Gripping visual novels aren’t always easy to come by, but you know you have a winner on your hands when you find one that thrives in virtually every aspect. The House in Fata Morgana – developed and released by Novectacle back in 2012, before being localized and released internationally at the butt-end of 2016 – does exactly that with its potent and eloquent mix of romance, suspense and gothic horror.
This VN is made up of multiple stories set across specific time zones. You awaken inside a mysterious and decrepit mansion, almost void of light and life… with the exception of a single, pale-faced maid. She explains that the building is cursed, and has brought misfortune to each of its previous owners for centuries. You, however, are the latest Master of the manor. You don’t know how you got there, or what happened prior, but the atmosphere is far from welcoming…
In hopes of jogging your memory, The Maid subjects you to one of four tales, in the form of flashbacks. The first, set in 1603, follows two particularly close siblings from a noble family. After the new arrival of a young, fresh-faced maid – whom the brother is smitten by – tensions between them begin to mount. What starts off as an engaging, if fairly typical, story about star-crossed lovers of different social stature soon enough spirals into chaos with some very dark twists along the way. A solid start so far.
Things are much more gruesome in the second story, set about 100 years later. The mansion belongs to a bloodthirsty beast who lures unsuspecting travellers into his home. When a blind girl arrives at the estate, the killer begins to question what would truly make him happy. It contains some of the most graphic images and intense encounters in the whole VN. There are certain moments (featuring a victim’s partner searching for her love) does pad out and slow down the story at times, though there are so many genuinely gut-wrenching and sorrowful moments in it. It’s definitely the strongest tale of the bunch.
The third is less horror-centric, instead focusing on an unhealthy, abusive relationship. A 19th Century businessman too focused on his work is constantly mistreating his wife, who still somehow genuinely loves him. Things take a turn for the worst when an unexpected figure decides to deceive the two. Despite a few genuinely sweet and reassuring moments here and there, the saga is utterly heartbreaking, and all the more engrossing to watch.
The story concludes with the fourth door, with a narrative that’s set in the Middle ages. Naturally, a lot of the previously unknown plot points are wrapped up here. If starts off seemingly innocent enough, if a bit slow. After being accused of witchcraft, a familiar-looking woman finds solitude inside the mansion with its sole occupant: a young man who claims to be cursed, as well. Elements of psychological horror are subtly and cleverly sewn into this fairy tale. Here, you’ll be subjected to numerous multiple-choice answers, which may result in an early game over, depending on your actions. Still, you can’t argue with replayability.
Generally speaking, the writing in The House in Fata Morgana is brilliant, not to mention gripping enough to hook you within the first hour and beyond. While it does seem a bit odd that certain characters talk as if they were from modern times, Keika Hanada proves himself to be a very talented storyteller. On top of that, the backgrounds are bursting with colour and detail, much like the memorable character designs and the incredible CG images as well.
The VN is topped off with a diverse soundtrack made up of numerous tracks performed on piano and strings. Some of them come with lyrics and in various languages, ranging from Latin to Portugese. They’re reflective of the time zones that each story is in, too, so you’ll be treated to some gothic-sounding tracks in the Middle Ages, along with a few jovial, Music Hall-like ditties in the 1800s. There’s no voice acting to be found here, but, quite honestly, it’s an unnecessary inclusion, as the sound design alone is pretty much perfect as it is.
I honestly can’t recommend The House in Fata Morgana enough. Its fascinating cast of characters, captivating story and fantastic writing is backed up by some very impressive visuals and a wonderful soundtrack. Despite some slightly inconsistent pacing issues, of which are rare, it proves itself to be an unsettling, moving, and hauntingly beautiful experience