When I look at the visual novel (VN) genre, I see a reoccurring theme with style and character models. More often than not you lose yourself in a story about young love, and their promiscuous ways, or it’s a mystery horror. But one thing that is always guaranteed is the characters are over sexualised with abnormally small waists, massive breasts, and enchanting eyes. This over the top representation reflects the desires of its major audience, and we in the West have just switched on to the captivating world of visual novels.
Vera Blanc: Ghost In The Castle is developed by Winter Wolves Games and published by Ratailaike Games. The sequel to Vera Blanc: Full Moon, it captures much of the essence of the first, keeping most of the gameplay mechanics. Having reviewed the first chapter in the franchise and scoring it 7 out of 10, I was excited when I was offered the next instalment. Ghost In The Castle tells the tale of Vera Blanc, she is a mind reading detective who gained her powers after experimental treatment to cure her cancer.
A quaint village, and murder afoot.
This episode focuses on the troubles in a small village in Italy. The people tell a tale of a ghost that haunts the villagers. An old wife’s tale, you may think! Unfortunately not! Bodies are found, and people become scared. Reports suggest the ghost is responsible, but this cannot be true as ghosts don’t exist. You control our heroine as she seeks clues and questions the people of this sleepy community. Surely someone is lying, a ghost can’t be responsible for murder?
It reads like a storyline from a Scooby Do cartoon, but once you scratch the surface, you realise its more in-depth. The gameplay is broken down over 6 days, where you are free to explore the town and question anyone you feel is guilty. You may play this as a true visual novel where the clues unveil themselves to you. Or you can spice up the action with a selection of mini-games. These will test; memory, observation, reading and more. The games are not challenging, but do add a layer of interest and difficulty above the base VN game. No matter which you choose, the outcome will be the same, but the length of playtime will be altered considerably.
A simple tale with many twists.
The concept allows for a simple tale to dominate the proceedings. You must work your way through the surrounding area questioning anyone that you suspect is guilty. Information can be obtained in the strangest of ways, and if you are getting nowhere, read their minds. “It can’t be difficult to solve a mystery when you can read thoughts!” Vera’s powers are limited, but it’s a handy skill to have. Even as you piece together information, the clever way the story has been written means you will keep you guessing right to the end.
It kept me captivated throughout. The selection of questions, the cast of characters, and the increasing points of interest meant that the plot didn’t get stale. The writing style can be clichéd, and some parts, though light-hearted were cringe worthy. I let this all slide, after all, the heroine is a large busted mind reading detective, how serious do you want it to be?
Influenced by comic books.
It’s clear that Winter Wolves Games take their inspiration from the comic book market. The art style is fantastic and matches this genre perfectly. Scenes flick from one to another as if you were turning the page in a book. The colour palette and crisp lines are reminiscent of many major branded comics read by avid fans. Equally impressive was the unique nature of each segment of the village. This attention to detail brought the world to life and made every scene interesting to look at.
The audio brilliantly compliments the visuals. As the scenery changes, and the atmosphere alters, so does the music. The developers didn’t miss a trick, and they kept the songs flowing alongside the many changes. The words are key in a visual novel, but the music must be supportive. A mixture of fast-paced tracks and slow, sorrowful songs complimented the action perfectly.
You can skip all the text!
As you’d expect, the controls are simple to pick up, after all, you are just reading a book on your console. But what always amazes me is the chance to skip all dialogue, cutscenes, and every element of importance. Players are free to skip the heart and soul of this game if they wish, but other than to get to a specific portion, I’d suggest not doing it. A VN is all about relaxing and taking your time, so do just that. Grab a beer or tea, some cake or crisps, and unwind. There are worse stories to relax to. Trust me, I’ve read a lot of them.
Ghost In The Castle has several endings, and multiple outcomes encourage you to return, increasing the replay value. Though I found most of the plot to be the same no matter which ending I went for. It was still nice to sit through it, knowing that I’d get an alternative finale. As the final curtain falls on this tale, you note that you have unlocked the simple achievement list. Ratalaika Games have struck again with an easy 1000 Gamerscore.
Is it worth it?
A Scooby Do style murder mystery might not be up your street, nor may an over sexualised mind reader, but don’t write this off just yet. The light-hearted nature of the plot, alongside the fun mini-games make this stand out from other visual novels. Winter Wolves Games have done well to create an excellent second episode, and I recommend you give it a go. If you want to try it out and give it a read, you can buy it here! Keep telling yourself that ghosts aren’t real, because eventually you will be face to face with one trying to stop another murder.