The White Chamber Game Review

Okay, confession time people. I used to be, and indeed still am, a bit of an Anime dork. I know, on the surface I seem like a perfectly well adjusted video game reviewer for an online adventure game e-zine, nothing that would suggest any degree of nerd-ness. But underneath, I have waged my own private battle against, and I’m not even kidding about this, my unhealthy obsession with Sailor Moon. I’ve managed to fight my way over that particular low point in my life, but like the alcoholic who safely becomes a social drinker, I still dabble in the wonderful world of Japanese animation from time to time. Oh I still binge time to time on the occasional 24-hour marathon or three-day convention, but at least I’m not crazy about it any more than I used to be

Anyhow, I like anime, and as you may have guessed, I also like adventure games, but by tragic fate, these two passions have rarely if ever coincided. So it came as a happy surprise to hear of the recent new release of The White chamber by Studio Trophis, an independently made Anime Adventure game. That alone makes it worth my time, but is it worth yours? Let’s find out together.

STORY

You wake up in a coffin, in a dark room, with no recollection of where you are, why you’re here, and most troubling of all, who you are. You leave the room cautiously, to find yourself in a space station, in an unfamiliar part of the galaxy, and utterly devoid of any life. That is, any life besides you of course, and whatever it is that put you in the coffin, and seems intent on killing you. What does it want with you? How did you get here? How can you escape? Do you even deserve to?

To be perfectly frank, neither the amnesia nor the abandoned space station angle are particularly new or innovative ideas in adventure games (or anime for that matter) but they work well enough when properly used, and I’m happy to say that this game is a good example of doing justice to the tried and true. The story manages to deftly balance itself between seeming safe enough to explore and just creepy enough to make you tense up time to time. If I must quibble (and I must) the ending is made a bit weaker by the fact that there are two, a good and a bad, and the things that affect it are fairly obvious (and as they deal with morals, kinda debatable) and neither ending is really strong. Sorry to halfway spoil there, but then again the rest of the story works so well you can forgive it.

GAMEPLAY

The game is one of relatively few games powered by the WinterMute engine (www.dead-code.org), an adventure game interpreter that, while used much less frequently than Chris Jones’ Adventure Game Studio, is at least as powerful. The interface is simple enough to pick up in seconds, left click to walk and right to look or interact. The puzzles are intuitive, neither too difficult or too easy, and have that kind of rewarding sense when solved that, when combined with the compellingly suspenseful story, create a marvelous gaming experience that you don’t want to stop playing.

Unfortunately, while the overall design of the game is flawless, the actual programming is far from it. I have gone through the game three times now, each trying to avoid any of the numerous (though usually minor) bugs and glitches, and every time I thought I had planned a route through that would avoid any of them, I end up spotting another two. The game contains numerous graphical glitches, system logic problems, and assorted other errors. Fortunately, none of them actually cripple the game though, which is either extremely fortunate or a testament to the power of the engine to compensate for mistakes. This is Studio Trophis’ first game, so these can be overlooked, and they have said that they will be releasing an international version later that fixes the bugs and will be available in other languages.

GRAPHICS

If you dig the anime cartoon style, or heck, even if you don’t, you should give this game a good look. The visual feel is not just drawn true to the style, but with a sense for the general creepiness of the environment and the ominous imposing look of what would otherwise seem normal. Characters, screens, and animations are all drawn rather well.

I’ve noticed that the past two sections have one praising paragraph and then a condemning one. Seems to be a pattern. Anyway, while taken individually each visual element is well done, somehow, when combined, it doesn’t look quite right. For instance, the camera angle in several of the rooms really doesn’t match up with the angle of your character just standing upright, like the room were on a slant or, I dunno, the gravity generator’s is off balance or something. Also, and this is clearly accidental, some of the rooms have clearly visible and potentially useful items just sitting in the open, such as a pair of scissors or a screwdriver, and these things can’t be interacted with at all. Minor gripes, sure, but you notice them.

SOUND

Not really very much music, but a great deal of ambient sound that rises and falls with the tension of the game. Sound effects are also well done and add to the atmosphere with, for example, the sound of your heavy boots hitting the metal floor and echoing through the room. There is no voice acting, which isn’t uncommon in independent adventures, but considering the game is a 300-megabyte download you do feel a bit gypped. I mean seriously, there’d only be two speaking parts, you couldn’t find just two people and a microphone?

IN A FEW WORDS

A genuinely suspenseful horror game in a marvelously drawn anime style. All in all this game is a marvelous first outing by Studio Trophis. There are a few minor problems to be sure, but they are clearly more the result of inexperience than incompetence. It’ll probably take you a while to download, but its well worth the wait. (http://www.studiotrophis.com/)

Story: 80

Gameplay: 75

Graphics: 85

Sound: 85

Overall: 80

(This review was initially published in The Inventory Online Adventure Game Magazine)