PREVIOUS REVIEW: Paranoiac
Be warned - there may be content in this review that could spoil the game's characters a little, and about how the game works. If you want to play the game first and then check out this review, go ahead and play it first. If you can handle the minor spoilers, then read on.
Well, it's been awhile. Too long I think. But I think it's time to reveal yet another RPG game I've been playing recently, which is The Crooked Man, created by Uri (who also created Paranoiac and Mermaid Swamp) and translated from Japanese to English by vghime - thanks for making yet another great RPG horror game available to English players.
WARNING: This game contains themes that may be considered offensive and/or inappropiate for some, such as graphic violence, crude language, and mature themes. There are quite a bit of depressing and emotionally and psychologically distressing themes here, so play only if you can tolerate it. If you can't, please refrain from playing this software.
Like all of the other RPG Maker/WOLF RPG Editor horror games I have reviewed, this game is not for the faint of heart, and please take into consideration that there are scares in this game and it does make use of grotesque imagery.
When viewed at any angle, The Crooked Man can be considered a story-driven horror game. And it is. Making use of symbolism, imagery, and other literary devices, it isn't hard to tell that Uri has done a fantastic job in terms of the effort that was put into this game. You play as David Hoover, the new tenant for an apartment that he has just moved into during a troubling time in his life. In other words, his life sucks and he's just moved into a crummy, run-down apartment. This sort of "everyman" character is what makes David such a great protagonist - he is extremely relatable and the player can expect to see a little (if not a lot) of himself or herself in david as they advance through the game's story. The title of the game takes its name from a nineteenth-century nursery rhyme, and there are all sorts of allusions and references to the real world in this game. Strangely, David has no idea as to whom the previous tenant was, and when strange things begin to occur in his apartment, he leaves himself no choice other than to investigate why these things keep happening. He then embarks on a journey to seek answers about the mysterious tenant, and soon this search for someone he doesn't even know goes horribly wrong.
Some might consider the story a little on the Silent Hill 4 side with the apartment and all, but soon you'll discover that you're wrong. The Crooked Man is one of the longest RPG horror games I've played (if not the longest), and that's a good thing. There are a large amount of locations that David visits during his search, and every segment of the story is neatly organized and divided into chapters.
The gameplay is what you've come to expect from an RPG horror game: explore for clues, solve puzzles, gather information, and most of all - survive. These are the bare bones of The Crooked Man, but Uri has thrown in many different changes to the standard RPG horror game formula to keep the gameplay fresh, fluid, and most of all frightening. A massive amount of environments and rooms to explore - each with its own disturbing charm - along with a constant feeling of dread that what you hope isn't looking for you is really following your every step sends chills down my spine every time I load up the game. The Crooked Man relies primarily on creepy locales with disturbing backstories and characters you don't know if you can trust for its scares, using ambience and well-timed music and sound cues to keep you on your toes. There are quite a few jump-scares to be seen in this game, and I have to admit a lot of them caught me off-guard. The scares are never cheap or boring, because of the constant tension that builds as you uncover more and more about David's previous tenant.
A good story needs good characters. And The Crooked Man has definitely got it. The cast of characters in this game are unforgettable, each with his or her own distinct personality and character trait that can in a way relate to David (or you), as all of the characters in this game are psychologically or emotionally weak somehow. It's a total rejection of the "good guy" archetype, as each person in this game does something really out-of-the-ordinary eventually one way or another - the game totally distorts the view on what justifies a loyal, trustworthy character. And that's what makes the characters so great - you never know if the people you meet who initially seem impenetrable and anti-social are dying inside, and this adds a sense of unpredictability to the characters you meet. The role of everyman has never been made so clear and so real as in this game, since David is suffering inside just like everybody else. But don't confuse "just like everybody else" with bland and boring, because that's exactly the opposite of what makes up the character development in The Crooked Man.
Musically, I found The Crooked Man quite delightful. There are quite a bit of tracks in there that classical music buffs might recognize, but the music isn't all that happy-go-lucky. In fact, most of the time there isn't much music, and the only sounds you'll probably hear are usually the opening and closing of doors. But the when the music does kick in, it fits in perfectly each time - and it's pure bliss when a song sets the mood for an epic confrontation or a quick, intense getaway. However, the music and sound departments aren't perfect - and if you're not wearing headphones you're likely to miss a lot of ambient sound effects that are meant to creep you the hell out. It would've been better if the music tracks had been amplified a little and the ambient sounds increased as well so you could hear the creepy little things David hears, but I guess if you're playing a horror game without headphones you should be the one to blame anyways - so I guess it's a sort of subjective, personal thing.
One of the various locations in the game.
Like I said earlier, The Crooked Man will definitely take you a while to complete, and it's highly unlikely that you'll complete it in one sitting. The nice inclusion of chapters are a nice indication that it's best to take a break now and complete the next chapter in one sitting so that you don't have to save in the middle and not know what's going on (it doesn't explicitly say "take a break", but the game offers no recaps, so you'll have to remember what you did last on your own). The game doesn't drag on and on, and it ends at just the right moment, and the endings aren't cheap either. Throughout the course of the story, David will have to make choices that will determine what happens next. There are several bad endings, but they don't function like the standard bad endings you've come to know (even though they're labeled as such). The bad endings don't take place at the end of the game, but rather at that the closing point in the chapter. It's also recommended that you make multiple save files if you want to see all of the endings.
SCARE FACTOR: 3/5 (NOT AN OVERALL SCORE!!)
Yes, the Scare Factor rating has been modified. I figured that an "Out of 10" scale was a little difficult to pinpoint exactly how scary a game was, so I've modified the scale so it's a little easier to comprehend now.
The Crooked Man and it's titular character will scare you quite a bit - but if not to death, then a little jump or two. Its jump-scares and atmosphere are well-timed, and musical and sound-related cues keep the atmosphere tense and spooky. The game's strongest points lie in its characters and story, and the character development is phenomenal, much like Mermaid Swamp's characters. Uri has done a fantastic job writing the story for the game, and I found the ending rewarding and extremely satisfying. The scares aren't cheap (and are actually a little more on the action side), but that doesn't mean that the hardcore horror game aficionado will pass this up. There's plenty of story and scares to be found in this WOLF RPG Editor gem.
There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.