There is an interesting truth when it comes to VNs Now: the gold standard here is written in blood.
That isn’t to say that the light and happy tales that can be typical of this particular medium have no chance here at all. And more than a few supposedly ‘dark’ visual novel has gotten panned here as well. However, a colorful world with little drama and a heavy emphasis on love and/or friendship aren’t exactly the breeding ground for original, or even well-told, pieces of fiction. Long-time readers will read that previous sentence and assume I’m about to pull out the old Otome punching bag, but the truth is that Otome isn’t nearly as bad as, well, other things.
While there is certainly ‘low-hanging fruit’ in the darker realms of fiction, it doesn’t have the same issues as its more colorful counterparts simply because the topics covered required more thought and planning. Your audience isn’t going to be swayed easily and they’ll expect for each drop of blood and moment of pain that occurs in your story to be woven together in a way that stands up to their scrutiny when it’s all said and done. In that way, I can understand why people avoid this side of the fictional horizon because if anything stands out or is too gratuitous, they risk getting critiqued into the dirt much faster than they would for similar slip ups in lighter genres. But, as a wise man once said, ‘With great risk comes greater rewards’.
I’m not sure who said that, so let’s just assume that ‘wise man’ was me for the current review.
Anyway, because of its high risk, high reward nature, darkness has reigned in this small corner of the Internet. From the increasingly brutal murders in the Jisei Murder Mystery series, to the somber, ritualistic suicides in Taarradhin to, most recently, the demonic mind games of Who Is Mike, I have drunk deeply from a cup of dark red sorrows and have thirsted for every refill I could get. There is a challenge here though and that is to keep those discerning tastes I talked about a paragraph ago. The minute the standards drop and I just start praising VNs for being dark or cruel for the sake of darkness and cruelty, then I’m no better than the fanboys and fangirls I regularly dropkick on this website.
This brings us to today’s topic: Cursed Sight. Brought to us by Australian developer InvertMouse (seriously watch Australia: their VN devs are coming), the creators of the puzzle/visual novel hybrid Bermuda, the group successfully crowd-funded the development on this game earlier this year and netted over $8,700 for the project. Now we have the final product of their efforts not even six months later and in the wake of the candy-coated crap that was Nekopara and Beach Bounce, this will definitely be a much-needed palate cleanser.
- Genre: Fantasy, Drama
- Release Date: August 3, 2015
- Developer: InvertMouse
- Language: English
- Platform: PC
- Website: Steam
Our world today will be made up of two nations: East and West Taria. Gai, a child of the West, is sold by his family to East Taria’s monarch to serve in their temple. His duties also forces him to assist Miyon: a girl with an incredible power that makes her valuable to the King of East Taria. Fate has determined that these two be linked for some of the most difficult days in their nations’ histories, however whether or not they survive is in their own hands.
The best thing Cursed Sight has going for it is the narrow lens the narrative operates. This is Gai and Miyon’s story and, for the most part, the game is focused on showing their relationship from their late childhood to their late teens. And credit where it is due because the relationship is a fun one to read. The two are slaves with Miyon being in higher rank than Gai, and they both approach each other the way two children would: being insufferable brats to one another. The two barely care that each other exists and their attention is solidly focused on Sasa: a dancer for the East Taria court. For Gai that attention is a youthful crush and for Miyon sees her more as a big sister. And that is where their often acidic banter often comes in despite Sasa’s influence.
Even as they forms the groundwork of their relationship and they never really grow out of it, which not only keeps them entertaining but also serves as a constant echo as they get older and their immature slams take on a gentler meaning. If you define ‘romance’ from something straight out of the Otome subgenre or from VN like Katawa Shoujo, then the subtitles of Gai and Miyon’s relationship are going to fly right over your head. But it’s in those quiet conversations where they begin to actually share their emotions, especially their fears and pain as the war starts, when you can see just how far they’ve come and how much they care for each other. It’s a subtlety that is often missing from this particular genre and if nothing else I truly hope other developers can take that away from Cursed Sight to build its romantic relationships.
