It is rare perhaps to describe a horror game as delightful. My Big Sister is certainly dark and disturbing, but developer Stranga has imbued the whole experience with an enduring level of glee that I have yet to encounter otherwise in a horror title. And this is not a disturbed merriment coming from pleasure in suffering and gore, but rather a childlike excitement and wonder that accompanies each dark revelation without diminishing just how disquieting elements of the game are. And this is all made possible by the tale’s tiny protagonist, Luzia.
Luzia is certainly a disturbed little girl. At least, she seems to be. She refuses to accept the death of her older sister, Sombria. That is what her therapist tells her. But, Luzia still sees Sombria. She knows Sombria is still very much alive, though terribly altered and with a newly acquired taste for raw flesh. They are still sisters after all, and sisterly love doesn’t end just because your sibling gets turned into a creature of the night. Despite their quarreling, Luzia would do anything for her sister. This means taking the chance to see if she can help change her back.
Like Alice during her adventures in Wonderland, Luzia accepts the macabre absurdity of her experiences with the trust and easy faith of a child. Much of the game’s humor comes from just how normal Luzia and Sombria’s behavior is while clearly surrounded by the most unusual and even terrifying of circumstances. They fight like sisters do. Luzia irritates Sombria on the regular. Perhaps, even more admirable is the game’s humor fits in so seamlessly even when directly mixed with disturbing circumstances. For example, upon discovering Sombria’s raging desire for raw meat and the unfortunate fate of a forest deer, Luzia cracks a Bambi joke. Much of the humor plays off this juxtaposition between the ghoulish and everyday and I couldn’t help but crack a smile almost every time.
The gameplay itself is simple, requiring the collection of objects to either solve puzzles or fill requests. I once collected a “face” for a demon that had gone without one for who knows how long. He was kind enough to oblige me with a tool I needed in order to progress. He also got me a candy bar later because Luzia, who is practically always hungry, asked for one. It seems some evil entities have a soft spot for kids.
Exploration and inventory management is incredibly easy. Your inventory consists of a single square box that appears on the left-hand side of the screen when summoned. You will rarely have more than 2 to 4 items stored at once, so scrolling left or right to examine them is quite manageable. Below each item is a short but handy description. As you examine your surroundings, an exclamation point will appear over Luzia’s head. This indicates either Luzia can interact with that area, or that an item can be used there. Most of the time, figuring out what to do is quite self-explanatory. If you get lost, simply look around again or talk to anyone available.
The graphics are simple, obviously, given the nature of 16-bit. However, the areas you encounter are well designed and sometimes even quite lovely, especially in the later portions of the first chapter. In some cases not having a fully rendered model of the beings you encounter only makes them more disturbing. Leaving details to the imagination can be quite effective. There are also a few surprises up the developer’s sleeve. Though nothing goes beyond the capabilities of an RPG Maker-like engine, a very clever and unexpected mechanic appears toward the very end of the first chapter that was surprisingly effective in creeping me out. The developer’s ability to set the right tone through a combination of story and limited effects is admirable, and makes My Big Sister stand out among other 16-bit horror titles.
My Big Sister has so much appeal in a tiny package. If you love anime or anything Japanese-related, you are in luck. Toward the end I realized this game could easily be translated into a Studio Ponoc film (the spiritual successor to Studio Ghibli). Sure, it is a horror story which means blood, disturbing images, a sister who eats people sometimes, etc. But this is really a story about two siblings and their journey together to not only save Sombria, but to learn why it is important to treasure the ones you love, even when they annoy you. Even when they get you tuned into a monster.
My Big Sister is still in Steam Early Access and this review covers only the first chapter, which is currently the only one available. We will update this review as the game progresses. However, we highly recommend checking out chapter one.
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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