It’s been a long time since I’ve immersed myself in the horror genre due to my recent game addictions. When I saw Dark Fear I immediately knew it was meant for me. The style and atmosphere of Dark Fear capture the essences of some of my favorite titles such as the original Clock Tower and Sweet Home. No it doesn’t play like either of those games, but the mood conveyed is as effective as these classic titles in every sense.
At any given time there’s no doubt that you’re solely existing in the world of Dark Fear rather than reality. The point-and-click interface is smooth as glass, and the pixel art style portrays foreboding locales teeming with mystery and danger. An unsettling feeling of solitude washes over you, and the fight for survival and discovery begins. The beginning has already been explained: start in a cabin in the woods, no memory, find a way to break out. After a short puzzle, you’re in the woods, and encounter your first assailant: the evil coyote. The battle is simple enough, smack it to death with an axe and get some money from a dying man who somehow limps away from a brain aneurysm. Get through this, and you are on your way to point-and-click open-world heaven.
Meeting with a forlorn blacksmith, I have obtained a short sword and been warned of the dangerous forest nearby. This dark and foreboding land is swarming with wolves, ghosts and demonic possessed trees. Sounds a little ridiculous in writing, but when you’re alone in Nightshade Forest picking Belladonna and end up waylaid by a pack of wolves, your laughter would turn to tears real quick, I am not playing. I’m not sure if it’s because I played the first Final Fantasy as a toddler and was traumatized by Garland and his castle of evil creatures, but I still find horror game pixel art creatures a little unsettling. Back on track with the quest, I found myself stuck for a really long time dealing with the demonic tree. It took a drawn-out session of clicking everything in the entire game map over and over before I finally figured out how to progress. This is probably a good time to note that as open world as the game is, it still feels too linear in a sense that the battles, level up and everything in-between are too locked in place.
There’s little room for alternatives or grinding. Of course the story is going to progress in one path, I figured with the mix of gameplay mechanics I would have different opportunities to help me progress. Instead, this straightforward advancement left me in a loop that lasted a half hour before I could get anywhere else. Maybe I’m not as good at games as I used to be, so I’ll leave that point up to interpretation of the individual player. That having been said, the hunting mini-game is a treat to have included in this adventure, however again, it is too easy to catch prey as you have to stop a slider in the green zone for an accuracy check. The slider moves too slow and makes it too simple to snag a ton of animal pelts which may be sold or used to craft clothing and armor at the tailor’s shop in town. During this session I recalled the game Golf for the NES and how difficult it was to stop the slider in the white marker to hit the golf ball dead on so it didn’t hook out-of-bounds or into a water hazard. This level of difficulty would have been nice to have in Dark Fear. On that note, more potion ingredients for the potion lady would have been great to hunt for, however the game has a simple system and no real variety of potions. This is sufficient and well done, but if you’re the kind of person who always wants more, you may find this aspect of the game lackluster.
Playing through the preparation phase and moving past the demonic tree puzzle, the realness starts, and now I feel like I’ve shed my blanket of security and sanctuary and waded into the black waters of the otherworldly unknown. There is a haunted plantation with a delightfully cinematic introduction that makes its way onto the screen, and I’m showered in uncertainty. The story behind the haunting is well-placed in this game world, and solving the mystery and surviving the result is a rewarding experience all the way through. There’s nothing more delightful than a tale about a demon in the form of a child haunting a house. Bonus points for the inclusion of possessed dolls, I’m all about the dolls. The conclusion of the first chapter of Dark Fear felt complete, and filled with enough content to call it such. Aside from the fact that battles could really only go one way unless you waste your turns intentionally, Dark Fear has some serious potential, and is one of my favorites that I’ve played this year.
All in all, I’m rating this an 8/10 for excellent story telling, great setting and premise and for flawlessly weaving together a solid mix of gameplay mechanics to create an overall fulfilling and enthralling experience from start to finish.
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