TW: References to Violence, Gore, and child abuse.
Lately I have had an interest in the “RPG Maker horror game” sub genre of sorts. The last one I covered was (Mario) The Music Box which I certainly enjoyed but my space bar did not. Prior to that the only other games I played of this type are Yume Nikki, LISA: The First, and Corpse Party Blood Covered (which wasn’t actually made in RPG Maker but probably could have been).
Games like Yume Nikki and LISA: The First are only tangentially connected to games like Corpse party, The Witch’s House, Ib, Ao Oni, Mad Father, and the subject of this review; Misao. The reason I say this is because those types of games aren’t explicit horror titles and are more so abstract walking sims with some very weird set pieces. I wasn’t crazy about Yume Nikki (although I can see why others are), I have quite liked the more straight up horror titles.
At the time of writing I have completed the Steam remakes of Mad Father and of its predecessor Misao. Despite the fact that Sen released their remake of Mad Father first, I decided to play Misao first because the original version was made before Mad Father. I am glad that I did so because it allows me to see how much was improved from one game to another.
I have… mixed feelings on Misao. There are definitely some things that I like and I find it to be a fairly unique and interesting game, but there is a lot of areas where it just misses the mark and I find it the least scary of the “RPG Maker horror games” that I played. The irony of this is that Misao is the least effective of these because it tries very very hard to scare the player but will most likely come across as your typical edgelord material that lacks the necessary subtly.
When amateur critics don’t know how to criticize something for a lack of proper pacing or subtlety, they will say that something “tries too hard.” This sounds like a nonsense criticism at first because it’s literally the job of the game in question to try to do something. What are they supposed to do, not try?
The actual answer is that they are supposed to try, but they are supposed to make it look like they aren’t trying. The reason for this is that if player thinks that the writer or dev is trying really hard, they remember that there IS a writer/dev and that this is all just a work of fiction and thus breaks the immersion. And if the immersion is broken it becomes a lot harder to scare the player.
Misao is a game that obviously takes after Corpse Party, but it’s also a game that is immensely inferior to it in the scare factor. The “bad ends” in Corpse Party you often don’t see coming. In Corpse Party you can get a bad end if you choose to drain the pool in an attempt to help another party member. If you do this, you do not see the results of this choice until after you climb down the empty pool latter and see that your fellow party member got caught in the drain.
Misao’s idea of a “game over” is to have you examine a desk only for the description to say “this desk is cursed” and for you to die instantly. Or better yet, “you got startled to death from the phone ringing.” Misao approaches these death scenes with a complete lack of subtlety and often times they are so over the top and in your face that this feels more like one of those parody games like I Wanna Be the Guy or Eryi’s Action. There were over 30 different death scenes in the game but I could probably count the ones that genuinely disturbed or scared me on one hand.
To give credit where it is due though, I will at least say that the pixel art is spot on and that the designs and close ups are creepy looking. Unfortunately everything falls apart in the delivery and any attempt to be “scary” through design falls apart. To top things off, there isn’t even a sense of anxiety that comes from death in the first place because the game literally gives you a quick save function. This in turn means that there is no sense of fear over losing your progress, but at the same time it is a good thing because what kills you is completely untelegraphed.
That leaves the story and exploration as the only leg this game has left to stand on, and that’s never a good sign considering that many people expect there to be a game in their video games. The story behind Misao was definitely compelling enough to carry my interest to the end so I will give it that, but there are unfortunately some faults with it.
Premise wise, Misao does not even try to be subtle about the fact that it is ripping off Corpse Party with the whole “high school students trapped in a Hellish possessed version of their school” plot but the slight deviation comes in the form of the perpetrator. While Corpse Party had elements of subtlety that had you piece together the backstory of Sachiko and the other tortured children, Misao just tells you upfront that this was a result of a curse brought upon by the titular character.
It is said in the intro that the titular Misao went missing prior to the events of the game while you hear some of the douchebag students talking about how they bullied her and blaming each other, none expressing any genuine emotion over her whereabouts. Only about four central characters in this game have any shred of human decency; one of them is the main character and the other is Misao herself.