Sasa is a fantastic character in her own right and a vital piece of the game. She is patient and loving with both Gai and Miyon: serving as a surrogate for all of their emotional needs while trying to keep her head on her shoulders. Sasa also more or less guides them to one another romantically: realizing before each of them do that they’re all they have and that in their world, there is no guarantee she’ll be there to be there in between. Her efforts, especially in the first act of the game, are brilliant and she stands out as a beacon of light in a very dark world. And while I will have a lot to say when we get into the negatives of the Story (yes there are negatives), the writers handled Sasa brilliantly and I can only pray that we’ll see more like her kind in the future.
Finally, I really enjoyed the overall somber tone of the story. Even in its lighter moments, there was never a moment where the realities of their stations in life is always waiting for them the as soon as they take a breath. This tone not only There was a particular scene in the first act where Gai manages to convince the fearsome East Tarian King Lok to allow Miyon to come with him to a street festival, only for her to be attacked by a bunch of brash kids. It’s built up to be this big happy moment for them only to be quickly dashed and replaced with the very real fear that Lok will stay true to his reputation and butcher Gai for not protecting Miyon. The scene that they both have after that brings the two closer and, thanks to that moment of dread, makes this smaller happier moment much more important to the story as a whole.
Now, this is where I have to break some unfortunate news. For the record, I enjoyed Cursed Sight and the first act of the game kept me fully invested in the story. Then the second act happened and nearly shot all of that good well straight to Hell. Many who have critiqued the game point to the time skip that happens between the first and second act as the main problem and, really, it isn’t. A lot can be inferred without directly showing it and enough is covered just by their interactions to keep it going smoothly. The problems come in after an event that was fairly predictable, but wasn’t so bad that the emotional weight was taken out. Right after that we are introduced to Gai and Miyon’s West Tarian counterparts.
The way these two groups meet is significant as both are crucial to their country’s war effort and without them the war just becomes more devastating for both side. Removing them both from the equation would, eventually, make both sides come to terms if only to stop the body count from getting higher. Unfortunately, that would only make sense if Gai and Miyon were truly on the run: hiding among the common folk, watching the devastation of war with their own eyes and having to stay a step ahead of the country’s troops undoubtedly looking for them would have been a fitting and far more interesting drama. Instead, both the East and West Tarians decide to just stay in one spot in the woods and do nothing.
Because they are in one place, the story screeches to a stop for filler that is either unnecessary to the story as a whole or predictable from a country mile away. The minute the West Tarians hit the scene, you know what their role is going to be. Hell, if you’re paying attention during the first act, you see this one coming before they even show up. This sucks all of the air and tension out of the story because you’re just waiting for the inevitable to happen to get back to the good stuff.
Removing the predictable factor from them, the West Tarians are still pretty weak. Their relationship is the predictable young romance I talked about earlier which puts them opposite of Gai and Miyon in terms of development. If this was handled with that knowledge, it would have led to an interesting moment between the two couples. However, the game actually holds up the West Tarians as an ideal, which makes me appreciate that much more how well our main characters were developed. Even worse, at times the West Tarians also fill the role of comedic relief in a story going that had, until now, been building a more somber atmosphere. In smaller doses, it would’ve been effective. But the girl’s moe clumsiness and the boy’s dorkiness just made the second act an agonizing sit. It nearly wrecked all of the build-up the first act did and if I was a far less patient man, I would’ve turned it off right then and there. That’s just how banal and predictable it got.
Luckily for all of us, the third and final act is where the pieces are picked up and put back together for the most part. From here the story branches into its three endings with the fourth ending being available after unlocking the first three. I will give credit where it is due on this one because Ending 2 is excellently handled. The events leading up to the final choice and the choice itself ties into the previous acts perfectly and if that was how it all wrapped, it would have been a fitting ending for Gai and Miyon.
Ending 1, on the other hand, is so melodramatic it smacks of absurdity and stretched on far longer than it needed to. While I wasn’t counting down the minutes like I was in the second act of the game, it was so clearly forced and drawn out I couldn’t take it seriously. Ending 3 was a decent middle ground between the two: a little drawn out but ultimately somber and still fitting what the first act was trying to build to.
