Ib (Switch) Review – Affable Unknown
Release Date: March 9, 2023
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Horror, Puzzle-Adventure
There’s a certain precious sense of nostalgia I have for RPG Maker games from over a decade ago. Between the emotional LiEat trilogy and the bizarre Toilet in Wonderland, there has been no shortage of memorable experiences crafted with various iterations of the RPG Maker engines.
In recent years, publisher Playism has taken to launching remakes and ports of some of these classic titles onto modern platforms alongside official English localizations, with one of the latest outings being Ib. Initially released for PC in 2012 by developer kouri, the new remake available on Steam and Switch feels like a worthy revival I couldn’t stop myself reminiscing over.
Ib hones in on the titular protagonist as she and her parents visit an art gallery housing the works of the prominent Guertena. After being granted permission by her mother and father to explore the area at her leisure, Ib does just that, perusing the various art pieces spread throughout the venue’s multiple floors to the greatest extent her young mind can muster. However, after reaching the highest floor and inspecting an especially grand painting, Ib’s surroundings drastically change. First, everyone in the venue, including the receptionist and her parents, seemingly vanishes into thin air, and an ominous dread permeates the gallery. Then, Ib somehow enters a painting, walking into a frightful locale of severe treachery where nothing stationary is as it seems.
Naturally, at this point, Ib begins seeking a way out, which is what the meat of the game comprises. The painting world brings the horror facet of this title to light, and for those unfamiliar with RPG Maker titles embracing such a genre, it may seem silly. And I don’t really blame that notion, either. After all, how can mere dated pixels possibly instill terror? Well, I’ll admit that I never found myself legitimately scared during this experience with Ib, yet it was quite unnerving. The environment is taken advantage of to varying extents, with the most evident collective example being paintings that shoot out projectiles or occasionally even contain creatures that break out from the portraits’ confines. Every step in a new room must be taken with the utmost caution since you never know which wall or ostensibly ordinary decorations hide an otherworldly threat.
And as is essentially always the case with horror games, puzzles are also present, acting as the key obstacles. When I played the original Ib a little over a decade ago, I remember often finding myself stuck at various points, especially in the later sections. While that could have simply been due to my own incompetence, I have seen others similarly struggle in later years, so it definitely wasn’t an issue exclusive to me. However, I found myself having a smoother go-around this time, as progression felt far more cohesive. One of my favorite features of Ib is how the protagonist’s ignorance of vocabulary is emphasized due to her youth. So, if you examine any paintings or such, she straight-up won’t be able to read what their titles are without assistance. This may appear overtly minor, but I find it oddly adorable, effectively enhancing Ib’s character despite being silent.
I’d rather not go into specifics of the puzzles since enjoying this brief adventure as much as possible relies on being as blind as possible. But for instance, in the original Ib, at least from what I recall, it wasn’t always clear what effects certain breakthroughs of action caused. So, I would wander aimlessly before eventually figuring out what I had to do and where to go. Yet, in the remake, aside from an instance where I overlooked a specific part of the map, I was never outright lost or perplexed by what I must do. While there may be veteran fans or other parties who find that confusion to enhance a horror game’s sense of fearful desperation, I instead usually just become annoyed, harming the ambiance in the process. Thankfully, this version of Ib doesn’t follow that road.
Despite this game being a remake, it doesn’t look dramatically different from the original, which I’m partially glad for. Admittedly, I would have potentially liked more modernized takes on the cast and setting, yet I’m ultimately glad the visuals underwent a refinement rather than an entirely new interpretation. Of course, I won’t deny that part of that relief may arise from nostalgia. Still, the DNA of Ib is undeniably present here, making it feel like a repainted window in a childhood home instead of a fully remodeled one.
Lastly, the narrative is best left chiefly a mystery for those who’ve yet to go through it themselves, though it’s a pretty creatively compelling one. It thrives on the other characters Ib meets in the painting world, with there even being multiple endings to achieve, granting disparate closure or heartache. I strongly advise getting most, if not all, of the endings since the game’s save functionality and few hours of playtime complement that completionist style, even for those who don’t usually pursue it.
Ib is not a game I would recommend to everyone since enjoying it requires the other party to have an affinity for not only the horror genre but also the pixel-like presentation. Ib’s strengths don’t transcend the bounds of who you’d expect to appreciate it, though, for those who do find themselves impacted, it will likely be an experience you’ll remember for as long as you’re able. The endearingly chilling setting, coupled with the compact well-written cast, creates something genuinely heartfelt that I’m thankful hasn’t been lost to time and has been made more accessible.
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