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SummaryTriggering puzzles with puzzling triggers
The GoodDōkoku Soshite... is an heir to such "semi-horror" adventure games as Shadowgate or Deja Vu, but it comes with an important addition: multiple paths. Basically, it is quite an unusual hybrid between standard, Western-style exploration with puzzle-solving on one side, and a mildly erotic "visual novel" with a branching storyline on the other.
The combination between the two genres is what makes the game interesting. You really cannot say what is more important here: trying to get a good ending with one of the girls, or exploring the mansion, searching for an exit. Every girl has a so-called "rescue event". From time to time, a girl will be trapped in some way, and you'll be given the choice of saving her or leaving her to die. However, the choice is not made merely by selecting an option, but by getting optional items and figuring out how to use them in order to save a girl. If it takes you too long to fetch the necessary items for the puzzle, if you trigger too many other events while searching for them, the girl will die.
Unlike the overwhelmingly linear Western adventures, Dōkoku Soshite... can be different every time you play it, depending not only on your decisions and puzzle-solving skills, but also on the events that you trigger without knowing. You can make an effort and save all the girls, or you can be a bastard and let them die. You can try to help one girl more than the others, hoping to achieve a happy ending with her. Or you can be a coward and run away as soon as you find an exit, without even telling the others where it is.
The "trapped in a mansion, can't get out, there are dead bodies everywhere" setting is anything but original, but it is nicely implemented in the game. There is the classic "whoddunit" question throughout the whole game, and quite a few suspenseful moments.
The puzzles are pretty intuitive. There is one logical puzzle in the "wide room" - I'm not even sure whether it was compulsory or optional. I usually dislike such puzzles, but I certainly can tolerate it when there is only one of them in the entire game. Other than that, the puzzles are fairly simple and for the most part involve only using a correct inventory item with a correct object.
The BadI remember sharing a piano solo performance with a pianist who was also a priest. The other guys from our band and I listened to his playing, which was quite awful. After he finished, we looked at each other, and the violinist said carefully: "Well... let's put it this way: he just might be he best pianist among priests, and the best priest among pianists".
Such evaluation can be applied to Dōkoku Soshite.... No matter how interesting and refreshing its genre combination is, the game is just that: the best puzzle-solving adventure among visual novels, and the best visual novel among puzzle-solving adventures - which, frankly, isn't much.
Most of you are probably more familiar with Western-style puzzle-solving adventures than with Japanese visual novels. It is safe to say that Dōkoku Soshite... offers nothing, or almost nothing, to somebody who is just looking for clever, creative, challenging puzzles. Most of the puzzles in the game are unfortunately of the depressing "use key to unlock the door" kind. The puzzles are generally quite easy compared to those found in most Western adventures, and even in survival horror games. I think they can be all solved even without understanding Japanese.
Instead of enhancing the game, the visual novel parts are just there to impose their horrible "triggering" system on what could have been a nice, if unspectacular, little horror title. Instead of using your wits to escape, you'll be aimlessly wandering from room to room, waiting to trigger an event that would miraculously make a completely unrelated puzzle solvable. Choosing your path in the game is not a conscious choice, but a result of guesswork and logic-blind, unexciting gameplay.
Atmosphere is an inseparable component of a horror title, transforming many games with mediocre gameplay into fulfilling experience. Sadly, Dōkoku Soshite... is one of the most plainly-looking games I played on a Saturn, with still anime backgrounds and abstract isometric navigation that fail to absorb the player visually. The music is not bad, but it is too repetitive - there is only one soundtrack for the whole mansion and very few different pieces for the events. Character graphics are anything but brilliant, and there are absolutely no animated cutscenes: even the intro is done with in-game engine.