The Letter - Horror Visual Novel: Review

Written by: Jon Castillo

Games | Aug 30, 2017

game review Horror Visual Novel The Letter Yangyang Mobile

As an avid fan of the horror genre, my interest and excitement to play The Letter was piqued to its earnest. It's a visual horror novel with a sprawling and complex narrative that follows seven characters as they experience a curse from a letter.

The idea itself is interesting: one of the characters finds a letter written in blood with the words "Help Me" all over the page. The letter ends with ominous words, telling the reader to show the letter to five other people "or else..."

At some point several years ago, cursed messages demanding readers to share them with other people were all over the internet. It is an excellent premise The Letter addresses and is completely underutilized.

Murderous apparitions in The Ring and The Grudge have scare tactics based on their subjects' suffering in life. Supernatural horror gets its kick from the protagonists uncovering the mystery of why ghostly apparitions are cursing people. Often these revelations are not extreme. Kayako, for instance, was murdered by a jealous husband.

The white lady in The Letter is hardly anything original. She bursts out of screens, croaks, and crawls like a spider. She is a bland copy of both Sadako and Kayako, with nothing new to offer. Althougth, to make things interesting, her origins are drawn to such extremes that would violate every human rights checklist. What threw me off was that you don't get any explanation about her origins until much later in the game (more on that later).

The ghost-girl's design is fantastic and terrifying. There were moments when I literally screamed out loud; more because of sudden audio cues than visual ones. My loudest reaction occurred during a scene all-too-similar to one found in The Grudge; right before hell breaks loose.

This is where The Letter gets most of its horror: jump scares. It works at times but the novelty fades off as it devolves into cheap tricks which try to rattle your bones.

Much of the thrill fades away in later chapters as you get treated to less in-your-face moments. Some of these moments involve quick-time events (QTEs), which remind you that you're still playing a game. Failing to accomplish these leads to a game over screen.

Where The Letter shines is in its animation. Since it's a visual novel, the developers added subtle animation details in order to make the game feel more fluid. When a character's expression changes, his or her hair and clothes flutter a little, indicating movement.

There are seven chapters in the game; each one following a different character's perspective. It would have been a nice touch to the storytelling, had more than half of the chapters not needlessly drag on. Each chapter suffers from overlong exposition as the developers went to such lengths to try to make the characters likeable. What resulted instead were slow and uninteresting conversations between these characters.

The characters themselves are grown men and women, all of whom act like children. Despite the looming threat before them, they spend most of their time engaging in childish banter and arguing about the pettiest things.

It doesn't help that the next chapter goes back in time before the curse has settled in, pushing the present narrative aside to make room for back stories. This, coupled with chapters clustered by repeated conversations and boring internal thoughts make things a drag to read through.

The narrative becomes wobbly the farther the game progresses. The key to writing good stories lies in clean, comprehensive sentences. This rule doubly applies in horror stories because words make a difference on how the ambiance is set up. Open a horror book and you will find that its prose consists of simple sentences with words that paint images in your head. They use less adverbs - because adverbs do nothing to add value in storytelling. Sadly, the writing in The Letter attempts to sound more sophisticated than it should be. It's because of this writing that I feel uncompelled to play it again.

It's a shame because what keeps me interested to replay The Letter are its numerous endings. There are romance endings, bad endings, good endings, and true endings. The game features branching narrative trees for each chapter and will take more than one playthrough to see them all.

It's a brave effort for YangYang Mobile to craft a game like this. And while The Letter has its flaws, the horrors and jump scares of this visual novel are worth the experience.

About the author: Jon Castillo

Jonathan is hiding from a lynch mob after messing with the wrong basketball team. His favorite song is "Boys do Fall in Love" by Robin Gibb.

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