The Letter is a Visual Novel that advertises Horror themes, Psychological elements, and even issues a warning for disturbing content. Released on July 24th, 2017, from Yangyang Mobile, The Letter attempts to paint a picture about lost love, curses, and an empty, Jacobean mansion that isn’t as vacant as it seems.
Players are initially cast in the primary role of Isabella Santos, a young real estate broker who, with the help of her business partner, Rose, is attempting to find a buyer for the Ermengarde Mansion. Eventually, players gain access to a cast of seven playable characters, but it’s Bella who begins our story. The large residence and 40+ acre grounds are rumored to be haunted; Isabella learned quickly, once the lot went up for sale, that everyone in the nearby town has heard about the paranormal activity. However, despite warnings from her friends and her misgivings, Bella is determined to work with Rose to sell the mansion.
The story takes an odd turn very quickly. Arriving at the mansion, Isabella can’t find Rose anywhere. When she finally gets through to her, a garbled voice tells her that she — Rose, that is — has gone up to the attic. Bella notices quickly that things seem slightly amiss; rooms that should have been cleaned by their crew are dusty, and the attic looks untouched. But then she finds a letter on the ground, with “Help Me” scrawled in what seems to be blood; the ancient paper, in true chain letter style, tells her she must share the letter with five other people.
And this is where the plot starts to feel convoluted and disjointed. Bella, having found the letter, is ambushed by a gory figure without skin. This woman screams and comes towards her — cue the first QuickTime event — and Isabella flees. She takes a nasty tumble down the stairs, where Rose finds her in a heap. Sporting a bump on her head and some symptoms of concussion, Bella insists she’s fine. And instead of calling an ambulance or doing something logical, Rose allows Bella to continue with the Open House they’ve been working on. So, Isabella comes face to face with a ghastly figure but decides she must have been hallucinating. She falls down the stairs, passes out, and still, neither she nor her coworker thinks something is amiss.
Unfortunately, that’s just the beginning of a lukewarm plot. The Letter reads like Young Adult fiction geared towards preteens, and the cast of characters seem woefully immature for being 20-something adults. The voice acting fits in with the Japanese style animation, and that might be one reason this game reminded me of Sailor Moon. The other reason would be that Sailor Moon was aimed at a younger audience, who wanted teenage angst, grand life plans, and secret love triangles. Isabella is surrounded by friends who treat her like a child, not the adult she allegedly is; but those same friends also wrestle with unrequited love, jealousy, teasing, and banter in very teenager-esque ways. It made the plot feel even more watered-down and far-fetched; I was already struggling to believe that Bella could just convince herself she’s crazy and not flee in terror.
The Letter also employs relationship dynamics. Players are faced with dialog options, and certain answers will gain or lose favor with other characters. The dialog options didn’t seem to have a substantial impact on the storyline itself, but The Letter employs open-ended exploration and branching options. The trouble is that the story just isn’t interesting; the clichés are abundant and predictable, the cast of characters whine at or nag each other regularly, and there is just too much dialog for the level of activity. While The Letter is a Visual Novel, which does imply extensive reading and dialog choices, I found the Horror aspect severely lacking. The suspenseful moments, even the jump scares, couldn’t overshadow how much time I was spending reading Isabella’s internal conflict. It felt like the dialog took four times as long to explain something and progress the storyline as required; the plot was so padded with “filler” text that I just couldn’t stay interested.
The game mechanics are straightforward, and there’s no real learning curve to speak of; players can jump in and get to playing without needing to learn controls. The sound effects and atmosphere, like the voice acting, are impressive; they just don’t salvage the narrative, when it’s so bogged down with excess content. Bella and the other characters she interacts with seemed fairly one-dimensional and far younger than their alleged ages indicated. However, a younger audience might enjoy the maturity level and find it more appropriate for their reading level. Still, The Letter does have some adult language and content, which might not be suitable for the same age group it seems to target. This puts this title dead in the middle of No Man’s Land, where few games can flourish.
Diehard fans of Visual Novels and/or Japanese anime style titles might find this one worth their time, especially if they enjoy mild Horror themes. Players that enjoy Dating Sims or just strong emphasis on interpersonal relationships could also find something redeeming in The Letter. But true Horror fans seeking an original story that is gripping, scary, or suspenseful should look elsewhere. Even the QuickTime events couldn’t lend enough action and danger to The Letter to make it feel like a creepy title. The music, voice acting, and animation are excellent, so The Letter has that going for it. But there doesn’t feel like enough meat on the bones in term of storyline here, nor are the characters memorable or compelling.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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