A young girl named Miki wakes up on the floor of a room. There is debris nearby from some unseen catastrophe, her leg is trapped under a pipe, and water is slowly leaking in from the ceiling. Looking around, there isn’t much in reach — a screwdriver and a hairpin from her bag. Leveraging some nearby machinery, she manages to lift the pipe and free herself, escaping into the seemingly-deserted halls of this vast complex. She sees light coming through a door, and opens it. On the other side stands another young girl about Miki’s age. Her clothes are stained red with blood.
So goes the first chapter of Misshitsu no Sacrifice — “Sacrifice of the Secret Room” — a puzzle adventure game from small Tokyo developer INTENSE. It is essentially a hybrid between Japanese style visual novels — long sequences of text, still images, and voiceovers — and western-style point-and-click puzzle games like Myst or The 7th Guest. Switching between five different characters — each chapter is told from a specific character’s perspective — the player must try to escape this strange complex and figure out just what happened here.
The game is very reminiscent of the Crimson Room series of Flash room-escape games, both in visual style and in general gameplay. Each puzzle gives the player only one or a few screens to move between, looking for items, interactive objects, and tiny hidden areas concealing more of the first two. There is only ever one solution to each puzzle, but they are often quite complex and satisfying to figure out. Unfortunately, there are a number of puzzles that are simply obscure — I had to resort to a guide more than once, and a few just had me scratching my head even after reading the explanation.
That said, there are some quite memorable puzzles, such as one sequence where the characters become trapped in a burning office and must find a way to safety, and one where a security system in a computer is represented as first-person Minesweeper. The good puzzles outweigh the bad by a considerable margin, but to curb frustration, I would recommend having a guide handy.
Visually, the game is very basic. Characters are simple anime-style illustrations, while everything else is basic late-’90s-esque computer CG. It provides a suitably oppressive atmosphere to many environments, though it’s clearly also the product of a limited budget. The story is told almost entirely through the text and voices, with the visuals in these sequences rarely providing more than just an image of the location and static character portraits. Sound effects are similarly minimal, though the music changes depending on the situation. Since there’s few cues outside the dialogue, Japanese comprehension is vital to understanding the story, so be warned this isn’t exactly an import-friendly game.
The story is the real highlight of this game. Each character is distinct and interesting — the game delves into each character’s past, showing the player their secrets and, eventually, what binds them together. There are multiple endings depending on which path the player chooses in the final chapters of the game, with the true ending only opening up after clearing each of the others. I’ve so far completed three of the endings, and to say things get a little depressing would be an understatement — some of the endings are almost unbelievably tragic. That said, it is very well-written and engaging, and the voice work is also more than adequate for most characters.
This is a difficult title to recommend. I liked the design and the atmosphere, and the puzzles that weren’t infuriatingly obscure were quite satisfying. The voice work brought the dialogue to life, and I got quite attached to several of the characters. The story is intrinsic to the experience, though, and requires Japanese comprehension to make any sense out of due to the minimal visuals. So I will give a conditional recommendation: IF you can understand Japanese and IF you don’t mind sad stories and IF you don’t mind using a guide from time to time, then by all means check this one out. If you don’t match all three of those conditions, then stay away — this is a difficult game to like.