I’m going to just come out and say that a major flaw with this story is that you learn that this curse was brought about because Misao wanted to enact revenge on the pricks that made her life miserable and that a few people tend to get caught up in it. While there is a fairly decent twist regarding a choice to make at the end in order to escape the curse, a major reason that Misao fails to come across as anything other than a poor man’s Corpse Party is because there is no way to sympathize with most of these pricks and you actively want to see most of them dead.
While Misao is no treated as the villain by the end of the game and is given a sympathetic portrayal, the game forgets that a lot of the tension is removed by having a majority of the supporting cast be pricks you either don’t care about or actively want to die. If the game was not as short as it is then it likely would have gotten boring. Thankfully I can say that the main plot was well paced enough that it can be enjoyable on the first run through, but it really falls apart the more you think about it. That’s why I’m going to go into spoiler territory for the next few paragraphs. Do not read the next few paragraphs if you are planning on playing the game because your experience will more than likely depend on you not knowing them.
Spoilers (Also TW for discussion of rape)
Yeah one can probably see where this is going based on that TW. Specifically what bugs me about this game’s story is just how much of a cold heartless bitch Yoshino is and how little focus the game has on her. She coerces a male student into raping Misao solely because a boy she likes was in a relationship with her, yet the game does not seem to treat her with the same disdain it does Sohta.
In the “truth” epilogue you get an entire series of flashbacks showing Sohta’s trauma and what made him become a serial murderer yet all you see for Yoshino is her getting the crap kicked out of her by Misao. The “truth” epilogue is a mess for many reasons and one of those is that this epilogue preaches forgiveness yet gives you no reason to forgive the scumbags who drove Misao to begin with. With Yoshino there is nothing that indicates a genuine change of heart other than pathetic fearful groveling for her life that anyone will say to save their own skin.
Speaking of which, the resolution they had for Sohta was a serious fuckup on their part. Perhaps the best aspect of Misao was the twist ending if you choose to sacrifice Tohma instead of Sohta (even though it really doesn’t make sense why the curse wouldn’t just require both of them to be killed). If they were able to successfully form a human portrayal of a serial killer I would have been genuinely moved by this game, and they were SO CLOSE to doing so, yet also so far.
The backstory behind Sohta is literally that he’s an incel. I’m not joking. Everything from the lack of understanding personal boundaries and consent, a harmful belief that his physical features matter more than his behavior, and the outright inability to handle rejection without it triggering a genuine trauma. There is only one problem though, and it’s a stupid one. The game literally does not explain what Sohta did wrong that resulted in his rejections.
There were seriously rapey implications both in how Sohta treated the girl he fell in love with when he was in high school AND with Misao, or at the least there is in the way his mannerisms and movements came across. The problem is that your main character doesn’t fucking say this and instead says “no herp derp, we liked you when you were nice and kind and didn’t murder people derp derp.” And OBVIOUSLY murdering people is bad unless they are Youtube skeptics, but the key problem is that this fails to acknowledge the reason WHY Sohta became a creepy incel serial killer to begin with!
The dialogue during the “truth” scenes is just so weak and lacks the necessary power or depth to properly convey the intense themes that this game was going for. It may sound like I am nitpicking and I may get a few comments saying that no one needs to have the game explain to them why rape is wrong and consent is good. Well if that was the case then maybe it SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN A FUCKING PLOT POINT!!!!Also don’t try to argue that there are people who genuinely don’t know it. Given how prevalent the #metoo movement has been, it’s quite obvious that a fair number of people could have used the same words Sohta needed to hear.
End Spoilers and TW
Anyway to quickly touch on presentation, the art work is good, the music is alright, the sound effects are well placed, and the graphics are nice. It is just unfortunate that everything falls apart in this game’s story. I was not intending for the review to be this negative but as I sat down to write this the complaints just started spilling out faster than Alex Jones’s seed after watching trans porn.
There were parts of Misao that I thought were pretty neat but I just can’t recommend the full game for the asking price of $5.00. I don’t know if there is a significant difference between the Steam version and the original free to play version but I will give a reminder that it is an options. Also one can wait for Misao to go on sale.
While I was disappointed with Misao’s overall quality, I can at least see why others like it. I do think that it may be worth a look for those who are particularly curious about this one, but if you are looking for a quality RPG Maker horror experience then you’d best just skip to Mad Father.
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