Gaming - Black Closet

Black closet

The Defective Inspector investigates some of the IGF Indie Award nominees. Here is his Case File for Black Closet...

It’s been a dangerously long time since I played a game and with the IGF awards coming up at a perilous pace it seems like a good idea to check out another nominee. Which one is it today? Well… You can read titles… Ah screw it… BLACK CLOSET!

To understand this game I had to go into the mind of a female study body president, a position apparently held in America, but in this supernatural space of time it involves some sort of Boarding School rife with potential scandals, poisoning and politics. Sitting within the JRPG genre the context and method of gameplay is fairly straightforward. A combination of interaction conversations and an unhealthy degree of paranoia drives your character to find hidden meaning behind the everyday rumour to the deceptive conspiracy lurking behind every corner.

Miss Thing

This game has been nominated for ‘Excellence in Narrative’ and that seems to be down to the development of the storyline radiating throughout the gameplay. There is a dangerous line for me to walk at this moment as the premise of the game is a rather insecure frame for a much darker and more devious mainstay. The development of this story is a well-constructed journey which uncovers itself in a reasonable pace, it’s almost strange to say this game feels like a mechanic which frames a story rather than the other way around. Not saying this is a bad thing, oh lord no, but the storyline is VERY important to achieved optimal enjoyment. Fail to interact with the plot at your own risk! I want to go more into the tale, I really do, but it goes beyond spoilers and simply ruins the core values of the game, visually however…

It’s hard to talk about the animation or artwork style of any JRPG as they fall into a similar bucket of Japan-imation, you do have the option to choose another art style but it just… well it doesn’t look right, which is odd isn’t it? Breaking out of the anime-esque artwork is almost impossible for this genre so I can’t really be upset with the choices made. But what I can talk about is how well the characters have been represented using the bucket, kind of like plucking through the box of Lego to make the perfect spaceship/monster truck. They achieved this fairly well, the dynamic range of characters required each of them to stand out visually and this was achieved very well. I can imagine the characters being “That girl I knew back in secondary school” which… sounds dirtier than it really is. Playing a game like there where it literally is being a lord (technically lady) of a openly lesbian boarding school puts me in a strange and uncomfortable position like when my girlfriend asks if someone is attractive or not, it’s a trap I refuse to fall into!

Success

The gameplay itself is pretty solid, Hanako Games have a model engine they’ve been using for their last few titles but it’s a good strong model to work with. Battling numerical attributes with fickle D20 rolls allow for a concrete concept so why re-invent the wheel? However in this game there is little something… underhanded. It’s easy to forget that the D20 is digital and thus accepting the roll as gospel but very early on you are warned the D20 is manipulated by those working against you. Adding that level of paranoia to a 20 sided 3D shape was clever twist which deserved a mention! There is also the need to mention the ever elusive choice mechanism which so many games underestimate. There is a quantifiable level of corrupt/honour working against you throughout the game to ensure you don’t just rush head first heavy handed. It’s some strange way of enforce you to be more subtle and devious rather than go full amazon on every suspect you find.

The biggest issue I have this with game is the missing WOW factor. The narrative is excellent, IGF have confirmed that at very least, after all every mission IS a little different and every scandal is a mixture of entertaining and unique. But I find the rest of the game lacking. It feels like I am inside a story and taking part piece at time but that’s about it. When I asked my friendly neighbour JRPG’er I am told this is the very nature of this genre and that it is simply to enjoy the story. So I suppose from a very personal level it didn’t suit my taste but based on those in the know it delivered exactly what it says on the tin. It’s the equivalent of asking for a FPS when you’ve bought a strategy game, it’s not what you’ve bought so I shouldn’t expect it!

Althea

The point I am trying to make is Black Closet is a tried, tested and talented JRPG. While certain parts of gameplay are not making me over eager I can justify my enjoyment from the traditional artwork, intriguing storyline and colourful characters!

Images - Hanako Games/Steam