Death Mark Review – A Horrific Game of Live or Die
Title: Death Mark
Release Date: October 31, 2018
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Aksys Games
I feel like a game has to do a lot to be scary to the player. There is just so much that the game has to get correct, “mood” wise, that sometimes it just falls short and ends up being a rush to the ending for a player. I feel like scary games are supposed to make the player tread cautiously into the darkness as they fear what could be lurking right around the corner.
Developer Experience and publisher Aksys Games take a chance on classic horror storytelling in their title Death Mark. This isn’t like modern horror games where all the power is removed from the player as they are forced to make their way past monsters. Instead, Death Mark presents a visual novel adventure that ultimately gets everything right in terms of presenting a truly horrific gameplay experience that I won’t soon forget.
In Death Mark, players assume the role of Kazuo Yashiki as he investigates the appearance of a strange scar that has appeared on his arm. His investigation leads him to a mansion on by a researcher named Saya Kujou who has written about the scar and might know how to get rid of it. Instead of finding Saya, Yashiki discovers a talking doll named Mary who lives in the house. Mary lets Yashiki know that the scar has made him lose his memory and that soon he will die unless he destroys the spirit that gave him the mark.
It just so happens that Yashiki is not the only one with this mark and over the game he will meet others who share his same fate. Their missions are to find the spirit that gave them the mark and send them to their final resting place before they kill the mark bearer. I found that the story is very straightforward and easy to follow. Each new character introduced to the story is essential to the narrative and had me looking forward to each chapter.
Yashiki is clever and brave but relies on the people around him for support. Knowing each character’s strength and what fields they are knowledgeable in is essential to getting through each chapter, but more to make it out alive. The writing is brilliant and after completing the game I didn’t run into any typos, which is surprising for a game with this much text. I don’t want to dive too deeply into the story, but there is so much depth to each character and situation that it is essential to the experience to read through every bit of information in order to make the right decisions.
During each chapter, a spirit is introduced that takes Yashiki and party to a new location. Maps are laid out like a first-person dungeon crawler where players can move one square at a time throughout the map. Each area can be searched by the player for clues and hints on how to progress to the next area or stop the ghost. However, some clues are difficult to follow and others don’t really make sense to the story at the time of collecting them, but in the end everything kind of fits into place.
There were a few parts in the game where it was almost impossible to progress due to the lack of direction. For example, even if you were in the correct area, the game requires the player to do a series of a “Look” and “Examine” in order to get the item needed. It’s very strange to explain, but in the event that you are a missing one item, there is nothing to tell you where that item is so there are moments where you are just aimlessly researching every area. These moments of the game are probably my least favorite because they took me out of the immersion of the story and forced me to remember that this is a game and there are certain rules in this world.
Another system in the game is choosing whether to “Live or Die”. During moments in the game, players will be given questions and a time limit, where choosing incorrectly can lead to a quick death. However, it’s possible to just restart these sections of the game after dying so if anything they just turn to a nice way of knowing that whatever you are doing you progressing the narrative.
A similar system is also present when fighting against spirits. During the investigation, players will collect items and clues the can be used to fight off the spirit. There are several ways to fight against a spirit, and a lot of them end with a loss of a life, but that can be stopped if you pay attention to clues and bring in the right party member to the fight.
Illustrations are as beautiful as they are gruesome. There are some seriously scary moments in this game all provided by the artwork. Even now while writing this I can picture some of the spirits that I met throughout Death Mark and I’m terrified. Each spirit paired with their respective backstory gives them life and makes them feel real. I refused to do any research on the spirits out of fear that they might be real.
The sound design team nailed the atmosphere in Death Mark. Hearing a distant whole or slither caused more than a few jump-scares when I was playing alone. This is a game that you’ll want to wear headphones with in order to truly feel immersed in the world.
A minor gripe that I have with the game is the lack of voice over that I felt could have given these characters a bit more life. I would have liked to hear the terror in their voices or the eagerness to get out and investigate through there words, but that option just wasn’t there. Also, I would have liked more text options which allow you to control the auto text and speed that text appears on the screen.
Death Mark is by far one of the scariest games I have ever played. The game uses illustration, sound design, and narrative in a way that creates a truly horrific adventure for the player. Although there are some moments when I felt like a little more direction was necessary, Death Mark had me hooked until the very end.
Death Mark doesn’t overstay its welcome with a 10-hour campaign and multiple endings. There’s enough content here for someone to reply in order to make better choices or test out new solutions when fighting against spirits. Whether it’s enjoying the feeling of being scared or your love for detective mysterious, Death Mark has a lot to offer.
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