Last year I acquired two of the three games in Experience's J-Horror visual novel trilogy called Spirit Hunter, dedicated to Japanese yokai-type monsters and spirits. The game is also a hybrid type similar to Zero Escape with visual novel dialogue combined with segments that rely on dungeon type exploration and point & click elements.
Starting off with Death Mark, the first one in the series. Death Mark starts off out of the door with a great premise - you're cursed, you have no idea who you are and you're only hope is going to a mansion with a talking doll who can help guide you and others who are stuck in a similar situation. The curse also has a time limit and your goal is to try and get out of this curse by facing these spirits. The story is presented in chapters, as you eventually encounter different spirits and characters throughout your journey, and each of them have great backgrounds and attitudes. The detective character in particular is pretty cool and plays an intriguing role in the story.
The story also provides different dialogue choices that may change the story progression, and when you get into the main gameplay aspect, the decision to who you pick to assist you in your investigation can impact the ending and outcome of that situation. For instance, the wrong character could lead to your death, while the wrong choices could lead to your assist character's demise in the most gruesome way possible. The game does have to provide a balance in terms of tone and violence in order to avoid Japan's CERO Z rating, but the horror aspect is there and done well.
Speaking of horror, the game isn't scary in terms of jump scares but rather its atmosphere and tone. The spirit designs are creepy and what they do certainly makes you want to go 'nope' if you were in that situation. The solution to surviving these spirits is a great homage to the J-Horror genre because it's not done with the western mindset that physical items and guns can solve the problem - what Death Mark does is different by having you solve why the spirit is in their state and how you can use that knowledge to defeat them or save them. A random item you may find in one room could hold the key to protecting you in that moment. There will be dialogue choices or decision that are timed, and you should not waste these moments otherwise you will die sooner than later, so the emphasis of having to make a quick decision in seconds plays a big role in this series.
Death Mark is a short length story, with 9 hours of content to get through all of the chapters, their good & bad outcomes for each arc and the overall two main ending routes in the end. The length is just about right as it provides good pacing to tell its story without dragging each arc for the sake of it. There's also an additional story chapter that was not included in the Vita release at launch which is a pretty solid arc that helps provide a good idea on where the franchise would go from there. I also really liked the ending of the story which has a nice resolution that wraps up our main character's journey from start to finish.
Also, the artwork and character designs by Rui Tomono and Fumiya Sumio are perfect. Not only do they provide a different representation to the game but it also captures that horror aspect for the spirit designs really well. It's unique and would love to see more of their work on other projects.
Spirit Hunter: Death Mark is a pretty solid visual novel experience, and it's available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch, and PC (as well as Xbox One in Japan).