Largely due to its performance in Japan, the Switch has become the perfect platform for visual novels in the Japanese tradition. Although a lot of the highest-profile ones are of the romance variety, The House In Fata Morgana definitely shouldn’t be pigeonholed as a romance game even though it appears to be focused on love. It freely admits to being a gothic horror story. There was a lot of hype surrounding the game when it came out on the PlayStation platforms in English, and now that it’s on Switch I can see that the hype was underselling it: it’s an absolute must play for anyone with an iota of interest in adventure games.
At its core, The House In Fata Morgana is a game focused on the search for truth. Although it seemingly starts out as an amnesia tale, it’s actually a search for identity that plays out over an entire millennium. It begins with “You” entering the mansion the game is named for and encountering “The Maid”, who considers You the new master of the house and takes you through the stories of personal disaster of its prior occupants. The purpose of seeing the past stories is designed to bring out their identity; compared to the story’s length, you’re not a POV character for very long. In a nod to the fact that there are important choices a-plenty, the game helpfully provides multiple pages of 20 save slots so a mistake can quickly be rectified. The main story is about 20 hours alone, with the ability to unlock backstory and other items upon completion: for those who may have partaken in previous releases you can take a brief quiz on the events of the game to unlock everything immediately. Among the things that can be unlocked is a “backstage” segment which shatters the fourth, third, and second walls: after the main story wrapped, I appreciated it even more because of the levity it brought to a majorly intense story.
Normally when I start “reading” a visual novel, I can usually go 2-3 hours at a shot while checking my computer. I couldn’t do that with Fata Morgana for two reasons: the story is so intense I had to close the game frequently just so I could process the events, and it requires intense focus to catch all the foreshadowing. In terms of the content itself, there’s enough blood to warrant an M rating even before the descriptions of sexual violence that are part of character backstories. It accurately recreates the treatment of an intersex individual as well: sadly, it’s still accurate today, let alone in the 11th century where it plays out. Everything does happen for a reason in Fata Morgana, but I needed a break after that reveal in particular. The foreshadowing of events is subtle; I found that I could figure out where things were going in the story, but seeing my suspicions play out on the screen was still gripping. There’s even a reason to replay the main story again; doing so unlocks additional dialogue from “You” as well as giving them a new title.
The “everything happens for a reason” philosophy is also true on the technical side. Fata Morgana plays with the text boxes in unique ways: shouting is represented by a larger font, text boxes with sentence fragments are due to them being disparate thoughts, and internal monologue scenes display differently depending on where in the story you are. There weren’t any typos that I could find either: the localizers absolutely nailed it here. It’s also nice to be able to play the game one handed (right on a directional pad or A works for advancing text), and any inadvertent reloads of old saves were entirely carbon-interface errors.
With the focus on the house in Fata Morgana, there are potential savings in heavy background reuse: the writers definitely avoided it. The coloration of the house changes depending on the current mood of the story, and there’s plenty of time outside the mansion to break things up. The main story isn’t voice acted, but the music perfectly matched the tone (which by necessity means a lot of One Woman Wail). “Everybody’s Crying” (possible spoilers in comments) is perhaps the most haunting of all, and it’s aptly named given the points in the story at which it kicks in.
The House In Fata Morgana had a profound effect on me: I now have an answer to the question of “what was the last game to leave you in tears”, and they went from tears of sadness to joy after the main story’s stinger. I’m not sure there’s going to be another visual novel on Switch that hits me this hard - but I’d love to see someone try.