Some way, somehow, in this boundless sphere of fate, our souls shall cross paths once more.
The House in Fata Morgana Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS4, PS Vita
The House in Fata Morgana begins by having the player embody an amnesiac character who awakens to a manor bereft of life and color, with the singular exception of a fair-skinned maid who awakens them and declares them her master. Sensing the mutual confusion of the player and the protagonist, the Maid begins guiding them through the dark desolate halls of what was once a pristine and beautiful place, hoping that the histories that unfold before the protagonist will grant them the insights they need to discover their identity as they learn of those who once called this place home, and the tragedies that befell them.
It is a process that begins in a very segmented manner, with every chapter detailing the sorrowful tale of one individual as they are subjected to the thinly detailed curse of this dwelling. Each of which is a compelling piece of literature on their own, yet are given greater significance and purpose as the story progresses and these stories amount to something far greater than the sum of their parts. It all arches and billows well beyond whatever preconceptions I entered the title with, creating and building upon itself into this decadently layered tragedy that only becomes more sorrowful and piteous as each character is given the opportunity to tell their story, share their wounds, and strive to grow and break free from the shackles that confine them. That being a cycle of cruelty, entitlement, and vindictive abuse towards others. It is a tale as hopefully optimistic about the innate goodness of others while being painfully aware of the immense malice mankind is capable of. Whether it be to their lovers, their friends, or most especially, their families.
It can all make for a genuinely gut-wrenching narrative that, on more than a few occasions, left me weeping incessantly at the hardships the protagonists were subjected to, being forced by the cruel hands of fate into unenviable positions, and struggling to maintain any degree of regularity or balance in their lives. Yet for as much as the story enjoys to delve into how repulsive, spiteful, or generally deplorable any one individual or individuals are, it seeks to remind the player of the matter of perspective. As the story unfolds itself, it becomes clear just how complex every story, every experience, and every person truly is. For everybody, even the most vile and heinous of individuals, house their own justifications, reasons, and hardships that inform their actions.
It is easily one of the most empathetic and rich stories I have ever had the privilege to experience, having the time and expertise needed to delve deep into its subject matter, and delivering information in a way to maximize the emotional impact of each new insight into the thoroughly explored cast of characters. All of which is led by a naturalistic ebb and flow of narratively and logically sensible reveals that go to give every major character of this story their own arc.
All of this would have easily made a compelling story if presented in its rawest form, but it is brought to greater heights with its audiovisual presentation. From instrumentations that span eras, genres, and most especially tones mingle elegantly with multilingual vocals to create a score that is not only diverse and compelling but serves as an emotional backbone to prop the entire narrative, informing scenes, eras, and characters to greater heights. To the painterly portraits given to each cast, every one of them flushed in detail in their design, composition, and most especially their expressions, going a very long way to make the characters feel defined and pronounced while only having one or two poses to alternate between.
It is all this resounding achievement of quality, storytelling, and general artistry that I could pontificate until my praise permeates itself into a particularly putrid purple prose. However, Fata Morgana is naturally not entirely bereft of shortcomings, and it would not be a Nigma Box review if I didn’t fixate on some of them.
Such as how, for as symmetrical and well-devised as the story is, there are a few instances where the ideal amount of emphasis is not afforded on a matter, with the characters either dwelling on something for a few too few lines or a few two many. The chapter structure can be inconsistent, and at least at one point made me think I was nearly done with the game, only to be at a complete loss as to how much more story content awaited me. And the narrative presentation has this odd habit of shifting from a third-person, first-person, and even a sound-based visual novel, possibly as part of an artistic intent, but more likely as a result of the logistics of creating an independent visual novel.
Though I think my most petty of gripes would be how, for a story that is meant to span nations and eras, Fata Morgana does not always do so with historical accuracy. It has this arbitrary insistence on not naming nations or even languages until the very end of the game, uses certain terms, such as abigail and flaxen, in order to evoke a sense of antiquity, but uses them in eras before those terms even existed, and makes the occasional historically inaccurate references, such as a casual mention of a bowl of applesauce in a scene set roughly 700 years before applesauce came into existence. These all culminated in a sense that this story was not researched with the utmost care regarding its respective eras and geography, which is something I always hold as being highly valuable whenever one attempts to tell a story set hundreds of years ago.
One’s perception of the past is often swayed or painted by the media they consume, casually lifting small bits and pieces from it to form an image of a past they are likely unfamiliar with. I do this, I am aware that many other people do this, and as a creator, I do believe that accurately depicting even minute details when telling a tale set in a time and era most of your audience is unfamiliar with is of vital importance.
Presentation is of similar importance in a visual novel, and while Fata Morgana is certainly a gorgeous game, its visuals have been greatly improved upon with the recent release of the Dreams of the Revenants Edition on PS4. This version boasts backgrounds that replace the more abstract watercolor paintings seen in the PC version with more detailed renditions of the same scenery that, while losing something of a visual charm, ultimately do look better. New UI to replace the chunky dialog box with one more visually enticing. Cleaned up CGs that, while losing a bit of a sketchy quality, do generally look far better. And most notably, 4K resolutions and a 16:9 aspect ratio, as opposed to the original release, which ran at 800 by 600 (though I did not notice a dramatic dip in quality playing it at 1152 by 864). The developers have talked about bringing the Dreams of the Revenants Edition to PC, but due to their limited manpower, and a licensing agreement regarding content added in that new version, it is uncertain when or if it will.
Now then, do any of these things detract from the finer qualities of Fata Morgana? No, not really. The game is still a creatively invigorating tale whose sprawling nature pays off with great dividends, is home to some absolutely beautiful artwork, and includes a soundtrack that has firmly cemented its place into my music library. It has every qualitative metric I could ask for in a visual novel and delivers it with a level of grace and efficiency that’s hard to come by.