Tested by Ikai, a first-person psychological horror game set in ancient Japan, all focused on atmosphere and folklore.
It is always fascinating to discover how certain cultures have managed to transcend their territory, especially in an age of globalization like ours, often becoming the subject of very strict representations, to the point that they are almost indistinguishable from indigenous cultures. Think about Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima and how often it grabs the headlines because it’s more Japanese than many Japanese games. In fact, the practice has become so common that it no longer seems as strange as it once was, although attempts to reproduce patterns from distant cultures have never been lacking in human history (think Japonism in France in the late nineteenth century only from Yes you have an easy reference).
That’s why we’re not surprised that a business like Ikai, Orientalist of the title, was actually created by an independent team from Barcelona, Endflame. let’s find out Ikai in our experience.
History and seals
says Ikai Date Naoko, a priestess working in a Japanese Shinto temple lost in the mountains, in feudal times. When the inhabitants of the neighboring village seek his mentor priest, frightened by the signs of the imminent arrival of demons on earth, he is left to us alone to do his daily business. Troubled, but unconcerned, she will find herself experiencing the horror by unwittingly releasing it, and must, by herself, be able to exorcise the evil spirits that will attempt to take over the temple. It all translates to psychological horror in a first person perspective that blends adventure, stealth, and action in a game full of intriguing ideas, as we’ve often seen.
At the beginning of the game, we get acquainted with one of the basic mechanisms: before leaving for the village, the priest will ask us to equip some seals for demons. To do this, we will literally have to trace it manually with a brush, which is controlled by the mouse or console. The system requires a certain precision in the span, which forces you not to speed up too much. If you make a mistake, you have to start over.
The reason for choosing this design becomes clear as you advance in the game: designing seals is actually one of the tricks designed to make us jump on the chair. Basically, we’ll have to improve our technique as much as possible, if we don’t want to be attacked by some demon while we’re involved in the process. If desired, it is possible to complete the drawings several times in order to release tension. The important thing is not to spend too much time on it, because otherwise we end up being killed without many compliments and without the possibility of escaping (the demons arrive suddenly, without giving us the possibility to react).
Japanese, Japanese too
In principle, the Play Ikai is quite classic: you explore the environment a little slowly, often bending over, trying not to make noise so as not to draw unwanted attention and solving small puzzles, such as arranging some drawers or using seals at the right time, to unlock useful items or certain passages. Unlike other titles of this genre, the Endflame title seems to be more situation-based, i.e. it tries to be as diverse as possible by confronting us with different events and challenges, like the one we’ve already been told about the seals, or like escaping from a demonic worm that reminds us Very action movie, between the climbs and the temporary barrages that are created to slow you down.
Obviously there are gods too environmental puzzles, others are more mechanical in The Room, and others are more folkloric (let’s define them this way to avoid giving you inappropriate previews). It all tells a story that requires more and more introspection as the adventure progresses and which in its own way turns out to be very different from what it initially appears.
However, playing one feels that something is missing, because the Japanese would not have told such a Japanese story in a way that is very similar to the image that a Westerner has of Japan. It is somewhat similar to Eastern philosophy, which was explained by a person from New York who had not studied anything else in his life: perhaps he is an idealist, he understands all concepts correctly, moves flawlessly in the tradition of the masters of the East, but he always seems very far from this. The one he wants to embody and the only image he can really convey to you is that of a luxurious gym on the top floor of a skyscraper, full of middle to high income people getting drunk with weird words trying to fill their lives. Perhaps, if you think about it, that is exactly why Ikai works and we love it too, at least as far as we can go: because we are also part of mental and cultural schemas similar to those from which these representations derive. A Japanese to frighten us develops Silent Hill or the clock tower, transforming his native culture into something different and higher, while we try to understand it, we go and remake the posters of the demons he hung in the bedroom.
Having said that Ikai is not bad at all, and in fact, it is sometimes surprising how it was created by only three people: the environments are well composed and detailed, the variety is good and the map design is very clever and successful, much to create a strong sense of loss even in purely linear moments ( At least until certain tricks are understood). Despite being in Early Access, the game felt stable and clean to us, so there are no major bugs and no sudden return for the desktop. Their demons are similar to those seen in many eastern illustrations and are made with some care, although it must be said that they are hard to admire up close, because when that happens it is usually because you were killed. We’ll see if the good impressions are confirmed by the final version, so you shouldn’t waste too much (we’re talking about Q1 2022). In the meantime, let’s go draw some seals, that demons are coming.
From what we’ve experienced, Ikai is an interesting psychological horror, with diverse and compelling mechanics, but with a lot to prove in the realm of narrative. For now, we advise you to try the trial version, which is available for free, but to see if it is worth living the adventure of Naoko to the end or not, all you have to do is wait for the final version.
- You find it interesting to create tension
- coordinated setup
- Will history hold to the end?
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