The House in Fata Morgana is a visual novel that presents a dreary tale of misfortune and disarray regarding the inhabitants of a dank, rotting mansion. However, your player character’s connection to the estate remains as obscure as the dusk haunting the once-dazzling home. Now on Nintendo Switch, with a physical version provide by Limited Run Games, we have the opportunity to review one of the most talked-about visual novels to date.
The protagonist awakens in the mansion dwelling, unknowing even of his own name and origin. Your solitary clue at the beginning is a mysterious woman in a maid outfit who calls you “Master.” She offers to show you the past in the hopes that you will remember who you are, your relation to the cryptic woman, and the ruined house she still serves. Thus begins your trip through the many doors of the Rose Manor.
Fata Morgana uses the visual novel format as a tool for purposefully obscuring your player character’s identity. Unlike other written mediums like books, it is not obligated to details like what the player character looks like. This point is further accentuated when objects like mirrors fail to reflect.
As a story both happening in the past and the present, we experience history through the lens of The Maid, the themes of time and identity twist into a grotesque knot. Such unique storytelling conventions make for peculiar questions, such as asking “Is that me?” when a new character is introduced in the retelling of the past.
The identity of the protagonist is not the only one that is explored. The first chapter of the story is seen primarily through the perspective of Mell, an intelligent young man who is the firstborn son of an affluent family. He lives in the Rose Manor with his mother and younger sister, Nellie, who is acutely smitten with him. Outside of their father being absent from the house from time to time, the lavish mansion and its family does not seem to be doomed with the warnings of ill-fate that popular rumors suggest.
The player character isn’t the only character with a shaky sense of self. Both Mell and Nellie are throttled with the expectations that their station obligates. Mell wishes to travel across the world in search of knowledge, but the investment of both the church and his family in educating him, in turn, constrain him to a job as a priest.
Similarly, Nellie’s job is to marry for political reasons, but her fierce admiration for her brother prevents her eyes from wavering. The clash between their naïve ideals and the forces of their social standing erupt in ways that such innocent youths could not hope to predict. Compelled by their deep-seated desires, the characters in Fata Morgana stride further into misfortune.
Much like the Shakespearian plays that are often referenced in Fata Morgana, starting the story at the end only further stresses the feeling of despair established within the first moments of the game. Initially, sweet moments such as Mell and Nellie whiling away their childhood days are marred with an aura of dread.
However, not all of this tale is grim. Aside from the anxiety caused by its story structure, most of its tale is bright with the cheerfulness and awkwardness of growing up. Mell’s doting on his sister Nellie is heartwarming, and his attempts at romance are equally enjoyable and cringe-inducing. Even the comments by The Maid as she tells the story are interesting and her questions directed at the player character are engaging, when otherwise it may feel as though the player character is losing their place in the narrative.
The art style deviates from the rounded, anime-esque standards of other popular visual novels. Fata Morgana features elaborately detailed sprites, not a single wrinkle out of place in the frilly maid dresses and well-to-do outfits. The backgrounds change often and have a less detailed look to them, like a painting worn through the ages. This compliments the dream-like aspects of this story. The brightness of each scene does wonders with setting the mood as well.
The CGs manage to one up the sprite style, with a watercolor breeziness, yet still looking realistic. They do excellently in terms of CG composition, with the lighting and blur effects conveying exactly how each character is moving. As always, more CGs would be appreciated, but they appear when necessary to elevate an important scene.
The realistic art style synergizes with the rustic tone of the background music. Whether the tune is a band of bouncy strings paired with a light, airy chorus or a lonely piano with the droll of a school choir behind it, it makes the scenes feel more natural, like watching a play. The reverse is also true with the more chilling scenes, haunting the mood with what sounds like a wind instrument played in reverse, like the wail of a ghost.
The Switch version of Fata Morgana also includes “A Requiem for Innocence,” a prequel to the main story’s events, and “Reincarnation,” a sequel that shows the characters reborn into the modern-day, complete with a modern anime art style. As with other visual novels, the House in Fata Morgana is a novel fit on the Switch due to its mobile nature, so any extra features just add to its already great value.
The House in Fata Morgana borrows the moves of classic tragedies, performing events past to demonstrate the tragedy of the current. It is impressive how little time it takes to understand the motives and dreams of the Rose Manor residents, even when they fall to their lowest extent. The storytelling, art style, and music harmonizes its themes of vintage times and freely mold each scene from childish hope to shock and terror. Having every game in this series on one of the most convenient gaming systems for visual novels makes it very difficult to argue its value.
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