Kemco's horror visual novel Raging Loop has been available in Japanese on Steam since 2017, but this October (just in time for Halloween, coincidentally) publisher PQube is bringing us an English version, which we've been experiencing on the Nintendo Switch, seeing the horror for ourselves.
You start off as Haruaki Fusaishi, a man who has left his previous life on a motorbike to run away. As he gets lost and stumbles upon a gas station, he's directed to the nearby town of Yasumizu, but everything is not as it seems when he enters. At first he thinks things are just a little bit quaint and behind the times in this rural town, but it soon turns out he's unable to leave, as a thick mist descends upon the settlement.
This throws you into what's called The Feast, which is a local tradition with a horrifying premise. Essentially, it's very similar to the social deducation game Werewolf (or Mafia), as each night during the mist, a group called the Wolves head out and kill one human in the village. As such the villagers must hold a 'Feast' each day to decide who to hang, in order to identify and kill the Wolves among them, who are hiding as members of their community.
Then there are other roles as well. The Crow, for example, can tell if the corpse of the person hanged the day before was human or Wolf, while the Spider can select one person to protect from the Wolves that night. The Monkeys, however, can identify each other, while the Snake is arguably the most important. By writing down a name at night, they can identify whether that person if a human or a Wolf the next day.
So far so spooky then, and the story plays out as a tale of paranoia, as the group attempts to decide who among them is a Wolf. These play out similar to the class trials in Danganronpa, seeing your friends turn on each other and accuse one another, whether that's based on evidence or blind prejudice.
Unlike Danganronpa, however, you have no agency in these Feasts. In fact, you have little agency anywhere in Raging Loop, since this is an incredibly linear visual novel, for the most part. You experience these conversations, spoken in Japanese but with English subtitles, and you listen to what's said as the plot progresses.
That point about agency isn't entirely true though, as we also have to consider the loops that the title refers to. You see, there are multiple bad endings in the game, seeing you meet an early demise, but these give you keys to use at various points in the plot. You can use these to unlock new branches - or loops - of the story. This is just like the Zero Escape series, except Fusaishi is acutely aware of his past experiences, consciously using them to try and find a new outcome each time.
As a result of this, your first playthrough will see you experience an entire cycle of the Feast, before going back once more to try another full loop. There are moments you jump back to specific points, but a few times you go back right to the beginning for almost a full reset, and that was the point that grated with us a bit. It felt like we were just restarting after seemingly reaching the end, rather than trying a specific new angle, and pulling the rug out from under us to restart the plot felt more frustrating than intriguing.
The plot plays out in a prescribed way, then, and you're constantly using your prior knowledge to try and get a better result in the Feast. For example, one dialogue choice in the Feast (not all choices require keys) could see you killed by the Wolves in your sleep, at which point you'll need to go back and retry another path, with the correct one often being the unexpected choice.
Waking up safe and sound doesn't mean things are rosy though, because this means someone else has fell victim to the Wolves. Although the bodies are never shown, the dark crimson screens and vivid, gory details of the deaths make this a really disturbing experience from start to finish, and that's without mentioning the deaths that come from disobeying the rules of the game; a 'corruption' which mangles your body.
Most of the game is incredibly quiet, with some of the experience having a total absence of sounds, but that makes the few horrifying noises all the more impactful. There's a point in the dead of night that you hear a scream pierce the silence, and it genuinely made our hairs stand on end, as did the shrieks of one individual lurching at us from a gap in a doorway.
As such, it totally nails the isolating atmosphere it's going for. You can't leave the village alive while the mist is there, and the eerie sound design, constant fear of the unknown, and mysterious nature of the ritual makes everything incredibly tense. Violence is used sparingly too, but to great effect.
The characters themselves are all unique and detailed as well. These certainly aren't your regular stock characters, and each switches their roles (Snake, Crow, etc.) based on the loop you're in, so you're constantly suspecting each and every one of them, changing your relationships depending on which timeline you're in. It's complex, but it's certainly a good way to keep you on your toes.
Making a visual novel game scary isn't an easy thing to do, but Raging Loop has achieved that with thick atmosphere and excellent sound design. The looping format isn't always executed amazingly well, but you could do much worse than to play Raging Loop this Halloween, as it's a disturbing tale of paranoia, deceit, and mystery, one that has plenty of twists and turns to boot.
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