I finished playing Death Mark (PS4 version), a visual novel game. I was pleasantly surprised by the game because I didn’t expect what I was expecting. No, this game did not give me the chills, did not mess with my mind, or give me a cheap haunted house thrill. Instead, the game left me pondering about Japan’s society as a whole. There were many mature themes posed in the game. It’s not a bad thing because it made me think.
There are 6 chapters total in the PS4 version (I don’t know about the vita version). The content of the game is decently proportioned (not a fan of playing long games due to having adult life’s responsibilities). The story flows well into each chapter. One thing I really enjoyed about the game is the characters’ illustrations. All of them are interesting, including the monster designs. And of course, the sound production most often goes unnoticed but it matters a lot in horror games. In the game, people just keep popping up in the mansion at night. The mansion resembled the mansion in Resident Evil. Unexpected visitors arrived at the mansion after obtaining a mysterious mark. To get rid of the mark they must defeat the spirit that gave it to them in the first place. Time is ticking. So there is some urgency in the game; your life and those around you are on the line.
Oddly, the gameplay reminded me of a guessing game. You have to read between the lines to answer the questions correctly. You can see honne tataemae taking effect in the game. If you don’t know what honne tataemae is, it means knowing how to read air. For instance, in Chapter 2, we find a suicidal man in the woods, on the verge of killing himself. The player is given a selection of choices to answer his questions. Given the situation, you don’t necessarily speak what you really think, which is very Japanese, although I heard that the idea of honne tataemae originated from China, but don’t quote me on that. Basically, you don’t speak your true thoughts around strangers. In this section of the game, I suppose lying to him is the better route–just so we can keep that harmony because the average American person would have responded in this way: “Yeah you got it rough. Your life sucks, man. You should chase after your dreams and not live for someone else, especially for a h0e.” And the suicidal man would reply: “Thanks man, for making me feel better. Now I want to go kill myself even more.” You get my point, I hope.
Due to the cultural context, I have found some of the choices sorts of irrelevant from time to time and wouldn’t say the gameplay is its biggest strength. After all, this is a visual novel (don’t worry visual novel fans, I am not discrediting it as a game). The game, however, is engaging enough to keep me “flipping the pages”. It’s the player’s duty to read the text in each chapter carefully. Reading the text in each chapter closely provides clues on how to defeat the boss. The gameplay style is definitely not for the adrenaline junkies who are used to relying on their reflexes to push buttons to get by. Instead, the game leans toward using detective skills, which oddly makes it a relaxing horror game to play. This is the type of game that would be fun to play with a group of female friends or with your significant other, or alone in the dark is okay too.
Overall, I enjoyed the game. My only gripe about this game is the portrayal of women. Then I can’t complain too much because the story is told from a male perspective and is intended for the male demographic. Patriarchal society likes to think frail women are not just physically weak, but also in mind and soul. So there’s a little bit of a sexism undertone–a mistrust toward women in the game. But that’s okay. I’ll just sit still like the evil doll I am and watch Satoru Mashita go through all the trouble for laughs and giggles. After all, this is Japan we are talking about. Nonetheless, it’s a good horror game.
Note: Originally posted in 2019. Revised 4/11/2022.