Title: Livestream: Escape from Hotel Izanami
Release Date: April 15, 2021
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Puzzle Adventure
Livestream: Escape from Hotel Izanami is primarily a horror adventure game with puzzle and ecchi elements. You play as online streamers Mio, Nana, and Azusa as they explore a haunted hotel. Their hope for a pleasantly spooky time turns life-threatening as an eerie pig mascot chases them.
Livestream: Escape from Hotel Izanami’s gameplay is split between three aspects: horror as you try to escape and collect clues, visual novel portions as the girls call each other, and puzzle sections that require certain items to continue. These chunks are cycled frequently, keeping the otherwise repetitive gameplay lively.
The horror aspects are deserving of the most scrutiny, and they do not disappoint. The atmosphere in the abandoned foyers oozes anxiety. Demolished ceilings and conspicuous locked doors galore, you’ll never be sure if an escape route will be available.
The main obstacle in this game is the aforementioned pig mascot, who will appear at certain points of the hotel and chase your character with a massive knife. Its appearance cleaves through the usually silent walking portions, with the bang of panic effectively acting as both a jumpscare and a warning sign. These segments are surprisingly brutal, with only a few moments to decide where to run before being met with a Game Over.
This comes with its downsides. If you are caught, you will have to start over at your last save point. While this is standard, having to save multiple times after obtaining a new item to avoid redoing a puzzle section is tedious.
More importantly, interacting with a save menu multiple times through a horror game breaks the tension. It is an option to forgo saving but be prepared for some tedium as you trudge through the same puzzles. It’s easy to get lost, too, since the map does not show your current location, and there is little in the way of landmarks.
Despite these gripes, Livestream succeeds in creating pressure where there isn’t even a threat present. It can get away with a lack of music because your character’s baited breathing and frazzled footsteps create the perfect backdrop for terror.
The character movement animations feel doll-like and slow enough to make you question whether you would be able to make it if a creature were to give chase. The very background objects themselves turn threatening, with portraits clattering to the ground and electronics operating independently.
The visual novel portions are short, but the voice direction and animations strike decisively at the hearts of the matter. The text will shake when the characters are frightened, and the expressions are to die for. At particularly daunting moments, their looks of sheer shock punctuated with shriveling pupils sell the action.
Furthermore, given the game’s livestream premise, almost all of its dialogue is presented in a digital format. This is reminiscent of found footage movies of old, and the shaky quality makes it feel pleasantly nostalgic. Having unique angles provided by phone cameras also creates interesting avenues for scares. One such example is Mio shifting her phone on a call with Azusa, revealing the pig mascot behind her in the darkness. Such tactics may feel cheap when created with movie angles but are natural in this context. The colorful Live2D character models shake off the static of non-moving sprites, adding more moving parts to an already hectic scene in a positive manner.
The puzzles also introduce the ecchi scenes. If the talking portions are like a visual novel, the lewd parts are akin to CGs. The art style is cute, as expected, coming from the same developer as the Fantasy Tavern Sextet series.
However, it is advertised as an interactable scene, while in reality, you can only interact with it one way before solving the puzzle. This does not detract from the polish of the art, but, strangely, this would be presented as a major feature. If this game were bought primarily for its ecchi scenes, it would be a massive disappointment. Otherwise, these scenes are much quicker than they would suggest and can be as short as you would like them to be.
There is an attempt to include a story by leaving scraps of writing and pictures among the mandatory items. While it does explain how things came to be, it does not seem like such a simple story needs a plot. It is an awkward inclusion that tries to elevate its narrative but doesn’t have enough substance to change its direction.
Livestream: Escape from Hotel Izanami proclaims to be a horror game with interactive ecchi elements. While the latter is sorely lacking, it does live up to being a ghastly look into a classic setting. The technological approach offsets what would normally feel like cheap tricks of misleading angles and jumpscares.
Livestream understands that less is more when it comes to aspects like music, inviting players to concoct their own terrible images of what lurks in the depths. Ironically, the aspects that expand it into something more than a horror game end up dampening the experience. Livestream is a solid study of horror fundamentals, which is satisfying on its own.
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