The human condition is an endlessly fascinating thing. It is ever-expanding, each person with their own unique experience that forms who they are. Coming from Japanese developer Novectacle, The House in Fata Morgana is a story, as the game puts it, of “tragedy, human nature, and insanity”. This definition is a great start in defining what the experience offers.
Before we go too far in, it should be noted that The House in Fata Morgana is a visual novel, meaning that there is no traditional ‘gameplay’ to be found. This means that the core game is reading, seeing the art, and listening to the music as you experience the story. The overall experience is much more akin to reading a book, but with added features that only video games can provide. It also should be noted that the story twists and turns in many, many different directions throughout your time with it, which is why I will not be going into much detail when it comes to the story itself. This review will be spoiler-free.
This is a game that tells the story of a mansion, and a curse that dwells within it. You awaken, not knowing who you are, or how you came to be there. A mysterious maid greets you, and you proceed to view the past lives of people that once dwelt within as she narrates each tale. The mansion seems to have a curse that makes tragedy befall all those who dwell in it, and the player will try and learn about the mansion’s past. This game’s story is largely set in the past, in various snapshots of time. There is a great deal of tragedy, due to the mansion’s curse, and the tale is a dark drama with strong elements of Gothic horror throughout. As it is told, you will meet an array of characters, each with their own story, which may uncover clues that tie into the overarching plot. There may be more to the mansion than what what meets the eye.
One of the main reasons the story works so well is because of its characters. You will become familiar with many throughout your journey, and each of them feel like genuine people rather than pawns in a narrative. None of the main characters are one-dimensional, and each is guided by their own personality and experience. It’s this depth of character that plays a strong role in what makes Fata Morgana such a success. This is a game that truly takes advantage of the visual novel format, because the characters are deeply explored through extensive dialogue. Although the themes of an amnesiac protagonist and a “cursed mansion” may sound like regular horror fare, make no mistake: there is much more than just what is initially presented to be found here. More than anything, this is a drama—an in-depth character study of human emotions.
The main source of gameplay will be reading through a text box located at the bottom of the screen, while expressively-drawn character avatars and set pieces use the rest of the space. The one change that breaks up the regular gameplay is the occasional appearance of choices that appear infrequently throughout the story. The choices are often dialogue inputs that have no real effect on the story, but other times, they are heavy choices that the player must make which alter the story in a drastic way. However, this is far from a “choose-your-own-adventure” game; rather, these choices present different paths that provide alternate, premature endings to the story. It can be quite fascinating to see how events might play out if you had chosen another path. Luckily, there is a true ending, and it is not difficult to achieve, seeing as these choices pop up infrequently. So long as the player saves their progress beforehand, previous decisions can easily be made up for. To avoid frustration, it is recommended that players save before making any choices.
Fata Morgana utilizes a very unique brand of twisting and turning storytelling that strongly benefits from the visual novel format. Thankfully, due to a fantastic localization effort by MangaGamer, the translation feels smooth and the story reads effortlessly. The writing is often incredibly expressive, and there are rarely any bumps or awkward dialogue choices.
The art of this game can best be described as ‘ethereal’. It utilizes a distinct, atmospheric watercolor style that really makes the game’s world feel completely unique. The character drawings are done in a realistic yet stylistic fashion, and are quite beautifully illustrated. The overall art direction is a mix of the dreamworld and reality, which matches the game’s overall tone well.
The music of Fata Morgana is also quite stunning. Utilizing a variety of different sounds and instruments, as well as spanning 65 separate tracks, it is impressive to say the least. The songwriting is often memorable and perfectly evokes a distinct tone for each scene within the game. Ranging from ethereal to frightening, the number of conjured sounds and atmospheres is incredible. A female vocalist is used for many of the tracks, who sings in a foreign language, and this works to the game’s benefit. Because of the non-English vocals, they serve as another instrument to the game’s music, and they also prevent the words from becoming distracting as the player reads the story. The soundtrack is expansive and brings many moments to life in a powerful way. In fact, the developers put a message at the beginning of the game recommending the use of headphones during gameplay. This is for good reason, as the music is undoubtedly a core part of the experience. If there’s a complaint to be made, it is that a small number of tracks have a vocal mix that abruptly cuts off one line of singing, or have a similarly abrupt sound when a song comes to an end and restarts. These moments can be slightly jarring, but they are much too few and far between to take great notice of. Together, the music and art work together to create a vivid worldview, and they both compliment the story and stand on their own as individual works of art.
The House in Fata Morgana‘s narrative is complex, one that brings many emotions to the table throughout the player’s journey. Many elements of the tale are troubling, and it tackles subject matter that is rarely touched upon in gaming. Tragedy is a strong theme throughout, and the story doesn’t let up. There are elements of torture, abuse, sexual assault, and many more that I will not go into for the sake of spoilers. This is not a game for a young audience. However, none of the content feels useless or tacked-on, and it’s all essential to the tale being told. Developer Novectacle, as well as the localization staff at MangaGamer, deserve recognition for handling these themes a tasteful way.
The House in Fata Morgana is an experience that is not easily forgotten. It is the product of both the extreme time and thought that were put into the writing and visual/sound design. The story it tells is not just entertaining; it is a truly human story. The entire experience can last around 25-35 hours, depending on the player’s pace. It will enthrall you, horrify you, and surprise you. If you enjoy reading, are mature enough to comprehend what is presented, and are looking for a powerful story to be experienced, you owe it to yourself to try this game. Allow yourself to get lost in the mansion’s tale.