The fourth and true ending of the game is a coin flip for me. There are a few genuinely sweet moments in there that I enjoyed and also fit into the very dark story by that point. However, the scenes following it quickly become uneven as we get a taste of Lok’s true plans, which kills his villainous mystique by the way, and actions are taken to put a stop to the war. After playing through the game and getting all of the endings needed to even get to this point, stretching the ending out for dramatic effect comes off as more gratuitous than anything, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the parts that went on a bit too long. It’s cheap and saccharine at times, yes, but it also is a valid and fitting way for Gai and Miyon’s story to end that perfectly cements how much they’ve grown to care for one another.
Ultimately, the plot for this game can be an uneven ride. During the first act there are truly great character moments that make Gai, Miyon and Sasa one of my favorite fictional trios in this genre. But so much of that is wasted in the second act that it is a shock both were written by the same people. Luckily, by the end of this one, what can be salvaged is and most of the endings left it Cursed Sight on the best possible note it could instead of leaving the game dangling by its neck in the wind.
PRESENTATION & TECHNICAL
The Presentation for Cursed Sight is mostly handled by Tooaya whom most of you probably know from one of the best gateway titles of English Visual Novels: RE: Alistair++. The work she does here is fantastic with strong colors to start off with that become more washed out and bleaker with time. The character models all stand out and become more distinctive after the time jump when everyone matures. Considering most visual novels as a whole, and EVNs in particular, happen within a set time where the cast visually stays the same, watching this characters noticeably age was a special treat for me.
The background art is also very detailed and has a great overall feel to it. However, the fact that the background art doesn’t changed even while describing the destruction of war on a particular section of the city does take some getting used to. The Event Graphics are actually quite sparse. A few of them repeat in the early part of the game and by the third act when we start to get some variety, some are not quite as sharp as others. Overall though they’re a nice touch to the game and when used to punctuate the more emotional moments of the plot, it can be very effective. So, overall there is really little to nitpick in the artwork department.
Technically, the game has a few things of note. The first is that there are no devoted scripts for dialogue and for narration. The entire thing reads like an actual novel and it gives it an interesting flow that separates it from its comrades. The biggest issue with that is a common one in EVNs: you’re describing for your audience what they should be looking at through the visuals you present them. It never gets overbearing, but it isn’t a style I foresee moving beyond InvertMouse’s hands.
Cursed Sight also implements a menu system once you’ve gotten through the third act. This also you to jump to a scene featuring a pivotal choice; allowing you to pick up right where you left off to unlock a new ending path instead of playing the entire game over again or relying on your save file. On the positive side it is an ingenious move that encourages immediate replays. On the negative, it makes the Save and Load feature mostly pointless unless you want to play a particular scene over again since your major forks in the road are mapped out for you. Saving and Loading still has its uses, but as I went back to complete the game I was very thankful the Scene Jump menu was there for me.
Other than that, I didn’t have any other serious technical issues with the game.
Cursed Sight currently retails for $6.99 on its various platforms and a conservative estimate on total time spent in the game is three and a half to four hours. The digital art book and soundtrack are also available as optional DLC, but whether or not the base game is worth your value fully depends on whether or not you find the story enticing enough to play twice. It is definitely worth your consideration though, even with my noted issues with it. Just know that you, like me, may end up pushing through with gritted teeth at some points.
Cursed Sight is a somber game that is, for the most part, invested in telling a dramatic tale about two young people developing a relationship in unlikely circumstances. It’s rare for me to get invested in characters so young, but I was very interested to see what new twists and turns they took with one another. And the fact that the game put much more time and energy into developing the small moments between then rather than large romantic gestures says volumes about the creative intent and overall ability of the team behind it.
Which is why the fact that they dropped the ball so hard stands out as much as it has.
Usually I’d term it as missteps but that second act was InvertMouse tripping and face-planting on concrete, then getting up and doing it again. It nearly robbed the game of its atmosphere and build up: two things they had earned with the start of the game. That isn’t to say the game is now bad because they made what I consider to be a mistake. That is to say that when the endings begin to roll, they have much more work to do because the game couldn’t maintain its themes and focus.
I still like the game though and feel it overcame its flaws to end on a solid note. But, there is still room for improvement if the good Aussies of InvertMouse want to tackle something this dark again. And here I was hoping that my Cup of Sorrows would be running over too…
Oh well. There’s always next time…