What I find interesting about stories is that your interpretation of them can change based on your experiences and perspective. As a child watching the show, Spongebob, I used to find the character of Squidward hilarious because he was so grumpy and rude, and I knew no one would act like that in real life. However, now that I’m an adult and have dealt with many real-life Squidwards, I see the character wasn’t supposed to be humorous, but a portrayal of the jaded cynicism people in the blue-collar workforce often feel. As a kid, I interpreted the story as a funny joke, but as an adult, I view it more as a depressing satire about work culture. The story didn’t change, but my opinion did as I grew and learned more about the world.
Death Becomes You is a visual novel about perspective and how your opinions on something can radically shift depending on the information given. At first blush, the game seems like a regular murder mystery. The protagonist is a girl named Sidney who is investigating the death of her best friend, Lyra. It seems like a simple enough premise for a story; however, as you progress through the game and find out more about the victim as well as the potential perpetrator, you start to realize the roles of victim and villain might not be as black and white as you initially thought.
Death Becomes You is a short game, it takes about 2 hours to beat, and by the end of my time with the title, I wasn’t exactly loving it. My opinion on the game was hovering somewhere between mildly entertained and disinterested. However, once I finished the story and realized I had only unlocked ending 1 of 13, I knew things were about to get a lot more interesting.
There are four potential suspects in Lyra’s murder, and there isn’t enough time to investigate all of them in a single playthrough. At multiple points in the game, the story comes to a crossroads, and you’re forced to choose a path for Sidney to take. The options are never more complex than choosing which characters to follow or interact with, but each option has the potential to massively change the outcome of the story, and when presented with these options, I’d genuinely have to sit for a minute and think out what I wanted to do.
No matter what decision you make, Sidney will only be seeing a slice of the overall narrative, but each time you restart the game, you’re able to choose different paths through the story, and almost every option reveals interesting new information about Sindey, Lyra, and the rest of the cast. Although there is a true ending to the game, I’d encourage you to try and acquire at least six or seven of the 13 endings, as you’ll gain a lot more context and appreciation for the story and the characters. If you use a guide to rush to the true ending, you’ll probably be left confused as you’ll need information from other playthroughs to make sense of everything.
If you’re a fan of visual novels or just a good story, this is probably a game you’re going to want to play; however, there are a few caveats you should know about before taking the plunge.
One of the best parts of Death Becomes You is replaying the game and piecing together new information about the characters and story. Unfortunately, I found the very first playthrough to be a bit boring, and what’s worse, the first playthrough is also the longest. The game takes around 4-5 hours to 100%, but during my playthrough, I spent about 40 percent of my time on playthrough 1.
I also felt the worldbuilding in the game had a lot of wasted potential. Death Becomes You takes place in a magical school filled with potentially hundreds if not thousands of students and faculty. However, the game has such a laser focus on Sidney and the main cast that everything else feels like it’s being ignored, and I ended up asking many questions that never got answered: why is there a magical school, are there more like it, where are we in the world, what’s the world like outside of the school, how does magic work, what kind of magic can Sidney use, why does the school need a magic barrier to protect it, and why are all these students and faculty seemingly ignoring the fact that one of their classmates died/disappeared? Ultimately the main story is still the highlight of the game, but so little is done with the world, the magic school, and its students that it almost seems like it would have been better to place the story in an entirely different setting.
The artwork in the game is also pretty sparse and lackluster. This game was made on a budget, so I don’t want to be too hard on the developers, but the character portraits can look downright ugly at times, which is a shame because you’ll be looking at them for 99% of the game. As with most visual novels, there are a couple of high-quality illustrations to bring attention to big narrative moments, but I feel like the developers should have taken those resources and created art for scenes that had more impact on the story. For example, some of the illustrations in the game include sitting down for coffee, lying in a meadow, and eating a cake. Nothing wrong with that, but there are several moments in the game that would have hit a lot harder if there was some high-quality artwork to go along with it. A few examples include someone sprouting wings and flying into the sky, a character casting magic to fling people out of their room, a massive fissure erupting out of the earth, and a character disintegrating into a thousand pieces.
Regardless of the worldbuilding or the art, the most important thing a visual novel can do is tell a compelling story, and I believe Death Becomes You succeeds in that regard. The first ⅓ of the story is slow to get through, but after you clear that hill, it speeds up and never lets off the gas until the very end. Additionally, the way the game required you to replay it multiple times to piece together the story was quite interesting. The positive aspects of the game will stick with me a lot longer than any of the negatives, and I look forward to seeing what game this company creates next!