If you’ve not heard of Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo, then don’t worry. Although this curious visual novel is receiving a worldwide release on the Switch eShop, its reveal was specifically earmarked for the Japanese Nintendo Direct back in February.
So while we were undoubtedly smitten over Metroid Prime Remastered shadow dropping and the launch of Game Boy games for the Nintendo Switch Online service, the lack of a western announcement for Paranormasight means that many horror fans could have potentially missed out on what is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and entertaining visual novels we’ve seen in quite some time. Thankfully, we’re here to right that wrong.
Describing Paranormasight is a tricky affair. A lot of the joy we experienced in playing it was a result of going in with very little prior knowledge of the story, so we feel a certain obligation here to afford you, dear readers, a similar benefit. That said, we think we can safely lay out the general premise without ruining anything.
Paranormasight takes place in the real-life neighbourhood of Honjo in the Sumida district of Tokyo, where an old legend relating to the ‘Seven Mysteries of Honjo’ continues to permeate the day-to-day lives of its citizens. These mysteries form the basis of the ‘Rite of Resurrection’, which is a manuscript that allows the wielder to revive someone who has recently died. The catch is that in order to obtain the Rite of Ressurection, those looking to seek it are imbued with a ‘Curse Stone’; old netsuke carvings imbued with curses derived from the Seven Mysteries of Honjo.
Following so far? Good stuff. The Curse Stones require the user to kill indiscriminately in order to fill the vessel with ‘Soul Dregs’. Once full, the Rite of Resurrection will be accessible. Theoretically, at least. So this is where we find our story’s protagonists: each of them has found themselves in possession of a Curse Stone, but in terms of their motivations, their actions, and how their stories intertwine with one another, we’ll leave that for you to experience on your own.
How the characters’ stories actually play out is quite fascinating. Each narrative scene forms part of a ‘Story Chart’, which is essentially a visual representation of the various branching pathways you can unlock as you progress through the game. What’s great is that you can hop between the multiple protagonists between scenes and even replay certain scenarios at will. In fact, this is often necessary in order to move forwards. Certain story branches can bring a character’s story to a rather abrupt, gruesome end, so you’ll need to revert back to an earlier scene and deduce how you can alter events in order to trigger a different story path.
Branching pathways is a gameplay trope that’s been done to death in gaming, but the way it’s been implemented here is wonderful, requiring you to really stop and think about how one character’s story connects to another, and how you can take information gleaned from one narrative path and implement it into another. The puzzles found in Paranormasight are excellent, and although they won’t challenge you too much, there’s an undeniable satisfaction when you figure out how to proceed. There’s even one ingenious little head-scratcher near the beginning that breaks the fourth wall somewhat, and we reckon it would even have the likes of Hideo Kojima grin from ear to ear; we won’t spoil what happens, but it’s quite brilliant.
This would all be for naught if the story itself wasn’t engaging, but thankfully it’s one of the most intriguing and engaging narratives we’ve experienced in a good while. The game throws you in at the deep end and dumps a heap of exposition on you after the first five or ten minutes, and while we do admit that this is a bit overwhelming at first, you can always refer to the game’s menu, which lays out all persons of interest, files, the Story Chart itself, and more for a refresher. Make no mistake, there’s a lot of reading involved here, but if you’re willing to commit, the payoff will be exponentially more satisfying.
Paranormasight isn’t just intriguing to play; it looks and sounds great, too. The visuals have an almost hand-painted quality to them, and the environments in particular look surprisingly realistic and lived-in. All of the characters feel completely three-dimensional thanks to the wonderful artwork provided by Gen Kobayashi, who you may know as the character designer for The World Ends With You and its sequel.
The animation is limited, with characters shifting from one pose to the next, but this almost works to elevate the experience even further. Because the majority of the experience is spent watching characters interact with one another, those brief moments of pure horror when you see a ghost or a dead body are communicated wonderfully, with the camera zooming in at top speed and the environment distorting around you. It’s jarring and it makes you empathise with how the characters might be feeling at that particular moment.
Considering its quiet release and lack of fanfare from Square Enix, Paranormasight is genuinely one of the most surprising games we’ve played in a long time. Horror fans are going to absolutely love this, but we’d wager visual novel fans in general will also get a lot out of the experience. It’s the kind of game that we suspect will find a decent-sized audience through word of mouth, and we sincerely hope it encourages Square Enix to explore where to take this new venture next.
Paranormasight: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo is one of the most surprising games we’ve experienced in a good while. Its overarching narrative, while initially quite heavy on exposition, is wonderfully told, interweaving the lives of multiple protagonists and tasking the player with progressing their stories in meaningful ways. The puzzles are fantastic, the characters well realised, and the visuals top-notch, making those brief moments of horror and terror exceedingly effective. It’s an experience we fully recommend going into with as little information as possible, as this will prove to be an incredibly memorable experience; one that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Switch’s best visual novels.
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