Welcome back friends, to our deep dive into the demos of the most recent Steam Next Fest!
Y’know, it occurs to me that while we’ve tackled a decent spread of genres already-point and click cyberpunk, 90s themed adventures, and JRPGs-we haven’t really delved into one of the genres indie games excel at the most. Let’s fix that, shall we?
The Lady Puppet is a survival horror game made in RPG Maker, developed and published by SEELE Games. In it you play as Lailah Reah, a young woman who wakes up one day in Clawhill, a bizarre world where everyone has been turned into a living puppet. Including her. And so she must navigate this dark and confusing world with only a flashlight, a communicator run by a mysterious woman, and dolls that can magically summon companions to help her. You know, the usual.
Let me start right off the bat by saying that this is honestly one of the most immediately effective horror games I’ve played in a while. I recently did a marathon of the Resident Evil games made in the RE Engine (so RE7, the RE2 & RE3 remakes, and Village), and I can genuinely say that there were parts of the demo for this RPG Maker game that matched the sheer dread and unease of Village’s dollhouse and exceeded anything the other three had to offer. At least when it came to scares. As we’ll discus, The Lady Puppet isn’t without its own flaws.
Once again, we’re dealing with a demo that more or less drops you in the opening level and sends you out to go do things. You wake up with strings coming out of your limbs, alone in a dark forest, with no information. Upon finding a communicator (on the same screen, fortunately), you’re contacted by a mysterious, vaguely flirtatious masked woman who tells you to go west to find a shelter.
This is where we bump into one of the first annoyances of The Lady Puppet. When you move from one screen to the next , the ‘camera’ rotates so that it gives the perspective of being at the top of the new screen.
Take this screen for example. When you head west, to the next screen, you will no longer be facing west after the screen transition. You will be facing south, at the top of the screen. And when you don’t have a map and your only instructions are ‘go west’, this can be rather disorienting. If you got here by heading west, do you need to keep going straight down, or do you need to head left from your current orientation? You get used to it, but it can be rather confusing at the start.
Once you get going you quickly find a whole slew of horrors, from seemingly terrestrial crocodiles to corpses strewn about the forest, to which Lailah responds with nearly Ethan Winters levels of disinterest. But I’m going to give the indie game made on RPG Maker some slack compared to the AAA game with voice acting.
Still, what does and doesn’t provoke a reaction from Lailah can feel more random than not. It’s not actually random, it’s story driven, but it can be amusing when she has no issues with the corpses hanging from trees but a single one found after them causes her to have a strong negative reaction.
Speaking of reactions, one of the things The Lady Puppet actually does rather well is its pacing. During and after cutscenes, it’s not afraid to take some time to show Lailah having to stop to process everything that’s going on in silence. Where most video games just have your character immediately adjust (or at least repress really well) to hurry along the cutscenes and narrative moments, The Lady Puppet is more willing to take it slow…at least when it decides to have her react to things. This can admittedly cause some problems early in, as the simplistic art makes it hard to tell when Lailah’s taking a minute and when the game’s frozen, but once you realize that the portrait in the bottom left doesn’t show up during cutscenes that stops being as much of a problem.
Another thing The Lady Puppet handles well, which feeds into the tone set by the pacing, is atmosphere. From the location design…
To the use of lighting and shadows…
The Lady Puppet can be downright masterful. It’s got some lovely location designs for a pixel art game.
So, all in all, this is a fantastic little survival horror game, with good pacing, good art direction, and an interesting mystery to help drive the plot. And for once, there is still a demo available on Steam. It’s not the same as the Next Fest one, but it’s still worth a look if this got your attention!
Thanks for reading, see y’all next time!
Images Courtesy of SEELE Games
Have strong thoughts about this piece you need to share? Or maybe there’s something else on your mind you’re wanting to talk about with fellow Fandomentals? Head on over to our Community server to join in the conversation!