all the death and blood surrounding them, finding it almost soothing, and possibly even erotic. The supporting characters, seen only in flashbacks, often give necessary interaction to help flesh out these completely depraved individuals. We see lovers, best friends, priests, and even a few animals, that show us just how these two characters really behave. But ultimately, we see the traumatic and disturbed relationship between the two protagonists and the two strange women titled in the story arc.
This game is riddled with a few flaws. There's quite a number of grammatical and syntax errors, there's a real lack of animation, and it can be very repetitive. But despite this, the story is good, the characters are extremely unique and detailed, if more then a little insane, and the graphics are competent and definitely paint the appropriate setting. If you like adventure games, games rife with symbolism and character-based interaction, or you just get a secret thrill from hurting your player-controlled character, give Theresia a try. Despite a few flaws, it certainly follows the standard of making a good interactive novel.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 02/17/09
Game Release: Theresia (US, 10/30/08)
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