Once in a while, a game comes along that so masterfully utilizes a genre, it seems like the game itself is on an entirely different level from anything else. Games like Metal Gear Solid, Dodonpachi Dai Ou Jou, Doom, and Final Fantasy are all genre-defining titles that spark our imaginations and pull us in wholesale as gamers. Those are the games we remember; the games that have an impact on our imaginations and memories. In other words, the games that make us gamers.
Now, perhaps that’s laying it on a bit thick, but every so often there’s that title that really wows players. In visual novels there aren’t all that many of those and the genre itself is still relatively niche. But Square Enix is looking to change all that with Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo. Based on actual Japanese folklore from the Honjo region of Tokyo, this is a game that will definitely surprise you! Now part of Sumida ward in Tokyo, the Honjo neighborhood has a long and storied history of dark and supernatural urban legends dating back into the late 1800s. The Seven Mysteries of Honjo are laregely tourist fodder now and are also known as the Seven Wonders of Honjo, but over a hundred years ago, they were passed around to scare locals and visitors alike!
Paranormasight (and yes, it’s an unfortunately awkward name) takes the Seven Wonders of Honjo and makes them the crux of a rather dark and disturbing visual novel. The game plays out through the eyes of multiple protagonists, starting with office worker Shogo Okiie and eventually working its way through a pair of policemen, a housewife, and a couple of schoolgirls. Sure doesn’t sound like much, right? Well, that all changes when Shogo and the girl he’s into find a ‘curse echo’. In Paranormasight, each of the Seven Mysteries (and there are nine, not seven, just like real life) is linked to a cursed amulet. These amulets enable the bearers to use magic that would normally be restricted to those trained in forbidden arts and allow the bearer to complete the ‘Rite of Resurrection’…if they can power them up.
Unfortunately, there’s a catch. To power the rite requires ‘soul dregs’ and they’re drained from people killed by the curses. In other words, you must kill to bring someone back from the dead. And regular people won’t really cut it either. Only other curse bearers have the requisite soul dregs to power the Rite! What you’re really looking at here is a supernatural version of Survivor with the winner raising someone from the dead.
Even that sounds a little hokey though, right? And you wouldn’t be wrong. The base plot seems more than a little thin here but don’t worry, that’s far from the case. This is one of the most interesting and absorbing visual novels around and there is far more going on here than you’d expect! The Rite of Resurrection and the curse echoes from the Seven Mysteries of Honjo are only scratching the surface of Paranormasight! There’s no sense in ruining a fantastic story in a game that’s entirely story based though, so suffice it to say, this is a wild ride!
Mechanically, Paranormasight is a fairly standard visual novel. Text goes by and there are a variety of interaction points where decisions you make and information you gather affect your responses. You can also absolutely die if you make the wrong choice at the wrong time. Don’t worry, you can keep going back and trying again, but the narrator will most definitely mock you. Death is not the end, and there’s a meta-narrative going on here too where you as the player have an impact on the story itself, able to affect events even though the protagonists should not be able to.
Regardless, the entire game is touch-enabled as well and the game is primarily designed for touch controls. Console play requires a mouse cursor that you slowly move about, but you can also use the d-pad to highlight options when choices are available. It is a bit inconvenient to slowly move the cursor to selections but the game is so good, you honestly won’t care. Visual novels are always really hit or miss when it comes to tactile control schemes and Paranormasight has one of the best around. You can save anywhere as well, and it’s incredibly easy to navigate through the game, tapping away at the screen.
You’ll have to touch key elements of the environment, touch characters, and investigate fully to proceed and there are no short workarounds. Make no mistake, this is a game built heavily on dialogue and plot and it will take some time to play it, but everything definitely pays off. Remember that meta-narrative? There are a handful of wildly clever devices used in Paranormasight as well. Paying attention to everything that’s said is key because you’ll be using that unassuming information to solve a few simple but remarkably clever puzzles that will have some players scratching their heads at first. Again, they’re delightful and there’s no sense in ruining them but if you fail enough times, the narrator will kindly help you out a bit!
As you move back and forth between threads of the storyline, things get darker and darker. Make no mistake; this is an M-Rated game for a reason. The F-word and other swearing is common, themes include murder, human sacrifice and plenty more. This could easily be an HBO show if it wasn’t a Square Enix game! The mature themes pay off in terms of script and dialogue though and the characters seem lush and well-fleshed out. As Paranormasight progresses, it’s easy to entirely forget you’re just reading text as the plot drags you in headfirst and you’re utterly engrossed. Nothing is outrageously complex about the game though and progress is steady regardless of your skill level. That steady progress leads to an excellent pacing that only picks up as the writing does and after the first hour or two you’re definitely going to be hooked.
It’s not just the plot and characters that suck you in with Paranormasight though. The visuals are stunning too. Everything is suitably muted and creepy with filters dimming the landscape. The subtle blur of backgrounds and characters gives a vintage feel to the entire game and character designs are simply excellent. While this is a static visual novel for the most part (nothing moves except for the curse echoes), the illusion of motion with rapid-fire images as you read through is effective. Combined with the highly detailed character art, the entire experience is engrossing. Facial expressions are clear and detailed and the horrific imagery that you occasionally encounter are suitably shocking. There might be a few jump scares here and there too, so definitely try to play in the dark alone with the lights off!
A game isn’t complete without a soundtrack either and Paranormasight doesn’t disappoint. A variety of themes are present throughout the game including some traditional Japanese music, some 70s acid jazz, and a variety of other accompaniments that have you tapping along with the music. The dynamic shifts in melodies and style suit each of the individual characters well, creating leitmotifs which mirror the excitement or careful plotting and evil of individual scenes. As soundtracks go, Paranormasight’s is subtle but noticeably effective and the sound effects are gruesome as well, especially in the occasional death scene.
As the action reaches a climax, you’ll find yourself quickly switching between characters from plot thread to plot thread as the overarching story ties things together in ways you likely didn’t expect. The design work here is fantastic and the depth of background is outstanding. In addition to the story, there are complex backstories for all the characters and events described throughout the game. You can access them through the menu system and you might even need to as you occasionally have to solve a riddle or answer a question. Each of the Seven Mysteries of Honjo is also described in their entirety within the menu system and the original wood block prints are available for fan viewing. The amount of detail in the background is outstanding and really shows the care and interest that went into making Paranormasight. There are constant updates throughout the game as well, adding a wealth of additional detail as the story progresses. The menu also allows you to view conversation history and save at any time, a handy feature indeed!
It’s easy to lose track of time playing Paranormasight. The minutes turned rapidly into hours and then all of the sudden, night had fallen and it was time to take a break. It’s not often a game sticks with you mid-play after you set the controller down and crawl into bed, but this is one of those rare exceptions. Everything about the design of Paranormasight is not only fantastic but compelling as well, and aside from a few minor issues like the cursor staying onscreen too much and it being difficult to scroll down some menus in docked mode, the game is essentially flawless.
The high praise here is well-deserved and Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo is a game that is well worth the hours you’ll invest in it. At only $20, this is honestly a steal of a game. The script is fabulous, the horror elements are disturbing, and the game is pretty much the most fun you can have reading (assuming you like horror, and if you’ve read this far, you do). Paranormasight is the pinnacle that visual novels should be striving for and the experience is unrivaled. This is a must-buy game for the Switch and it’s high time that everyone learns a bit more about Japanese culture and mythology and shares the disturbing experience that is Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo.
This review is based on a digital copy of Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo. It was played on a Nintendo Switch in both docked and undocked modes and was equally excellent in both. Paranormasight is also available for PC on Steam and on mobile devices on iOS and Android.