Horror, a genre that requires so much care to do properly, and even then it’s all subjective from person to person. Finding the balance between realism and fantasy is one that many have tried, and many are those times when the results end up silly. Go too fantastical and there’s little to attach into your real life. Go too realistic and there’s a lack of the uncanny nature that evokes an uncomfortability that the fear relies on. In gaming, this balance is even harder, and it’s indie title Viviette that tries to frighten me today.
A puzzle horror game, Viviette is a title that caught my attention thanks to its visuals. As a 16-bit style game, it boasts a bold aesthetic. The level design is strong, but the area you explore is fairly small. Because the game has a limited exploration space, you see same areas repeatedly, and eventually the art design fails to hold up. Doors are also a pain to interact with, as they are marked with small blocks over the walls. That, combined with the darkness, makes it difficult to see them and other objects and areas over time.
Speaking of darkness, I feel Viviette does a weak job at utilizing it. You acquire an alchemy lamp early on, and its light is your only real source of illumination during the game. The amount of the lamp’s brightness is quite small, and is only used, at least during my time, as a small plot device point early on. I would have liked to see it utilized more during my play.
Seeing things is quite important, as often you need to observe particular things before performing obvious actions. A window opens up early, and until you look at a specific area, you can’t interact with it like you would expect to. Some objects require you to be standing in an exact area to solve puzzles, making it all like a guessing game. You might find yourself reading the same dialog over and over trying to find the right point to interact with an object.
This leads to one of my biggest complaint with the game; it lacks of any form of explanation to the player. Viviette prides itself on being a demanding puzzle game, and while I give the developers props for trying, I think the design went too far in that direction. Little to no motivation is given to the player early on, and there are no breadcrumbs to follow. The puzzles I found and solved were by only sheer luck, and as a player, this made me feel indifferent to the game.
An example of this is an early puzzle with buttons. I scoured the entire location, and found zero clues to the solution. Yet the solution was to randomly hit the two buttons and move around in some unknown sequence. I didn’t feel like I had completed a challenge, but rather blindly guessing the answer. During my entire play I felt like this with almost every solution I came across.
The story of Viviette - at least from the the parts I could piece together - was that your character takes a group to explore a spooky haunted mansion on an island. The main character’s sister was the catalyst who encouraged the group to visit it, though it yielded nothing. As the characters begin to leave, they notice the sister is missing, still inside the mansion. Volunteering to go back in to collect her, you’re startled and knocked out by an unknown force, and awaken hours later after the day has turned into night.
From there, the most easily explained is what the game refers to as “The Monster”. It’s a feature I despised, yet also lead to the sole highlight of the game. The monster roams the halls of the mansion, and chases after you when it sees or hears you. In a more expansive and grandiose setting, where there were more areas to hide or shortcuts to find, this would be no issue. But the lack of free exploration, the number of dead ends, and the difficulty in avoiding the monster, created a situation where I died time and time again.
It can be quite terrifying when the monster is near you and you try to avoid it. The music does a great job at making the area unsettling, and the noises are bone-chilling. I found myself at every turn shouting for real while trying to get away from the monster. The game did a great job making a truly tense scenario. But every time the monster saw me, save maybe once, I was killed and my progress reverted back to the last save. My success came by completely leaving the playing area, and still I died minutes later. While the terror was effective, the other parts around it caused me to refuse to go further in the end.
I didn’t have fun with Viviette. The puzzles lacked any logical answers, and there was little motivation to explore. The story lacked emphatic moments and failed to entice me to struggle through the rough points. There was an effective crafting of terror, but no pay off with that lone success either.
It’s strongly possible that I was the wrong audience for the game. Viviette reminded me of Resident Evil before it shifted to action horror, and I was never any good at exploring the Spencer Mansion either. It’s quite clear that the game would appeal more to fans of puzzle-horror, or for those looking for this kind of experience. It’s clear that time, effort, and love went into making Viviette but they just didn’t create a game that I can recommend on the whole.
If you’re looking for a game with not even a sliver of hand-holding, Viviette will scratch your itch. If you need no motivation to explore a spooky mansion, you’ll find that in the game. However, If you need either of those things even in the slightest, this is one game I would suggest you hide from.