Why the Letter Is Still One of the Best Visual Novels
Combining the visual novel genre with horror elements makes for an excellent experience
The Letter is a visual novel released five years ago by Phillopino-based game company YangYang Mobile. The studio's first game is inspired by their love for Asian Horror and visual novels. The Letter was initially a Kickstarter project, with over $30,000 raised from more than 500 supporters. The studio hired some of the most talented artists and voice actors around the internet, and the game was given the go-ahead by Steam to release earlier this year.
In an age of digital marketing and content, crowdfunds are common and sometimes essential. Maybe it's always been like that, but as someone who is new to PC gaming, for me this was revolutionary.
I like horror games that are shrouded in mystery, are unpredictable, and set your heart racing. I enjoy visual novels as well such as Long Live The Queen, the Ace Attorney series, and the legendary Clannad. Their branching storylines and endings makes each new experience a bit more special. Merging these two together brings me absolute joy. The merger of horror and visual novels is something that I hadn't seen at the time, with Corpse Party the only other example I could think of.
The Letter is a wonderful game, one of the few games that I've taken the time to earn every Steam Achievement. It has since been ported onto the Switch, PS4, and mobile devices. In my first week of playing, I put in over 20 hours of gameplay. Had it not been National Novel Writing Month, I imagine it would have been even more.
The game focuses on a mansion in England that is up for sale and how Isabella, her married couple friends, and their hired interior designer get dragged into the horrors of the mansion.
The game itself is split into seven chapters. Each chapter focuses on one of the seven main characters in the game, so we really get to see the character's motives and personalities. What's also a really nice touch is that some of the characters have different names and nicknames depending on their mood or what's happened. Like Ashton being called Ash or the less kind name, Ash-hole. Looks like it's taking a note from Ace Attorney with all the punny names. Other nice touches are the profiles, relationship bars, and journals that let you learn a little more about the characters.
All the characters are well-written, complex, and diverse. We start the game with an estate agent, named Isabella Santos who comes from a big family and wants to make that sale to help provide for her family at home. Skipping work will be her downfall.
Chapter Two has the blond heiress Hannah Wright, but she's anything but an airhead. Even though she's married and pregnant, she has her own mind and isn't afraid to be independent when it's needed. She's headstrong, and when she's in a good mood, she's kind, but when you piss her off, things can get nasty.
Zachery is a giant with a heart of gold. He's a photographer and also dabbles in film. His character is a refreshing delight and it's a shame to kill him off because he's one of the genuinely most kind people in the game. Sadly to unlock achievements and memory fragments useful for future playthroughs, all the characters have to die at least once or twice. It hurts the hardest when it has to be him.
Marianne is an Irish interior designer. She loves her independence but her backstory is excellently done. She craves forgiveness from her dead friend's spirit and she craves love. Her cat is also very cute. Sometimes she ends up sleeping with Luke, then ends up hooking up with his wife. What a nice business plan there!
Rebecca is a teacher and her maternal instincts really kick in straight away as she is the first character you talk to. She's stubborn and reluctant to let go of her first crush, Ashton Frey. I've seen a lot of people get frustrated with this. I really like the scene where she confronts Luke. We get to see a softer side to both of them and Luke's goddaughter, Kylie really brings the best out of both of them.
Ashton Frey is a badass detective with American and Japanese ancestry. He's silly with his friends but when he's at work he means serious business. He struggles to keep his work and personal life apart as they both end up entwining, especially if some of his friends end up being victims.
Luke Wright is one of the most dramatic characters out of the main cast. He really has that aura of a Shakespearean villain, but he's also one of the most human characters in the game. On one path he ends up killing his pregnant wife or can end up framing Zach. Sometimes he can become trapped by the mansion's spirit or his possessed wife. When given the choice to sacrifice himself or escape, he can escape the mansion as the others perish or he can go up to the attack in the burning mansion as the spirit takes him. His love for his goddaughter, Kylie, is a very redeeming trait. Even though Hannah and Luke have their issues it's still evident that they love each other even if they do end up divorcing.
In my first blind playthrough, Hannah and Luke ended up being a devoted couple with their twins whilst Rebecca cried alone. It took me a while to realise that Isabella was dead. It wasn't until after Hannah's chapter I realised she was dead. Choosing to skip work was Isabella's undoing.
There are lots of ways that the game could have been different. I've had playthroughs where everybody lives, ones where everyone dies, or only a few survive. A pleasing mixture of good and bad endings, they really add more layers and value to the game.
The ghost is also a very endearing antagonist. She's beautifully scary and reminds me a lot of Sachiko from Corpse Party and Takako from Pretear. Her backstory is brilliant in how it connects to her obsession with Luke.
Every little thing changes the whole path of the game. There are also mini-games activated when the ghost comes, but these can be skipped using the tab key if you don't want to play them.
There are plenty of save slots, many more than some other games in the genre, and trust me you will need them. You might get lost on where you are though, this is where the branch tree comes in handy so you know where you're at, who's dead and who's alive. It's a unique feature that I've not seen in games before.
It's a simply fantastic game that looks good with anybody's game collection. There is just the amount right of gore and the right amount of drama to make this a compelling experience. The Letter is one of the best indie visual novels I have ever played due to great representation, pulse-racing mini games, multiple endings and romance choices.
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