Unless you’ve wasted time trying to understand the lore behind death metal lyrics, Ossuary is probably an unfamiliar word. A loose definition is of a place where you store the remains of the dead – which neatly sums up any immediate impressions of the setting and tone.
You’ll be playing as a wandering amorphous blob, talking Ossuary politics with static amorphous blobs who remain focussed on their half-life while you try to change the structure of where they call home. It’s a meandering jaunt through, what I’m struggling not to describe as, the ‘art game’ genre. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is your usual tortuous walk down pretentious, one-dimensional, symbolism. The next several hundred words will be a vague analysis of my time spent in this busy crypt, I was too engrossed by Ossuary to take any notes which weren’t rambling praise.
The main mode of interaction is a shallow word-tree of conversation. Click to hear what these barely animated corpses have to say, asks questions to lead you forward. Your powers extend to being able to manipulate their emotions by imbuing them with one of the deadly sins. One early puzzle has you fill a man with wrath so that he’ll bash open a new entrance way. It’s a pretty veneer for classic point-and-click style adventuring. Rub thing against another thing in order to make thing turn into thing. It also comes with the same problems. Barring a few moments, you can solve the riddles simply by cycling through the maximum of seven options; if sloth isn’t working just try again with gluttony. But it thankfully avoids the monotony of re-reading the same failure text over-and-over again. Reading those words is the entire point.
Those words are of a consistently high quality. Every minor character is fleshed out, with their own gloriously self-absorbed personality showing through in the dialogue. A political group’s commander blustering about stamping down the evil of an identical party, a museum curator’s building curiosity to see the filthiest object known to humanity, a college dean’s anger at a student rebelling against prescribed academia. It’s both cynically accurate without losing its sense of empathy. It occasionally steps over the Chrono Cross line of having every incidental NPC spout pop-existentialism, but it’s never dull. What could have easily skipped into dry beard scratching exhibits a constant wry humour. Men shouting hoary, received wisdom turn out to actually be cabbages in disguise. The humour takes your hand and tours you past the depressing atmosphere, helping you through the occasionally obtuse puzzle or the oddly included quest to collect glittering coins.
There was a creeping thought jostling me during my time with Ossuary, what does any of it actually mean? What is this game trying to say exactly? Much of the writing is heavily inspired by Discordianism, a philosophy focussed on the illusory nature of the order/chaos dichotomy. Themes of oppression, suppression, depression and naively trying to overcome our baser human instincts abound through every piece of text. But there’s no central plot to latch onto – it’s a collection of short stories set in a limbo-like nightmare. The conclusion I lumped for, more to save my withered brain then any definite logic, is that there is no solid conclusion – these endlessly conflicting factions are caught in a perpetual loop of lies and self-deception, desperately clinging to whatever meaning they can find in the futile chaos that surrounds them.
And then I smiled because I found another shiny thing to add to my collection.
The graphics further induce an atmosphere of dystopia. It has the minimalist look of a ZX Spectrum game recreated in RPG Maker, ugly but effective. The black-white-red colour scheme gives it a ring of Schindler’s List, and all the pedestrian horror that the comparison implies. There’s little variation in the environment. There’s about five different character models, five different objects, five different textures. The art has been created to be looked beyond, the writing is the most important piece to consider.
Similarly, the music contributes to a solidly defined tone, but does little beyond that to distinguish itself. There’s two or three looping tracks which play through the entirety of the game. Gothic; notes echoing in a cathedral. It sounds like Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch at their weakest, one of their tossed-off noodlings. The sporadic shrieking goat or crying woman is the only thing which stops it from being completely forgettable.
I stepped away from Ossuary unsure of exactly how I felt. I found the superficial puzzling to mostly be tiring, and yet I couldn’t stop myself from playing, from trying to uncover all the mysteries the world was trying to hide from me. I was frustrated by the obliqueness of the story, still not certain that the developer knows exactly what he’s trying to say, but these characters have stuck with me. Despite its cryptic nature, Ossuary has imparted something meaningful to me which I’m still struggling to decode.
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