Pocket Mirror: GoldenerTraum Review – The Mental Garden of Rose Maidens

    Title: Pocket Mirror: GoldenerTraum
    Developer: AstralShift, VisuStella
    Release Date: May 19, 2023
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Komodo
    Genre: Horror, Adventure

Pocket Mirror: GoldenerTraum is a remastered edition of a 2016 horror adventure game developed on RPG Maker VX Ace. With clear inspiration from the classic manga/anime series Rozen Maiden, it tells the story of an amnesiac girl in an absurd world. The remastered efforts bring this title up to modern standards from a presentation standpoint, but the gameplay mechanics can’t seem to keep up.

Pocket Mirror: GoldenerTraum begins when our protagonist wakes up in a dark room surrounded by roses. She can’t even recall her name or anything about herself that could give her a clue about her past. For some reason, however, she has a golden pocket mirror, and she knows she must never let go of this precious item despite not being sure why.

At first, it seems like we’re inside a castle, but after moving around, it’s hard not to notice strange things about this world. In a way, this dark place is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, showing a twisted logic beyond common sense and scary circumstances that keeps the player on edge. The game does a great job of creating a sense of unease.

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Blood covers some areas, and there are various supernatural elements, from talking pumpkins to a mysterious demon boy who can show theater pieces about other characters. Without going into spoiler territory, there are four girls our protagonist will meet in her journey who act as the key to understanding what’s going on and getting one of the multiple endings.

With some abstract details, the plot may feel disgruntled at times. The narrative is composed of teases of the conclusion, which allows the player to grasp the truth early, but everything is revealed across one ending. After understanding what happened, repeat runs add more impact to the choices in the plot, adding significant meaning to what’s going on.

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Pocket Mirror: GoldenerTraum may sometimes feel gratuitous in its violent imagery, and the emotional impact of events will depend on the player. Even so, decrypting the story and understanding the implications of each bit has an intriguing appeal to it. It’s the kind of narrative that’s like going down a rabbit hole.

As an adventure game, a good portion of the title is about interacting with objects in the areas and trying to find the right way of progressing. Multiple-choice dialogues, puzzles, quick-time events, and running sequences are the most common gameplay elements throughout the experience.

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The first area, for instance, serves as a tutorial for interacting with things and using them to advance the story. The player has to find marbles in multiple rooms, putting them in slots to unlock the next one. The game avoids explaining too much, only giving a hint when the protagonist gets close to the first slot.

Knowing an interactable object is within reach may be essential to progress the plot, so the game offers a prompt when this situation arises. Pressing the button around everything will lead to finding out some other items, though. The more curious players may find pumpkin charms, which can unlock extras explaining the main characters’ personalities, likes, and dislikes.

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The variation from puzzles to “action moments” (QTEs) keeps the game from getting stale. There’s always something fresh to do, and unless you are a person who looks up guides on the internet, you can hardly anticipate what’s going to be the next step. However, it also never feels like Pocket Mirror truly evolves, with simple challenges leading to any ending.

It’s recommendable to save often, as even small choices can lead to bad endings. To do that, the player must use a white music box available only at some spots. There’s never a need to backtrack too much, but it’s still a slightly inconvenient design choice.

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Though I have a few qualms with the story and gameplay, I can’t complain about Pocket Mirror‘s aesthetics. Following a gothic style, the girls wear elaborate dresses, and even the backgrounds have a great sense of color, patterns, and texture.

Portraits of the characters accompany the conversations. These illustrations offer a good look at the characters with visual cues, such as their expressive faces and enough body detail, that inform the player about their backstories, personalities, and feelings.

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There are also a few illustrations and animations that play during story events. One good example is the theater pieces, which look like children’s tales. They are colorful, cute, and chibi-like, making their antics extra expressive. When these stories get darker, they’re reminiscent of Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s witches, such as the colorful Charlotte, but keeping it less over-the-top.

The sound effects and background music are also noteworthy. As the game leans on the horror side, it explores disturbing silence, small sounds like steps on aged wood or a never-ending grandfather clock, and even whimsical music for the colorful, theatrical moments.

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Pocket Mirror: GoldenerTraum is a unique concept that resembles classic anime such as Rozen Maiden and Madoka Magica and literary pieces like Alice in Wonderland. However, the narrative doesn’t ever seem fully realized, leaving a predictable and almost confusing experience. Regardless, it’s one that lasts with you with its gorgeous setpiece, horror elements, and intriguing cast.  

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Ivanir Ignacchitti

Random Japanese games are my jam. Handhelds, RPGs, VNs and PC banzai.